How to optimize Single Page Application for Search Engines

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Single Page Applications (SPA) are very difficult to optimize for multiple search keywords and phrases. This is the reason SPAs are considered notorious for being not SEO friendly.  

But this has not stopped the technology from being adopted by brands. This includes the likes of Google, Netflix, and LinkedIn who want to meet their customer expectations quickly with faster load speeds and fewer page refreshes. The reason being, an SPA makes far fewer requests to the server compared to the earlier technology and is relatively easy to build. This makes it a lucrative option for companies who wish to adopt cutting edge technology for their customers.

The price of being cutting-edge is paid in terms of lag in SEO abilities. Well, all is not lost, and in this article, we are talking about what brands can to get their SEO activities right and optimize it the right way. 

SEO Challenges

SPAs are developed on JavaScript frameworks like Angular or Vue. Most search engines are not a big fan of JavaScript, which makes SPA an outlaw in the eye of these search engines. Google and Bing use their bot crawlers to crawl all over the page and save the page’s HTML files. This alone makes static HTML based web pages a preferred choice for Search Engine crawlers. 

Additionally, a search engine’s job is to rank individual pages, not entire websites. In a traditional website, every page has the potential to rank high for specific keywords if the SEO is done correctly, but because an SPA has all the pages combined as one, it is difficult to rank it on search engines. This is complicated by the fact that the crawlers download links that are HTML source codes for indexing, and since JavaScript uses very few HTML source codes, it becomes difficult for the crawlers to index a JavaScript-based SPA and ends up finding a limited number of URLs. 

It is still possible for the search engines to index such JavaScript rich links, but the search engines have to do some heavy lifting and need to execute a JavaScript to retrieve links and then expose them to the crawler.

Google came forward in 2014 to execute this heavy-lifting program and expressed that its Googlebot will now render the JavaScript before finally crawling the page. They even assisted by sharing a tool called Fetch as Google tool to help webmasters debug any JavaScript-enabled page that is facing rendering issues. 

But there’s a caveat to this, Google in its announcement had made clear that the Googlebots don’t guarantee a flawless rendering of all the JavaScript-enabled pages they try to crawl, which makes Google’s attempt at solving the problem a rather precarious one. 

Also, just because the page is indexed doesn’t guarantee its high ranking in search engine result pages. To complicate things further, since all the interactions are technically happening on a single page, you might have trouble understand the analytics data. 

This brings us to the question – what can you do to let the search engine see your website and allow it to rank it higher than the competition.

SEO Best Practices for SPA

Not everything is lost for SPA owners. There are few SEO practices that you can devise to reach the desired destination.

SSR or Server-Side Rendering

This concept involves rendering the web page as part of the server request/response cycle, and to execute this, the SPA needs to be executed against a virtual DOM. The virtual DOM will then become an HTML string, which is then made a part of the page before being sent to the visitor. When this page is opened in the browser, the SPA executes the JavaScript, and it will replace the existing content. This way, the SSR process helps your SPA become a search engine friendly entity irrespective of whether the crawlers are JavaScript compatible. But unfortunately, the SSR technique has some disadvantages. 

  • The codes of your SPA should be universally compatible. It should work fine in both browser and server-based JavaScript environment.
  • To handle SSR means you need a lot of technical know-how about the process, and it is quite complex. It will add to your development hours and resources.
  • SSR also means additional requests burdening your systems, which will lead to an increase in load time and slowing down of response. Caching can be of some relief.
  • SSR needs a NodeJS backend to be executed properly, though there are alternatives available where NodeJS is not mandatory, and it can be done through a PHP extension, again, it has limited availability.

Pre-Rendering on Headless Browser

If SSR is not your cup of tea, you can address the rendering issue by pre-rendering it on a headless browser like Chrome, Firefox, or PhantomJS in the development environment. You will have to take a snapshot of the output, and then you will have to substitute the HTML version with this snapshot. This becomes the response to the server request.  

In one sense, Pre-rendering follows the similar concept of rendering the JavaScript-enabled pages but only differs at the deployment stage. It takes place at the pre-deployment stage and not on a live server.

The benefit of using the Pre-rendering is that the NodeJS backend is not mandatory, and neither does it contributes to any additional load on the server. 

This also suffers from a few disadvantages:

  • It is not effective against dynamic content websites that keep changing their display data, e.g., News websites
  • It is not relevant for the user account page that has the personal details of the users but is anyways less critical from the SEO point of view as they don’t need to be indexed.
  • Since each section will need to be pre-rendered, it will take a lot of time if the SPA in question is enormous. 

SEO Centric URLs

The SPA can have two SEO centric URLs – an ID URL and a slug URL. The ID URL has the unique IDs associated with each chunk of content that will be displayed on the page. This URL serves the purpose of guiding the router to extract the relevant content category and use it in the component.

A Slug URL contains actual words separated by hyphens that make it easier for the visitor to understand and pass on the URL. From the SEO perspective, the Slug URL should contain all the relevant keywords and should have a 200 OK status. Try to make URLs that are clean and should not have any hashtags as Google has stopped endorsing hashtags in the URLs.

Meta Information

Page Titles, Meta Description, Canonical Tags, and HREFLANG are the Meta Tags that should be coded directly into the source code of the page to complement the server-side or pre-rendering process. 

Link <a> Tags

To ensure your website content is efficiently crawled, all the internal links in their source code should carry the link <a> tags instead of the JavaScript onclick events. We also suggest that all the core navigational elements are directly integrated within the source code.

Sitemap

A well-defined XML Sitemap allows the Google crawlers to access the deeper parts of the website content. You must first submit it to the Google Search Console for it to send the crawlers to your website.

Conclusion

SPAs have carved out their own niche and SEO professionals should be adept at solving the issues going forward. The SPAs of the future are going to get some default SEO help pre-packaged into them since everyone is already aware of its disadvantage. The advice for the brands would be to keep themselves abreast with the latest SPA trends and their impact on their SEO abilities.

Vipul Patel

Vipul Patel

Vipul is a passionate techie and loves to get involved in high pace projects which involves creating business optimized applications, business processes, and strategies to maximize business growth with a clear focus on expertise in SaaS domain. Vipul has more than 14 years of experience that cuts across various sections of web and mobile development, support, service, migration projects for Global Clients.

Vipul Patel
This entry was posted in Advanced Technologies on by .
Vipul Patel

About Vipul Patel

Vipul is a passionate techie and loves to get involved in high pace projects which involves creating business optimized applications, business processes, and strategies to maximize business growth with a clear focus on expertise in SaaS domain. Vipul has more than 14 years of experience that cuts across various sections of web and mobile development, support, service, migration projects for Global Clients.