Optimal Rendering and Indexing - Google Webmaster Guideline Update


Earlier this week Webmaster Central posted an update about Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) and how it renders webpages. For some time now Google’s indexing system has been able to render webpages (announcement was made in May) and along with this came the functionality within GWT which has allowed webmasters to check what Google sees when it does this. Well, now Google have updated their Technical Webmaster Guidelines to reflect this change.

New Ranking Signals

You could be forgiven for not getting overly excited about this change, but whilst Google update and amend their guidelines all the time this one carries more weight, especially for those within the SEO-conscious. This doesn’t sound like much of a run-of-the-mill update until you see that it’s more of a warning:

“Disallowing crawling of Javascript or CSS files in your site’s robots.txt directly harms how well our algorithms render and index your content and can result in suboptimal rankings.”

For many the phrase “suboptimal rankings” will conjure images of traffic falling through the floor and your hard-earned rankings tumbling away. Whilst this is unlikely to be that drastic, the change - for many - spells potential for losses if you’re acting out of line of the revised Webmaster Guidelines.

In the past people have blocked javascript, stylesheet(CSS) and image files and folders for lots of reasons, but since GWT started rendering the pages, we’ve always recommended that you don’t block these files.

Google - More Than a Text Reader

Until recently Google’s conviction wasn’t as strong as we’d like and in Google’s defense the challenges behind rending all javascript correctly are many! From their May update they state that the “indexing system has been rendering a substantial number of web pages more like an average user” - but the key points here being “substantial” (not all) and “more like” (not exactly like).

With the most recent update, however, we get a strong indication that Google has well and truly broken free from their “text-only” routes - and doesn’t want us (SEOs mainly) to consider it in this way any more.

Now, with indexing based on page rendering, it’s no longer accurate to see our indexing systems as a text-only browser.

Google is ready to see your page and the full experience that comes with it and anything that you’re blocking is likely being seen as manipulative practice.

We’d now recommend checking your robots.txt (among other things) and making sure you aren’t blocking any of these files, otherwise Google may think you’re hiding something and take action against your site.

Mobile Usability

GWT have also announced a new addition to your GWT interface called Mobile Usability which highlights issues with your site for mobile devices and give helpful advice on solving these issues.

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About Patrick Hegarty

I've spent over 20 years programming and playing on computers and I still love it. Currently working on learning to fly, being a husband and bringing up three kids. Oh and I'm also working as a SEO Consultant and Web Developer for the fantastic High Position! Follow Patrick on Twitter via @pkhegarty and also on Google+

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