The Changing Face of SEO

Search engine optimisation, or SEO for short, is something that we can’t get away from… and rightly so! SEO plays a massive part in digital growth; it’s how we make sure we’re getting seen by the right audiences, at the right time, through the right channels. But there is one big problem with SEO – it’s tricky.

Conduct any sort of basic ‘SEO’ Google search and you’ll find an almost endless list of results; marketers, SEO consultants, and other digital experts looking into the dos and don’ts of SEO, SEO best practices, and tips for boosting ranking. Now, don’t get me wrong, these articles can be hugely beneficial in terms of understanding what SEO is all about, but a common mistake that we’re seeing more and more often is businesses relying on these snippets of advice as if they’re the be-all and end-all of good SEO.

The truth is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to say with any certainty exactly what ‘good’ SEO really means. Google algorithms and practices are constantly changing, so SEO is constantly changing.

SEO practices can change for any number of reasons, but as an example we’ll look at how the evolution of web design is affecting the way businesses, developers, and even us writers think about optimisation.

The SPA Shift

Recently, developers have started to move away from multiple page applications (MPAs), which are supported by HTML, preferring single page applications (SPAs), which are supported by Javascript.

Before we go any further, let’s take a look at HTML and Javascript websites from an SEO perspective…

HTML websites use server side rendering. This means that the website is rendered at the server end, with all necessary HTML code sent to the user’s browser. Google’s crawler, Googlebot, can read this HTML, index the website, and ensure the site shows up for relevant search queries.

Javascript websites use client side rendering. This means the server delivers a Javascript version of the site to the user’s browser, with ‘hidden’ HTML files that are rendered at the client’s side as requested. Sometimes, Google just sees the Javascript ‘shell’, making it harder to index sites.

While Google once struggled to index Javascript websites because of the difficulties in accessing the content, the search engine giant has recently announced changes which give Googlebot its very own, built-in renderer. It’s good, but it’s not great, and even Google’s John Mueller says that ‘your mileage may vary’ if relying on Google Javascript rendering. That’s why it’s good to know some alternatives.

Making Javascript Friendlier

Firstly, it’s important to know if Google’s built-in renderer is working for you or not. As writers, we love it when Google recognises our SEO efforts, and rewards the website with an improved ranking for a particular keyword or phrase. But given the somewhat transient state of Google’s ability to render Javascript websites, that’s not always going to happen. Some sites still won’t be indexable.

Fortunately, there are some ways you can check what Googlebot sees when it crawls your site. You can check manually, comparing your site’s templates when enabling and disabling Javascript, or you can crawl the site yourself, comparing on-page elements when crawling with and without Javascript on.

If Google isn’t seeing content, there are a few tricks to delivering an SEO-friendly Javascript website:

1. Use Isomorphic Rendering
Isomorphic rendering is a hybrid solution that incorporates both server side rendering and client side rendering at the same time. With an isomorphic setup, the user’s initial request is met with server side rendering to make sure Google can crawl and index the content for ranking purposes, while any subsequent requests are met with client side rendering. Airbnb are known for using isomorphic rendering.

2. Use Dynamic Rendering
Dynamic rendering is a Google policy change that was introduced in 2018, and was first mentioned by John Mueller at the 2018 Google I/O conference. This policy offers another hybrid rendering solution, where server side rendering is used when delivering to search engines for crawlability and indexability, while client side rendering is used when delivering to end users to ensure an optimal user experience.

SEO: Not a One Time Thing

So while this is just one example, it shows how there really is no one single way to describe ‘good’ SEO; that optimisation is constantly changing in relation to web design trends, to updates to Google policies and algorithms, and to user behaviours. SEO might sound simple, but when you delve deeper there’s much more to it than simply signing up for a Google Adwords account. SEO is about staying on top of the changes that take place every day in the digital world, and ensuring your websites are visible. Always.

Top Image Source: Flickr