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Clearing Search Engine Roadblocks with Progressive Enhancement

Search engines don’t parse JavaScript, so any content on your site that’s dependent upon scripting for display won’t be indexed. This includes all content loaded dynamically via AJAX calls to the server. To solve the problem, you’ll simply need to make your content accessible without JavaScript, and then add scripting as an enhancement layer on top to enrich the user experience.

Figure 1 presents a typical user interface scenario in which a series of expand/collapse boxes are used to display content. Using AJAX to load content into these boxes would make it impossible for search engines to index them, so a low-tech solution of embedding the content directly into the page is preferable. You add the expand/collapse links to the page dynamically through JavaScript, so when search engines encounter the page, the keyword density is not polluted with the word expand repeated in each box. Even with CSS removed, the content is still accessible.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Expand/collapse boxes that are legible to search engines even when JavaScript isn’t supported.

It’s pretty common for web applications and services to supply users with small JavaScript snippets of code to embed in pages, in order to display content from an RSS feed or a database. Ma.gnolia, for example, provides JavaScript snippets so you can display on your site the bookmarks you’ve stored in their system. This content is very useful to users, but can’t be indexed by search engines, and therefore won’t garner you any search traffic.

Just as JavaScript interfaces need to be enhanced progressively in order to keep the content search-engine friendly, so too does Flash. Flash content actually is legible to search engines, but it lacks the semantic meaning that will communicate a clear information hierarchy and help your pages to rank high in search results. We’ll explore ways to make Flash content more findable in the next article in this series.

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