How To Make Your AJAX Websites And Applications Friendly Towards Search Engines

In this article, you will learn how to make your AJAX websites and applications friendly towards search engines.

Webmasters have always loved JavaScript-heavy single page Applications (SPA). Over the last few years, we have indeed seen a significant increase of SPAs. A few of the classic SPAs include Gmail and Twitter but AJAX SPA is the new trend that has been picked up by a number of utility websites. Medical companies and dental services rank the highest among SPA users. These frameworks are heavily reliant on JavaScript and that makes them extremely smooth, interactive and lightning-fast.

AJAX stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. AJAX is the magic component that turns all static Websites into dynamic Web apps. This means the visitor can get a rich user experience (UX) without refreshing the page or changing the URL. The different states of AJAX are denoted, using a hashtag in coordination with the URL. For example, http://www.hugeinc.com/#aboutus; the use of the # as a prefix denotes the presence of an AJAX element.

While using JavaScript is highly rewarding, the engineers and coders know the risks they are taking while scripting user-friendly SPAs. The most common risks come in the form of technical SEO and indexing. The most common question that bugs every developer is, “can we rely on Google to crawl AJAX sites?” To avoid such types of dilemmas completely, we present to you some of the time-tested strategies for building AJAX sites.

What are the benefits of using AJAX?

The benefits are quite apparent. Using AJAX makes a dynamic site fast and responsive. The pages now only load the content that is necessary for a richUX. Most of the Websites and the native apps that we use today include AJAX. It completely eliminates the need of repeatedly refreshing the page for loading the new content. With the advent of the VR era, AJAX will become indispensable for all kinds of Web app designing.

The highlight of this fact is, new content keeps loading on the active page without any perceptible change of the URL. The hyperlinks that include the URL fragments are utilized to load the newly requested data in real-time. This makes the process of “refreshing” completely superfluous.

The risks of using AJAX

It’s not all rainbows and butterflies for website builders. Most of the content and key product data may not be visible to search engine spiders if the Website relies heavily on AJAX. Although we cannot accuse Google of doing it anymore, Yahoo and Bing have definitely lagged towards upgrading their crawlers and bots. Poor search result visibility and compromised rankings are the consistent problems for AJAX SPAs.

What are the imminent solutions?

Creating Fallback Pages

The very mention of it brings about a feeling of tedium. Fallback pages are HTML pages that are displayed in case the requesting source does not speak JavaScript. These pages are backups that hold the same content as the JavaScript application as well as indexable links.

Advantages of using Fallback pages- This is a crucial yet simplistic approach to keeping your rank high on the organic SERPs.

Disadvantages- It is extremely challenging to recreate JavaScript functionality on the static pages. You end up creating HTML pages that are amicable for the crawlers albeit slightly off-key.

How to implement fallback pages?

While several approaches exist, we recommend handling it on the Sever side. This is slightly less clumsy than the insertion of important content inside the <noscript> tag. Formerly,  Google translated hashtags (#) to a query string for indexing by the crawlers. These query strings are visible to the Server side and enable the Web developers to render the content meant for search engines only. This method has the benefit of creating URLs that can be indexed.

Using pushState for your AJAX Web app

Last but not least; you can use pushState to fix your URL anomaly. HTML 5 enables the designers to manipulate the path of the URLs seen in the browser and those URL's browser history through JS. This is very efficient in managing the SEO friendliness of AJAX SPAs. These modified URLs can now be shared and bookmarked for the users’ convenience. At the same time, JavaScript and the original URL fragments always remain in the background.

Implementing pushState is easy; especially with the framework APIs that grant easy access the functionality of a Web Application. For web developers who have been using Ember or Angular, this is a one-step process. For the other developers who use custom JavaScript, there are new APIs, like history, that enable them to push full URL updates into the browser bar on the user’s side. The History API is a part of the HTML 5 specification. This does not force a new page upon the user.

Adding pushState does increase the workload in terms of regular maintenance. It is also necessary for the Browsers to be updated to the latest versions on the user end to experience the effects of pushState and may not be a wholesome solution to AJAX’s SEO problem, but it definitely helps.

Other methods of avoiding the AJAX pitfall

Depending on the current status of your SEO in combination with the UX (AJAX use), you are offering your SPA's URL, which may be partially visible, visible with the modifications, or invisible to the search engines like Google or Bing. This means while the search engines can see a URL, your users might see another.

You can create custom “share”-able URLs to help the users share their exact UX with others. This bridges the gap between the URL seen by the search engines and the URLs that your users are viewing.

AJAX and SPAs are easy to make and fun to use. These Web apps are here to stay. Thus, it is only fair that the search engines evolve to include AJAX in their SEO factors. Gradually the search engines, beginning with Google, are showing an increased interest towards making their crawlers friendly towards AJAX SPAs and JavaScript-heavy sites.