Can Google read JavaScript? Yes, but can it really?

Google will eventually crawl all JavaScript, but they haven’t been indexing JavaScript pages very  successfully. Every year, we hear the same story: Google says it’s  getting better at crawling and indexing Javascript. Except crawling JavaScript, and crawling ALL JavaScript are clearly two different accomplishments.

Google can crawl it, render it, but just doesn’t seem to use it in the same way as optimized content. JavaScript pages can’t seem to rank as well in search engines, from what we’ve seen. Title tags come through here and there, but not consistently.

Although, with the ease of development that JavaScript frameworks offer, it can be difficult to justify optimization with plain text and images. Here are some important questions to consider:

1. Fail gracefully

For visitors without JavaScript – either bot or human – offering some sort of page content has always been important. Showing plain text and image content when JavaScript is off embraces the best practice of “failing gracefully.”

2. How quickly do you want results?

For many sites, faster rankings means a faster path to revenue. Where pure JavaScript offers a compelling business case, it could be prioritized over “search engine friendliness.” For most sites, the extra visibility is worth extra work optimizing in the most search-friendly ways possible.

 3. Is Google responding correctly to a test

The entire site doesn’t have to be converted to JavaScript. Instead, use simple one page tests and check Google’s ‘crawlability.” Is Google understanding the DOM, and extracting titles, images and content correctly?

4. What other Google bots need to access your content?

There are actually a variety of bots across Google’s many services. Google employs specific bots for their image search, ad services, product listing feeds, etc. Try accessing these with your test. Also, definitely keep your schema/rich snippet code easily accessible: Google has specifically warned that it cannot be found inside of javascript objects.

 5. Test with all of Google’s tools:

Speaking of Google’s bots, try using Google’s many tools for understanding and analyzing webpages. Seeing any problems here is a serious red flag for your JavaScript. But even if these render JavaScript, Google may not be ranking your pages as well as they would “search friendly” pages.

Bing is rising

Google isn’t the only search engine in town. Even without Yahoo and AOL numbers, Bing’s market share has been increasing steadily year over year. Bing had 21.4 percent market share last year, not counting partnerships with Apple, Yahoo or AOL. That’s getting to be a huge chunk of users.

Bing especially has trouble with images inside javascript objects. Bing’s version of the fetch and render tool may display a rendered page, but bing isn’t going to show images in its image results, and the regular results will be inconsistent.

Social Media

Plain text and image content is also ideal for social media sharing. When a page is shared, most social media sites and can parse the simple text description and image right out – unless there is JavaScript. For most social networks, rich snippets such as open graph and twitter cards could help for the established social networks – but with new social networks (WhatsApp, Snapchat, etc) popping up every year, it would be best to expose the page content as plain text.

Google’s JavaScript support is constantly improving. Having a Javascript app on the landing page is often needlessly complex. As of this writing, having an optimized version does appear to still be necessary. Maybe next year’s announcement that Google is crawling JavaScript will be followed by a more robust crawl, but there are plenty of other sites embracing “search engine friendliness”; Your site should too, in order to be competitive.


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