Ajax and SEO: Can They Play Nice?

by on April 25, 2011

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Photo: Ajax and SEO Tips - Confluence Digital BlogAjax and SEO are like oil and water. They don’t mix. Like with Flash, using Ajax on your site to present non-critical information to viewers can enhance the user experience and add interactivity and pizazz to your site. Using Ajax to completely implement your site design presents challenges for the search engines. However, with the right approach, you can achieve peaceful coexistence between Ajax and SEO.

What is Ajax?

Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript And XML) is a group of client-side interrelated web development techniques used to create rich interactive applications. Google Maps and Facebook, for instance, use Ajax. The Ajax experience for the user feels very different from the user experience of an HTML website. In an HTML website, you “go” to a different page. In an Ajax-based site, the page changes in front of you.

Why is Ajax a Problem for SEO?

HTML websites are a collection of static documents arranged in a hierarchical structure like the branches of a tree and using unique URLs to locate each document. The search engine spiders usually have no difficulty crawling from branch to branch by using the website’s static navigation and links. But Ajax content is dynamically generated. There are no pages to crawl – Ajax requests content from the server by using JavaScript and generates different “states” without refreshing the page. Search engine spiders cannot crawl these dynamic pages because they technically don’t exist anywhere, and so they will not be indexed.

What’s the SEO-Friendly Workaround?

If you are starting your website from scratch and you want to use Ajax as an accent, you can apply a technique called progressive enhancement. Basically, you start with the normal HTML site structure and navigation. Then, after you have the pages, links, and content in place, you can bring in Ajax to spice it up. You can even format the JavaScript navigation so they’ll offer static links as well as calling a JavaScript function. This way, the spiders will have no difficulty crawling the HTML, while viewers with JavaScript can enjoy your Ajax accents.

Photo: Two Boys and Robot Friend - Confluence Digital BlogGoogle has its own standard for developing Ajax-based sites so that the content in those sites can be crawled. Since its announcement in 2009, the standard has been widely adopted. Tests show that Google can indeed index these Google-Ajax-based sites, but if indexing in Bing or Yahoo is important to your business, proceed with care. You may still want to add HTML-based versions for those viewers using browsers with JavaScript disabled or screen readers and for the other search engines to spider. So long as the content is identical, you can’t be accused of cloaking – that is, serving up different information to the viewers and to the spiders – which violates the tenants of the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Will AJAX and SEO be BFF’s? Maybe not immediately but they should be able to work things out and play nice together.

Friends Forever photo credit: Hey Okay

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