AJAX offers some incredible new functionality for web sites, but it is not SEO-friendly by default. However, you can still successfully optimize a site that uses AJAX and Web 2.0 technologies. This article discusses some of the problems and solutions for AJAX SEO.
Recently a colleague of mine and I were discussing the topic of AJAX and SEO, and he needed some solutions for a web site he was developing. After our discussion, I realized that there is a lot of confusion about search engine optimization and Web 2.0 technologies. That prompted me to share my input on this topic. To start, lets discuss an article I recently read at Search Engine Watch entitled “Web 2.0 Technologies and Search Visibility” about AJAX / Web 2.0 and Search Engine Optimization.
Here is an excerpt from the article:
And what about Web 2.0? Is it just a popular buzz word or does it hold additional value? Scott Orth presented a case study to demonstrate that Web 2.0 is all about a user experience. The case study revealed how a static site was improved by adding a lot of dynamic tools and demos that improved user experience. The site also featured an inquiry form that delivered instant results, rather than the typical “thank you, someone will be in touch shortly” message. How ingenious!
Web 2.0 is an entity that people are still trying to wrap their heads around, like an out-of-focus image that is coming into view, and gets clearer the closer you get to it. As Web 2.0 evolves and it’s embraced by more people, I think it will become more defined in the minds of developers and consumers. Web 2.0 and all it’s elements do bring a lot of new functionality to the web user experience, but there are problems for search engine optimization. The author of this article echoes my point:
This all sounds wonderful but what about the search engines? Are these three technologies good, bad or just plain ugly to the search engines?
And now to address AJAX and where it fits into the SEO picture:
So we have part of our answer: AJAX itself is not visible to search engine and therefore content delivered by AJAX will not be seen by search engines. This presents a problem, but there is always a solution, which we will address in a moment.
In my opinion, there are two main issues to bear in mind when Search Engine Optimizing AJAX:
- Lack of content and navigational links on initial page load. This is a problem because the initial HTML page load is all the search engine spiders will see.
- Lack of unique URL’s for search engines to index. AJAX makes it easy to serve all your content on one page, just like Flash. Unfortunately, search engines need unique URL’s.
Let’s address the solution to Issue #1. The author of our article answers with one possible solution, that in my opinion is a good start, but doesn’t go far enough:
Picture the internet as a window to a house. (More like a one-way reflective mirror.) Inside the house is the server side and you can’t see what’s going on in there from the outside of the house. Server-side scripts are processed on the server, or inside the house. Outside the house, the client side (or browser side), everything is in plain view and it can be seen from outside or inside the house.
Now, let’s address Issue #2 – Unique URL’s. You need to think like a search engine spider when creating the structure of an AJAX site. Make sure that they can get to a unique page with valid, quality content. You can still have dynamic pages, but you may want to consider using URL rewrites to create Search Engine Friendly URL’s.
Back to our article…let’s see what the experts say in closing:
Yahoo’s Amit Kumar added that while technology is awesome, simplicity is also crucial so engines can understand content of page. Google’s Dan Crow explained that using CSS, Ajax and Web 2.0 technologies with workarounds will accommodate for search engines in their current state of understanding, but at the same time be prepared for the future when search engines are able to better comprehend these technologies.
Hopefully that gives a useful overview of search engine optimization in a Web 2.0 world. If you would like to discuss this topic further, or you need search engine optimization for your AJAX web site, feel free to contact me.