Dust Bunnies & Your Search Ranking

November 13, 2014

Blog | Development | Dust Bunnies & Your Search Ranking
Dust Bunnies & Your Search Ranking

There are a lot of “tricks” to boost your search ranking, but the best bet has always been to say something worthwhile, and say it well.  The first half of that is often summarized as “content is king;” however, the other half – say it well – is often glossed over, as if punctuation and grammar are the vehicles of the web.  In truth, code is the mechanism for delivering content, and Google has started indexing fully rendered pages – including CSS and JavaScript.  That means a lot of things, but the important take-away is that clean code matters.

“Clean code?” you say. Yes, because the web has always been a messy place.  In an ideal world, all web browsers would expose the same functionality, would adopt new features at the same rate, and users would upgrade their browsers eagerly.  Web programmers are either laughing or crying at that last sentence because we remember the “browser wars” of the late ’90s.  In short, browser makers were adding new features faster than any standard specification could be written, so it was routine to see “Best Viewed in Internet Explorer 6″ on a web page, all other comers be damned.

As an outgrowth of that mess, usability across other browsers was a secondary concern. Thankfully that hasn’t lasted. Now, users demand a high quality user experience, regardless of browser, device, screen resolution, or language.  To meet those expectations, web programmers have gladly jumped on the various bandwagons, including AJAX, responsive design, HTML5, CSS3, etc.  The quality, sophistication, and usability of web sites (and now “web applications”) has improved drastically, but there are still some dust bunnies to sweep up.

The easy ones are bundling and minificationspriting, and standards-compliant code.  I say “easy” because they have been around long enough that there are great examples on how to do it, regardless of what server platform you prefer. Also, programmers should stop using non-HTML5 tags.  Just because a browser will render them doesn’t mean it’s good code.  From an anecdotal standpoint, the real surprise is how infrequently people get the easy stuff right.  Most of the time the if it runs in a browser, everyone is happy.

CSS still has some problems, so we implement hacks – tricks that make it behave better, extend the functionality, or work around browser shortcomings. Some hacks are just for fun, such as re-implementing the terrible <blink> tag from Netscape.  Others are done in response to older browsers, in particular Internet Explorer versions older than 10.  But while we ply bandages to outmoded browsers, we write web applications that target the newest and most feature-rich browsers. It creates lousy user experiences for folks without the latest and greatest browser  – and  – we let it happen. Why?  Because it’s human nature.  We want the new shiny toy.

That’s why Progressive Enhancement is such a big deal: write for browsers and features that most people have, then ply bandages up to the cutting edge.  Progressive Enhancement isn’t new, but with Google’s change in indexing strategies, it’s suddenly more important.

So, how do you clean up the dust bunnies? 

First, change your robots.txt file so that Google’s indexer can view those files.  Second, pick the low-hanging fruit of bundling and minification: it makes a big difference, especially on cellular devices.  Third and finally, code for the future.  That means write code that passes validators and doesn’t invest in fringe technologies.  To that point, Google is helping business prioritize good coding practices as a means to success.


Photo credit: © Dust Bunnies by Suzanne Proulx.

Dan Clouse

Senior Developer
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