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The AJAX Dilemma For SEO


AJAX is at the heart of the WEB 2`0 suite of applications, using it, web developers can create faster loading pages where only a small portion of the content is changed upon clicking a link. Gmail is one example of a site which uses AJAX.

That`s great news for people who are tired of waiting an interminable length of time for pages to load. But AJAX also presents an SEO dilemma since such sites are typically not able to be recognized by search engine spiders.

Some code tweaking can help with this but some may prefer alternatives such as Flash, Java or Ruby on Rails. Each has its good and bad points and it`s up to the developer to decide. There has been news that Google might be working on a process which would allow the indexing of AJAX enabled sites.

So what exactly is AJAX? It`s not that easy to explain but let`s give it a go. AJAX is a part of what is considered to be Web 2.0 and is essentially a way for a browser to connect directly to a server through the use of Javascript. What this means is that, when a link is clicked on a page, only a certain amount of content is changed.

The entire page does not have to be loaded again, leading to a more interactive and enjoyable experience. Gmail is one such site which uses AJAX. That`s why, when you click on a message in your inbox, only that part of the page changes. You don`t have to wait for the whole thing to reload.

That sounds great, doesn`t it? No more long wait. No more visitors heading away from your site because they`re impatient. No more need to place keywords on a whole bunch of pages. You can just have one main page with SEO optimized content, and dynamic content which doesn`t matter much. All of that is true, but that`s where the dilemma comes in.

While AJAX can help with SEO in terms of faster loading pages and keyword stability, there`s also a down side. AJAX has been known to produce some not so good results. It`s a definite problem when it comes to book marking because the content changes so there`s no guarantee that what you`ve saved is what you want. However, the huge problem with AJAX is the fact that such pages are typically not recognized by search engines.

Remember when we said that AJAX uses Javascript to directly connect the browser to the server? Search engines are incapable of following such Javascript links to the point where they can index the pages. Hence many sites which use AJAX remain practically invisible to the search engines. That can sink anyone`s SEO efforts.

There is one way to work around this, although it may not be applicable to all browsers. It also relies on the use of CSS stylesheets so if you`re not using those it won`t work. The key here is to maintain the CSS links while enabling AJAX, but making sure that the two don`t work at the same time. To do this you`d have to set up your pages so that they look like http://www.sitename.com/index.php?page=page_name. The index.php script should then be altered so that URLs with the GET variable of ajax_caller=true set only return unique content. The AJAX caller function then needs to be configured to accept the page parameters and the appropriate URL called. Finally each link should have the ‘href` attribute set to http://www.sitename.com/index.php?page=page_name and the ‘onclick` attribute set to ajaxCaller(page_name);return false.

This process might sound complicated but it`s one way for a search engine to be able to follow your links while users are still able to see the more advanced interface. If you couldn`t be bothered with going through this process and would rather avoid AJAX altogether, there are some alternatives.

Ruby On Rails:
Ruby on Rails one of the newer applications to be developed over the past few years and is used on quite a lot of database-driven websites. It emphasises the need to eliminate inefficient duplication while sticking to known conventions, instead of playing around with configurations. Once it`s installed it`s easy to use AJAX as the program has intrinsic support.

Flash:
There`s no denying that Flash websites can reach great heights if creativity and embedded Flash coding is one way to change snippets of content on a web page while leaving majority intact. There is one problem with Flash when it comes to SEO though. Search engines don`t like too much of it. If you`re going to use Flash on your website, do so in moderation.

Java Applets:
This was once the standard for creating dynamic content on web pages, as is still in use today. It runs on practically any platform and is good from a security standpoint in that can only access the memory allotted to its ‘sandbox`. However, java applets can sometimes have a very slow loading time and this can turn off users who have become used to instant gratification.

The bottom line of it all is that the final choice lies in the hands of the developer. Practically all of the methods of creating dynamic page content have their advantages and their drawbacks. AJAX creates fast loading interact active pages but, unless you do some tweaking of the code, your site may not be indexed. There might be some hope though. SEO blogs are buzzing with the news that Google might start indexing AJAX pages soon, if they haven`t already.

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