Programmatic SEO: Handling 0-Result Search Results

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0-result SRPs are one of the main programmatic SEO issues I look into and try to clean up with clients.

Whether it’s an existing build with a large over-indexation issue, or a new build and trying to avoid it from the get-go, 0-result SRPs are something I want to patch.

What is a 0-result SRP?

A 0-result SRP is a search result page that returns 0 results.

Something that more than likely has a filter or two applied, and results in such a specific search there are no results returned.

For real estate, think about an SRP for a property type, like condos, in a small suburban neighbourhood that only has houses.

No results will get returned.

When larger sites get set up, they may have internal links that point to these pages, passing value, and sending Google to constantly crawl them.

If 0-result SRPs get significantly indexed, they can waste the crawl budget.

They will be viewed by Google as low-quality pages, which can also trigger Soft 404 errors as these 0-result SRPs will look exactly the same as each other to Google.

They’ll only have the templated elements, with no listings.

 

Detecting 0-result SRPs

Detecting these pages is pretty template-dependent, but you can normally crawl the site with Screaming Frog (or similar) and set up an extraction for the results count.

The pages coming back with “0 results” are what you’re looking for here.

I can go into a bit more detail later if it’s wanted.

Generally how I detect them though, is just clicking around. What templates include links to what pages. You can generally get a feel for the crawlable scale that way.

 

Ways 0-result SRPs get crawled

There are a number of ways these pages get discovered, but here are the top ones I audit for a client;

1. XML Sitemap

When creating an XML sitemap, rules aren’t put in place and every URL combo possible is sometimes included.

 

2. Internal linking structures

A good internal linking structure links from a parent to its children. Sometimes, these links aren’t filtered and you’ll get links to a number, if not all, 0-result SRPs.

 

3. Listings existed there once-upon-a-time

Whether via internal links, sitemaps, or expired listing redirects, there is a chance that a 0-result SRP was previously indexed due to it having links. Now it doesn’t have links though, but since Google already found it, it’s going to keep getting crawled and indexed.

 

Are all 0-result SRPs bad?

It depends.

The favourite answer of anyone dealing with an SEO.

Truly though, it depends on the scenario.

Are they being actively linked to, significantly indexed, and causing issues wasting significant portions of the crawl budget?

Then yeah, they are bad.

But are they rarely linked to, only indexed from old listings, and only have a few indexed?

Then nope, not an issue worth fixing… provided it stays that way.

 

Avoiding the initial indexing

The best way to avoid indexing the 0-result SRPs is to just avoid linking to them.

Might sound easy, but this can get a bit tricky sometimes as there are so many places to you need to add rules to.

Sitemaps, footer links, sidebar links, the list goes on.

Developers should be able to add rules to these linking widgets, so that there is a basic listing count check done, and then this added as a filter to the links.

A listing count could just be ‘has’, or ‘has not’, got listings. So true/false, and it could run live (if the developer is that keen), otherwise once a day, week, or even month could suit some times.

There have been times I’ve worked with a client and we did a once-off run for the initial build, and then they would come back and patch it 6 months later. That just ensured we got something live for launch that would still be fit-for-purpose.

Another thing you can choose to do, is set a noindex/follow tag to the page if it has 0-results. You must still ensure no links point in though.

I tend to avoid noindexing where possible, as it’s kind of a hacky avoidance patch, and is more of a fallback to doing a proper cleanup initially.

 

Cleaning up over-indexation

So you’ve worked out you’ve got a 0-result SRP issue. What’s next?

This is where it can get tricky.

The first step is to stop linking to them. Straight up, just remove them from everywhere by following the notes in the ‘avoid initial indexing’.

That will solve the largest part, the continual growth & value flow to these pages.

Following that you can 301 redirect the pages, depending on the scale of the issue.

Personally, I prefer to redirect them to a parent page where possible. Particularly, if the 0-result is a filter page, of another page.

ie a property type page of a location page.

That way there’s a clear parent, and the redirection would make sense in Google’s eyes.

You should definitely 301 any URLs that have no chance of having a page created anymore though. Whether through filters that no longer exist, or just changes in structure. A redirect under these scenarios should be a given.

Some others prefer to 404, or noindex, these pages to get them removed from the index. I prefer to try and avoid this, as they’re already indexed and have a little value (even if it’s minimal). I’d rather aggregate that value and send it to a parent. A no-index tag still means they’re getting crawled, so the minimum you need to do is remove all links in if you’re using a no-index or 404.

I’d rather have a 301 reversed than a 404 or noindex tag removed for a page. Have seen some severe ghosting of noindex tags before with those pages struggling to get reindexed, whereas a 301’d page seems to get reindexed pretty quickly.

Once you remove the links pointing in the majority of the recrawling should stop anyway, and so only if issues continue should you look into a more aggressive strategy for these pages.

 

Should you noindex 0-result search result pages?

Personally, I prefer to avoid using noindex tags on pages. I prefer to just limit their initial indexing, and then hope redirect and better-linking patches any further issues.

Many will still use noindex tags, so you can always give it a go if other solutions aren’t working.

 

Are they actually an issue for you?

So before you do anything else with 0-result SRPs, you need to work out one thing.

Are they actually an issue for you?

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