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We’ve spotted a trend recently with many website developers utilising technologies that make it difficult for search engines to crawl and index the website. Meaning that when search engines find it difficult to understand the content of your website, that you are in a position whereby Google may either penalise your website for spammy behaviours or simply losing a significant portion of the traffic to your website and ultimately revenue too. Clearly for websites that are generating a lot of visits from search engines, if this suddenly dropped off, how much revenue would you lose out on?

The trend we have spotted is around using JavaScript technologies which are inhibiting search engines from crawling websites. So while a new website may look flashy and all-singing-all-dancing, but if the new website cannot be easily crawled by search engines then quite simply you are going to be losing a lot of organic traffic to your website and ultimately sales / enquiries. Don’t make the same mistake that so many website developers do and use the latest technology without thinking through the consequences of what this means for your overall digital marketing strategy.

 

Common Problems

The common problems we are seeing more frequently at the minute are with developers using JavaScript technology which often looks nice for users. From a search engines perspective, JavaScript technology is difficult to crawl which can confuse the search engines and would always be recommended to avoid.

As a prime example, a local business recently re-launched their ecommerce website which certainly looked pretty but when viewing the website with JavaScript turned off (as Google would see it), then there is no content to display at all;

 

Website Using Too Much JavaScript Technology

 

A website that looks good but can’t be indexed to Google is the equivalent of having a beautiful shop on the high street and keeping your doors locked at all times – you aren’t going to be generating any sales. For this business specifically, they have been notified of the issue and are working to fix the problem. Let’s be clear though, this is the exact reason why it is important that you are working with the right digital agency who understands how each piece of the digital marketing jigsaw fits together. A good looking website is often not the same as a good performing website. Good performing websites think about usability, functionality, SEO, PPC, Email Marketing, Conversion Rate Optimisation and more.

 

Why this is a problem for search engines

Developers love to use new technology, but this isn’t always the right decision to make. As a nice comparison, if a new website removed the traditional login username and password and instead replaced this with fingerprint scanning technology to access the website, which is possible. Sounds like a fun and exciting thing to play around with, right? But when you dig a little deeper, this means that only those with the latest Samsung Galaxy phones and certain specialist laptops would be able to use this technology, forcing everyone else away.

There is always a place for new technology and we would always encourage people to experiment with new technology to lead the way in their industry. That being said, you cannot do this at the expense of forcing people to use this technology if they don’t have the means to do so.

The same is true for Google. Search engines cannot easily index content that is powered by JavaScript. Which means that all pages on your website need to be accessible when JavaScript is turned off. Google recently updated their official guidelines on the topic which states that websites should be developed using Progressive Enhancement. So while some of your JavaScript based content may be being found by Google, it would always be recommended to follow Google’s guidelines on the topic to improve the chances of benefitting the website in terms of SEO;

 

What is Progressive Enhancement?

So what exactly is progressive enhancement? Well it comes down to creating a website (or mobile app) that can be run on all devices easily with basic functionality. Then if a certain device has a specific piece of functionality or technology, then you can enhance the usability of the website based on this technology. Most importantly, don’t assume that everyone accessing your website has all of the technology available that you think they do.

For example, how many times have you been prompted when accessing a website from your laptop which asks if it is OK if this website uses your location?

 

Website Wants to Use Your Location in Browser

 

While this technology can certainly work on website, it is often rather inaccurate due to the way your location is essentially guessed based on several factors. Compared with the GPS signal from your mobile phone which is accurate to within a few feet of your location. This is a prime example of when progressive enhancement would be used, with a baseline set of website features not using the Geolocation and only asking the user if you can use their location when they are accessing from a mobile device. People accessing services through their mobile device are used to giving websites their location in return for some form of added features or functionality. As an obvious example, Google Maps clearly needs your location to help you get from A to B.

From a search engines perspective, it is important to use progressive enhancement at all times to ensure that they can easily crawl and index your website and content. Far too often are JavaScript based websites (and Flash websites back in the day!) are built without thinking about how Google is going to be able to crawl them. When using progressive enhancement, this ensures that the baseline website is still accessible to Google when JavaScript is turned off.

Progressive enhancement is not only recommended by Google, but it is also recommended by the wider community opposed to the older approach of graceful degradation. The reason behind this is because it provides a much better user experience when people are accessing a website from a variety of devices with multiple technologies.

As a simple summary of the above, all modern smartphones come built with GPS, accelerometers, gyroscopes, compasses, barometers and more. Whereas most laptops and desktop computers don’t have any of these technologies built in by default. Any website that depends on technology for key features or functionality that not everyone has is doomed to fail.

 

How to Test

To check your own website is displaying correctly for Google, turn JavaScript off in your web browser and navigate around your website. If you can’t easily access all parts of your website with JavaScript turned off, then the chances are that search engines are also having difficulty. While it is true that Google does attempt to index JavaScript based content, they do still find it difficult which is why they recommend progressive enhancement their self.

Removing any ambiguity from your website means that Google will be able to crawl and index your website with ease. It is easy for Google to assume that you are showing one version of content to the user and another version of content to search engines – for which websites can be penalised for this behaviour. Always use progressive enhancement as a way to develop websites effectively.

If you need any tips, advice or pointers related to the technology your website is using then get in touch. We have a range of services to support your individual needs, from starter Digital Lifeline support packages to our high end consultancy packages designed to be tailored to your every need.

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Michael Cropper

Founder & Managing Director at Contrado Digital Ltd
Michael founded Contrado Digital in 2013. He has experience working with national and multi-national brands in a wide range of industries, helping them achieve awesome results. Michael regularly speaks at local universities and industry events while keeping up with the latest trends in the digital industry.