Google and Progressive Web Apps: the mobile experience and SEO

Google and Progressive Web Apps: the mobile experience and SEO

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As mobile usage increases and companies develop mobile-friendly sites to ensure the optimal user experience, developers are working hard to make the mobile web as efficient and useful as possible.

Last year, developers at Google created Progressive Web Apps, an interactive experience that has features of both a website and a mobile app. During a session at Google I/O 2016, Alex Russell, a software engineer at Google leading the project, stated that Progressive Web Apps “blur the line between Web content and apps, but they keep the strengths of the Web.”

Essentially, Progressive Web Apps allow for app-like user experience on a mobile browser. Users can interact with mobile web pages that have the look, feel and functionality of an app — including push notifications, offline accessibility, and the ability to add a shortcut to your device’s home screen — without having to visit an app store. And they don’t just work with Chrome, as other browsers are beginning to support Progressive Web Apps, as well.

Like any new technology, there are limitations and technical hurdles that can impact SEO performance. Here’s a closer look at how Progressive Web Apps work and how they affect SEO:

How Progressive Web Apps work

Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are designed with extremely fast load times and eliminate many of the steps required to access certain types of information or features directly from a website. They also have built-in intelligence that captures user behaviors and preferences so the app can deliver a more personalized experience.

These apps can be accessed from a browser tab and do not require any installation or downloads — the user can “build a relationship” with the app by interacting with it often and storing personal data. In return, the app will send push notifications for easy re-engagement. When a Progressive Web App is published online, it is completely linkable and deployed to a host that supports HTTPS. The app will work when the user is online or offline, using the data that was cached when the user was previously online.

In many cases, the mobile version of the website becomes the PWA itself since it allows for a condensed user experience on any type of screen with a variety of features accessible with a screen tap, swipe, or mouse click.

During the opening keynote of Google’s Progressive Web App Summit 2016 in Amsterdam, Thao Tran from Google emphasized that every company will take its own path when building Progressive Web Apps. You can see the whole keynote below.

(Tran, who leads partnerships for the Google Chrome and Web platform, will be sharing further insights into this topic at our company’s event, Share16, later this month.)

Key benefits of Progressive Web Apps

 PWAs offer a number of benefits over a traditional mobile-friendly site, including:

  • push notifications that allow the user to get a quick summary or snapshot of updates or messages instead of receiving an email update or waiting to log in to check;
  • offline functionality that allows the app to continue running in the background and “take notes” on the user’s behavior and activities without the user having to interact with the app directly;
  • highly responsive layout and easier navigation than the full desktop website on a mobile device;
  • all types of hardware access, including geolocation, camera and microphone and screen orientation access;
  • lower data usage, especially important for users in areas with slow or limited internet access; and
  • accessibility to all internet users, since the requirement to download the app or pay for the app is completely eliminated.

Does Google crawl PWA sites?

Progressive Web Apps make use of the flexibility of JavaScript, which means Google sees the single published page as a JavaScript site. A new URL may be created for the PWA, so the Googlebot will go ahead and crawl the page just like it would for any other page published on the web.

Google does crawl PWA sites just like it would crawl an AJAX or JavaScript site, but there are some issues that can potentially impact crawlability — so developers need to be aware of how to optimize the site to ensure the page gets indexed appropriately.

Google’s SEO recommendations for Progressive Web Apps

John Mueller of Google provided a detailed update on how Google handles PWAs and JavaScript sites in general back in March 2016.

In this post, he emphasizes the following:

  • Don’t cloak to Googlebot. It’s important that the developer uses the feature detection and progressive enhancement technique so all users have access to the content. It’s also not a good idea to redirect to an unsupported browser page.
  • Use rel=canonical when serving content from multiple URLs so that you aren’t guilty of duplicate content violations.
  • Avoid the AJAX-Crawling scheme on new sites.
  • Googlebot will not index URLs with “#” n them. Many Progressive Web Apps use the hash symbol in their URL structure, which means the search engines will drop everything beyond the #. The only way around this is to implement a URL structure using traditional SEO rules. This may be tricky for some sites and companies, but it’s a necessary step as we move forward.
  • Test to see how Googlebot sees the page. You can make use of Google Search Console’s Fetch and Render tool to see your site exactly the way Google sees it.
  • Make sure required resources aren’t blocked by robots.txt.
  • Reduce the number of embedded resources in the page (especially the number of JavaScript files required to render the page), since these might not be fully loaded.
  • Use an accurate sitemap file to signal any changes to your website when using Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).
  • Remember that some search engines and web service providers accessing content may not support JavaScript or might support a different subset.

For more information about the SEO implications of Progressive Web Apps, check out this great piece by Pete Wailes: “Introducing Progressive Web Apps: What They Might Mean for Your Website and SEO.”

Conclusion

Progressive Web Apps are the next generation of online interactivity, and they provide a whole new user experience. Companies that develop these app-like interfaces for their users need to be aware of the inherent limitations of the page being indexed by Google and make sure they are coding correctly. Progressive Web Apps can complement an existing website but may not hold much weight independently.

In terms of SEO, it is still up to the company to develop a strong online presence with their existing website using best SEO practices so that users looking for information can find the site or brand easily. From there, the user can decide whether they want to use a PWA or stick with the traditional desktop and mobile version of the site to complete their session.


Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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October 4, 2016 at 07:02PM

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