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Single-Page Applications and the Future of Websites

Posted by Dwight H. on April 19, 2018

Much ado has been made over the rise of single-page applications (SPAs) in recent years. These in-browser apps supplant the need for page reloading while in use and have become a boon to many developers, who cite their streamlined simplicity as a major benefit.

As Neoteric points out in its 2016 article on the matter, "Single-Page Application Vs. Multi-Page Application," SPAs create a more "natural" experience for users:

"Single-page sites help keep the user in one, comfortable web space where content is presented to the user in a simple, easy and workable fashion."


Yet for all the advantages that have catapulted them into widespread adoption, there are still several drawbacks that can cause significant difficulty, specifically where speed and SEO are concerned. To forge a successful path forward in this new future for websites, a keen understanding of the relationship between SPAs and SEO is a must.

Breaking It Down: How SPAs Work

Referring back to "Single-Page Application Vs. Multi-Page Application," we can see a few examples of what kinds of apps fit the bill -- Gmail, Google Maps, Facebook, GitHub, etc. The common thread between these, you might note, is that they more similarly mirror desktop and native mobile apps, on account of their dynamic interactions and reduced page reloading.

After the initial page load, there's no more HTML sent over the network, as SPAs get their markup and data independently. They make use of various JavaScript Frameworks, such as Angular, Ember, React, Meteor, Knockout, etc. They shift most of the page rendering burden to the client side of the equation, resulting in the aforementioned drawbacks.

Going Further: How SPAs Affect Speed and SEO

speed-and-seo-cutBecause of the heavy client frameworks used by SPAs, loading speed, particularly on less capable devices such as smartphones and tablets, can sometimes be slow. The increased usage of AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), which is what allows them to exchange data and update without constant page refreshing, also presents a possible hindrance for SEO.

The issue lies within the complexity added to the process of search engines crawling and indexing websites. It's a simple task for pure HTML websites, but as Chris Mann of Twenty Six Digital points out, it becomes more complicated when JavaScript enters the picture:

"For websites with a high reliance on JavaScript, i.e. where a high proportion of links are not part of the HTML source code, a crawler may initially only find a limited set of URLs. In order for deeper URLs to be discovered the indexer must render pages discovered during the initial crawl, extract all supplementary URLs, then pass these back to the crawler to enable deeper content to be discovered."

The more JavaScript intertwined within a page's inner workings, the slower and less efficient this process can be, thus harming SEO efforts.

The Way Forward: Mitigating Speed and SEO Challenges

In spite of the drawbacks, SPAs are here to stay, it seems. This doesn't necessarily mean that SEO is permanently hindered, mind you. Developers note that large search engines, Google included, have made efforts to more readily interpret JavaScript. In addition, there are server-side optimizations that can alleviate client-side browser burdens and help increase content discoverability.

While there might not be a one-size-fits-all approach to tackling the SEO challenges presented by SPAs, search engines are aware of the need to adapt and will likely take the necessary steps to handle JavaScript websites with improved efficiency. For SEO managers, understanding how SPAs can affect their work and handling issues as they arise will be critical for moving forward through this shifting search engine landscape.

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Topics: Applications, Ecommerce, HTML5, SEO, website speed, web design, page performance, SPAs, server side

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