Single page applications or SPAs have been around for a while, but it is only now that they are gaining widespread popularity. As its name suggests, a single page application is a web application that loads a single HTML page, and all the changes to that page are dynamically updated as the user interacts with it. In other words, a user is accessing a page that updates and rewrites itself without reloading or loading new pages from a server. The most obvious benefit from this is the seamless quality of user experience. SPA looks a lot like a desktop application.
You may not know this, but you use single page applications every day! Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Gmail, Google Maps and GitHub are famous examples of single page applications.
SEO and Single Page Applications
In 2014, Googlebot announced that it had started to ‘render and understand your web pages like modern browsers’ as long as the developer was not blocking Googlebot from crawling the site’s CSS or JS files.
The problem occurs when internal links crop up because these are not part of the HTML source code and the crawler may not access them all. This puts some extra load on the indexer, which can negatively impact the speed but bots like Google’s are designed to handle this problem, specifically with Google’s Fetch as Google Tool. The developer can also use an XML sitemap to help the crawlers to access more site content.
SSR is more suitable for occasionally used content and user-specific content.
With pre-rendering, you run the SPA on a browser without a graphical user interface (or a headless browser) like Firefox, PhantomJS or Chrome but you don’t run it on a live server. You run your app, take a snapshot of the page output and replace your HTML files with this snapshot as a response to the server request. Unlike SSR, you don’t need a Node.js backend for pre-rendering and your load time is not affected. Pre-rendering does have its share of problems. It does not work well for pages that are constantly changing and should be loaded dynamically at load time.
Other ways to help SEO
There are other hacks that developers can use. For example, for SPAs, the initial load is critical as it takes the longest time, so it’s a good idea not to have long-running scripts for the initial content. Also, make sure that you configure your backlinks correctly so that deep linking is possible and there are no broken links.
Recently, Google’s John Mueller was asked about SEO for SPAs and how Googlebot handles crawling and indexing of SPAs. Mueller said developers should test continuously with Fetch as Google to see what Google picks explicitly up. However, they should also dive deeper into the code and do some client-side rendering.
With a combination of tools, technologies, intuition, and creativity, a developer can resolve the SEO problem on single page applications. For example, never forget that even with SPAs, content is king.
Every Internet giant, including Netflix, uses SPAs and it is only a matter of time before it catches on as the standard in the industry.
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