Last week, Google was moved to publicly acknowledge a conspicuous algorithmic failure. 

“On Monday we detected an issue with our indexing systems that affected Google search results. Once the issue was identified, it was promptly fixed by our Site Reliability Engineers and by now it has been mitigated. Thank you for your patience!”

That was Google’s Webmasters Twitter account on August 11. Interestingly, Google was quick to clarify that widely reported ‘bad results’ were due to a glitch that disrupted search results and mixed up page rankings.

As you’d expect, the SEO community wasted no time in reporting Google’s jumbled rankings. One widely tweeted SEO consultancy drew attention to the search engine’s muddled results for ‘baked beans’, which briefly presented recipes for teriyaki meatballs, sausage casserole, and baked salmon.

The carousels are f**ked. Look at this one for “baked beans” it’s all over the place. I have several other examples. Good times.— Casey Markee (@MediaWyse) August 11, 2020

Many instinctively attributed the strange results to an unannounced change to the algorithm, but Google has since made clear that it was down to an indexing glitch, which was swiftly mitigated.

By way of explanation, Google’s Gary Illyes pointed out how complex its search engine indexing is, listing some of the things Google’s Caffeine system does:

“The indexing system, Caffeine, does multiple things:

  1. ingests fetchlogs,
  2. renders and converts fetched data,
  3. extracts links, meta and structured data,
  4. extracts and computes some signals,
  5. schedules new crawls,
  6. and builds the index that is pushed to serving.”

Illyes followed up by noting the knock-on impact of any of these processes failing and emphasising the complexity of Google’s search systems.