Developers sometimes make technical decisions about Web applications that have a negative impact on the applications' search engine rankings. For Web applications such as shopping carts, a hit to search engine optimization (SEO) can be deadly to the revenue stream. Here are five tips to help you make sure that your Web applications are search engine friendly.
1: Specify the canonical URL for a page
Search engines do not like it when there are multiple URLs to get to the same or similar content; search engines end up treating each URL as a separate page and splitting its "weight," which pushes each perceived duplicate down in the rankings. We see this a lot in shopping carts, where various guided searches, filtering, and sorting can lead the engine to similar content.
Fortunately, Google introduced a system so that pages can specify what the "canonical" URL is for a page. Use this system to ensure that the search engines know what single URL to look at for any given piece of content.
2: Display critical text in a normal fashion
Have you ever wondered why a search can lead to a page that has nothing to do with what you searched for? Over the years, spammers have found all sorts of ways to bury content from normal view but make it visible to search engines. The search engines have caught on, and that is why this kind of spam is much less of a problem now.
3: Code for disabled users
All developers know they should be making their Web applications work well for disabled users, right? Well, it turns out that search engines like many of the same things that make a site or an application accessible to the disabled as well. Things like descriptive link text, alt text for images, and more, all help your search engine rankings too.
4: Use better titles and descriptions
It's simple to make Web applications use a generic title and description for all pages, especially if they are using some sort of template. However, it's just as easy to have the applications insert a unique value in there from the configuration or the database. Search engines will like your content a lot more when each page has unique title and description fields (combine this with the canonical links from tip #1), so make sure that your application puts them in. For example, use the product's name as a title on a shopping site.
5. Write quality HTML
Too many times, a great site's SEO suffers due to bad HTML. In my opinion, the biggest culprit is ASP.NET WebForms, which takes too much control out of the developer's hands and fills pages up with all sorts of junk to work its magic. If possible, switch to a system such as ASP.NET MVC, Ruby on Rails, or PHP to get the most control and least amount of garbage in your HTML. Getting your HTML under control will also reduce page load times from the decreased download size, and reduce difficulty in parsing and rendering it.
This is not the be-all and end-all of the relationship between Web applications and search engines, but following these tips will go a long way towards helping your applications be as visible as possible to users. Even better, most of these tips will also make using your application a better experience.
Justin James is an OutSystems MVP, architect, and developer with expertise in SaaS applications and enterprise applications.