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Will Moving To A JavaScript Front-End Hurt Your WordPress Site’s SEO?

August 16, 2017 0 Comments RSS Feed

SEOWhen the REST API was first introduced, Matt Mullenweg said WordPress developers should “learn JavaScript, deeply”. The REST API, which recently gained new content endpoints, makes WordPress more than a content management framework: it can now act as the back-end for a huge variety front-end applications and we can expect to see more WordPress themes embracing JavaScript and the API.

In 2017, web apps are par for the course. Many of the pages we see on the web are put together by JavaScript code running in the browser. Modern web apps render most of the content on the front-end or use a hybrid server-side / client-side technique. In time, that’ll be the case for WordPress too, which has many WordPress users wondering if the adoption of JavaScript-based front-ends and themes is going to hurt their SEO — can Googlebot cope?

The short answer is yes; Googlebot can cope perfectly well with JavaScript of the level of complexity involved in most web applications. It will deal with JavaScript-created content just as well as HTML built on the server. There are some limitations, but for the most part, JavaScript doesn’t make Googlebot sweat.

In the past, search engine optimization best practice has encouraged server-side rendering, the strategy used by WordPress. The browser sends a request to the content management system, which gathers up data from the database, executes PHP scripts, and combines the results with templates. The output is HTML that browsers — and search engine crawlers — can handle without a problem.

A few years ago, search engine crawlers weren’t all that great at dealing with JavaScript, and site owners couldn’t guarantee JavaScript that rendered content or handled routing would be executed properly.

Last year, John Mueller, webmaster trends analyst at Google and a frequent poster on SEO issues, published a post on Google Plus that detailed best practices for JavaScript SEO — if developers steer clear of the some of the gotchas mentioned, JavaScript front-ends won’t have a negative impact on SEO. Google is quite capable of indexing content — including title and meta description tags — rendered by JavaScript. Similar advice is also given on Google’s guide to building crawlable web applications.

If you have any doubts about whether a particular theme or front-end app is crawlable and indexable, Google provides a Fetch As Google tool so site owners can see how their site looks to Google.

Finally, engineer Stephan Boyer ran several experiments to test whether Google is capable of executing JavaScript in a number of scenarios, and, although the tests were far from comprehensive, Google passed with flying colors.

JavaScript is a big part of WordPress’ future, and many of the most interesting advancements in the WordPress world will involve JavaScript front-ends and themes. Happily, it appears you shouldn’t let SEO worries prevent you from embracing the future of WordPress wholeheartedly.

Posted in: Content, WordPress