Googlebot Now Speaks JavaScript. Will It Be the Death of Your Website?

Googlebot Crawling JavaScript

Back in the early days of Google, the only thing JavaScript did was make webpage elements blink. Therefore, the folks at Google weren't overly concerned with JavaScript. In fact, until very recently, their beloved Googlebot wasn't very good at reading JavaScript.

But the Web's landscape has changed dramatically since then, with the majority of websites relying heavily on the programming language. Because of this, Google recently announced that its programmers been implementing changes that allow their crawlers to better understand pages by executing JavaScript.

To best understand how this change will impact your website, we want to make sure that you understand what JavaScript is. If you already do, feel free to skip this section. If not, please read on.

JavaScript 101

The official definition of JavaScript—as provided by Google—is "an object-oriented computer programming language commonly used to create interactive effects within web browsers."

JavaScript was born out of the desire to provide nonprofessional programmers entry into the world of website creation. Today, JavaScript is used by amateur and professional programmers alike and it's the most popular programming language in the world. It's so popular that it is the base language for: HTML, the Web, desktop computers, servers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones. Basically, if you use a modern computing device of any kind, you are doing so thanks to JavaScript. Here are some of the most common JavaScript elements for static websites:

  • When you hover your mouse over text or a picture and it expands or displays other text
  • Drop-down menus
  • Most on-page and pop-up ads
  • Log-in forms
  • Pop-ups. (e.g. when you enter a date into a form and a calendar pops-up)

What these elements—and other like them—do is create visual effects on a static page. This makes the page more dynamic and interactive.

What This Means for Your Website

To ensure that your website is ready to be viewed through Googlebot's new JavaScript lens, we have compiled a list of don'ts. This list will help avoid many of the pitfalls associated with the changes.

  • Don't block Googlebot. There are times when a webmaster or designer will block files on a site with robot.txt. This is usually done when a website is in development and is useful because it allows the site's builder to avoid being penalized by Google for a half-done website. The robot.txt is supposed to be removed when the site is ready to go live, but there are times when it isn't. If you want to know more about why this matters, a lot, check our article that details how one attorney's webmaster made a robot.txt mistake that nearly cut the success of his viral video off at the knees.
  • Don't go overboard. Yes, Google is getting better at crawling JavaScript-heavy sites, but this doesn't mean that you should overuse it. Doing so will increase your site's load times and Google's crawlers still aren't complex enough to understand all JavaScript, all the time.
  • Don't cheat. Every time Google announces a change, a group of people will react by trying to find a way around it, and this most recent change is no exception. So while black hat SEO companies may ask you to pay them to cloak your content—making it possible for real visitors and Google to see different things—know that shortcuts and cheats are never the answer. Ever!

The Heart of the Matter: Will Your Website Be Affected by Google's Changes?

As a business owner with a website, your biggest concern is this: Will the changes with Google's JavaScript crawling abilities affect the performance of my website?

While avoiding making the three mistakes listed above is a good first step, there is only one way to determine if your website will be dinged by Google: Test. Your. Website. I feel like I say this in every blog I write, but I cannot stress the importance of testing your website enough. In this case, you'll want to look not only for drop-off in pageviews, indicating the possibility that your site has dropped in search engine rankings, but for Googlebot's activity on your site. To do this, use Google Webmaster's crawl stat tool. Google's tool will give you a picture of how and when Googlebot has crawled your site in the last 90 days.

If you're a client, and you'd like our SEO team to help you ensure that your site is still Google ready, shoot us an email or post to the DSS User's Forum.

Not a Client?

If you're not yet a member of the Foster Web Marketing family, call 888-886-0939 or fill out a contact form. We would love to help you not only navigate your way through the ups and downs of Google's updates, but create a site and write content that's Google-proof. Can your current web marketing firm say that?

Chris Abbott
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Front-End Developer at Foster Web Marketing
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