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SEO and JavaScript Website Development

Everything moves quickly in the digital marketing world. The techniques we use to reach people, technical SEO, and even the apps and software that help us accomplish these tasks are evolving too fast for most businesses to keep up.

And because we continue to require more of the web, development languages and techniques are also rapidly changing. Making web experiences more interesting and faster are often times competing objectives that programming and language attempts to mediate.

JavaScript (JS) has been around since the days of Netscape. It’s often been used to enhance user experience, but SEOs haven’t always been fans. Google hasn’t always successfully interpreted JS, and SEOs haven’t always understood how to make JS search the way they would like.

Regardless, the drive to continue exploiting the power of JS continues. Those of us who deal with search need to be intentional about learning to develop SEO processes that allow our sites to provide both the user experience that JS provides and the search results our customers deserve.

To discuss JavaScript and search in more depth, I caught up with Patrick Stox, the technical SEO lead for IBM. I’ve gotten to know Patrick over the last couple years and truly appreciate his technical perspectives related to search.

Lance Fisher (LF): JavaScript has been around forever, but how we’re utilizing it today is much different than even a few years ago.

Patrick Stox (PS): Yes, it’s more JavaScript frameworks now. People are using it for front end, back end, everything. It’s a different ball game. People have probably heard of React, Angular and maybe even Meteor JS. All are JS, but the frameworks are completely different. They are competitive, but accomplish a lot of the same things, just in different ways.

It looks like WordPress is replacing their content editor with React. I don’t think it’s going to be more than a couple years before they replace the whole system with it. There has been talk that JavaScript websites don’t rank as well. That’s not true. It’s all in the implementation.

SEO’s are going to have to learn to adapt. They’re going to have to learn to troubleshoot these new systems and how they actually work. Things we traditionally did such as look at cache or view source – those are dead. The process code you’re going to have to look into is in the DOM. You’re going to have to rely more on fetch and render in search console.

There are a lot of problems with the frameworks, too. If things aren’t done correctly, they can cause a lot of issues. Things like internal linking, there might not actually be a link there to follow. And developers say Google can read JavaScript. We tell them that. It’s our fault. Google tells them that. There may not be a link there for Google to follow.

By default, things like React have some pretty nasty URLs. We want clean URLs, obviously. The important part for a link is to make sure they are output in a way Google can read an href, and some frameworks use things like ng-click or href=”javascript:void(0);“.

But they have a solution. React Router lets you clean things up. It’s pretty brilliant. These apps are great. They’re really going to change things and speed up websites a lot. That’s the big advantage. React, for instance, looks at the DOM, and when it’s changing the page it does a “dif” (or differential) and basically asks what the difference is, then simply rewrites that part of the DOM rather than the whole thing. It makes switching pages much faster. There are many advantages but also many things that SEOs will need to learn.

JS-built sites with and without headless CMS systems are going to grow in popularity in 2018. With this assumption, we must also know that there is an entire generation of developers developing JS sites, and SEO is often an afterthought. The reason is that many of these developers originate from the application world, where SEO in the traditional sense isn’t really embraced. As developers – formerly in the app world – become relied on to build websites with this same technology, many SEO fail safes that platforms like WordPress offer will not be realized. Google has come a long way in understanding JS sites, but we’re nowhere near being able to simply rely on Google to get it right.

–Transcript break–

The takeaway is that there are new ways of delivering websites that offer consumers more ways to consume and receive information. Because of this, new problems arise, and JS websites are one of the responses to these challenges. As development ideas become proven solutions, SEOs must keep pace and continue to deliver the search results that customers require.

About the Author

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Lance Fisher

Lance Fisher is the Founder of Outside Communications. He spends his days developing strategies and helping direct projects that connect our clients to their customers through web development, video production, search and advertising.

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