Google’s Ajax Indexing Specification: Developer Talk
Many websites built with Ajax contain a wealth of content that is hidden from search engines. Google’s specification for Ajax indexing, promises to fix all that. Here, we interview a site that recently implemented the specification. How did it work out for them?
In a recent post, we researched several examples of sites using the Google Ajax indexing specification. One that jumped out at us was Bookwhack.com (since rebranded to YourNextRead). YourNextRead.com is a website for socially sharing book reviews in a pleasant browsable environment. Says co-founder, Robert Boland: “YourNextRead combines simple one page navigation with multiple book reviews and user recommendations.” We spoke with Robert about his team’s choice to make their Ajax-generated content indexable on Google.
Gravity: Why did you decide to implement the Google specification for Ajax indexing on YourNextRead.com?
YourNextRead: Since we were starting a new project, we had the freedom to use the latest technology. We decided to develop in GWT Ajax [Gravity’s Note: “GWT” stands for Google Web Toolkit]. We looked into how to make YourNextRead crawlable and thought using Google’s new technique might give us an edge.
Gravity: Did you have an Ajax-based site previously that did not have the spec in place? If so, have you seen a difference between the old & new site performance in search?
We noticed a great improvement after implementing this technique on YourNextRead. Beforehand, none of the Ajax content was visible to the searchbots – only the index page was being crawled.
Gravity: I notice that your site doesn’t include degraded content for Yahoo! or Bing. Was this a conscious decision or do you plan to implement some other approach for Yahoo and Bing?
We have not included degraded content for Yahoo or Bing, as other development tasks have been prioritised at the moment. Google is the largest search engine and tends to lead the way on search engine standards. We believe/hope 😀 Yahoo and Bing will soon follow Google’s lead.
Gravity: Did you have any technical difficulties or challenges when implementing? Anything in Google’s instructions that could be clearer?
We did find it difficult to implement the specification at first. In particular, it was hard to find examples or advice on the web as very few other sites are using this technique.
Generally Google’s documentation was clear, although it was tricky to understand how to practically implement the section on ‘Creating HTML Snapshots’. Many of the websites we found describing the new technique focussed on the HTMLUnit implementation. However, we are using a PHP backend to generate much of our content so we could not use this. There are some pseudo-code snippets in the documentation to help with server-side content generation, and it took a while to get the results we wanted.
Gravity: How do you feel about the outcome and the indexing you’ve gotten for your site on Google?
We are still in the process of refining the method and our keywords. However, the indexing of YourNextRead has improved enormously. Webmaster tools indicated there are now many queries linking to our site, whereas previously, there was only one.
You can see for yourself with the attached graph of crawl stats, taken from Webmaster tools:
Gravity: Is there anything you’d like to share with any other website owners who are considering the specification?
The GWT forum is a great place to ask questions as some of Google’s staff are looking out for questions on the new spec and are happy to help. [Gravity’s note: See this thread on “Crawlable AJAX – jQuery Load” as an example.]
The ‘Fetch as Googlebot’ option in webmaster tools was invaluable for testing purposes. The spec would have been much more difficult to implement without this being available.
Gravity: Thanks for the interview!
We’re grateful that Robert was willing to share a few of his experiences with us and our readers! In future posts, we hope to connect with more sites that are implementing this new specification. If you have experience with Google’s Ajax indexing, we hope you’ll leave a comment sharing your thoughts!