SEO for Dynamic Sites

SEO for Dynamic Sites: Things to Consider Before You Upgrade

By Melanie Datz –

Maybe you’ve seen your competitor’s flashy new site, looked at your old HTML site, and decided, “We should upgrade.” Maybe a vendor has come in and said, “There’s no problem with SEO and dynamic sites anymore.” However you got to the decision to upgrade, there are things you should know about dynamic sites and SEO. Lever Interactive has helped a number of clients transition from HTML to dynamic sites, and our takeaway is that getting an SEO-friendly dynamic site is a lot of work.

Beware vendors who oversell and articles online that say SEO is no longer an issue because Googlebot can read JavaScript. While Angular.js was invented by Google, that doesn’t mean an Angular.js site will be SEO friendly right out of the box. HTML is still Googlebot’s native language. No matter the platform, it takes a lot of translation to get it to understand and unpack all those scripts correctly.

Typical Pitfalls That Make Dynamic Sites Hard To Optimize

Know what you’re getting. Ask if links run on JavaScript (which Google can’t crawl), whether implementation with your CDN will work, and what types of pages won’t be accessible to spiders. One site has category pages pulled together by the search function. The search function can’t be accessed by crawlers, so Google can’t see any of individual product details, or crawl any links off those pages. Ask your vendor/programmers how their platform will handle your Analytics tags, and make them provide an answer. We were surprised to see the Analytics, Trusted Stores, Tag Manager and Remarketing tags multiplying as we clicked through pages on one site. The home page had one of each, there were two of each on the category page, and three on the product page, because each time the dynamic site created a new page, it kept all the previous tags live.

Check your old site: Are there types of pages that can’t be 301 redirected to the new site? As incredible as it sounds, we’ve seen it. What will happen to those pages on the new site?

Dynamic URLs Need Work To Be SEO Friendly

Your URL structure will probably change. Plan carefully for redirects from the old site to the new site. Sure, the product feed and CDN will take care of current products, but don’t forget old product pages that have links, receive traffic, and maybe even rank. How will you redirect these? Forgetting them could lead to a situation where thousands of pages 404. Get your SEO team to map old URLs to new URLs. This is a tedious process and can be costly, but not as costly as the results of a badly done mapping.

Try not to remap until the new URLs are tested thoroughly. Crawl the URLs in your test environment (if you can’t get a standard crawler like Screaming Frog to work, this is a big red flag). Look carefully for anomalies in the crawl results. Dynamic URLs are, well, dynamic, and we saw a newly launched site create thousands of product page URLs with “FAQ” added to the end of them. This resulted in thousands of 404 pages. We’ve also seen sub-folders get added and the “pretty” URLs suddenly get replaced with hashbanged, “ugly” URLs post-launch. Try to work out any kinks before creating final redirects from the old site to the new. On one site, we saw hybrid URLs–part old site URL, part new site URL—show up in the SERPs. Some of these issues inadvertently created redirect chains, so remember to implement self-canonical tags to a pretty URL in place before launch. That way, if something breaks and your product URLs are suddenly replaced, only the pretty one should be getting indexed.

Test Your Dynamic Site While It’s In Development

Set up a Google Search Console account for your development site, and make liberal use of the Fetch/Render feature. This will show exactly which parts of the dynamic and CDN-delivered pages Googlebot can’t see. Give your SEO team access to the development site so they can check and test specifically for SEO issues.

Optimizing Dynamic Sites For Page Speed

Your new dynamic site will be mobile friendly out of the box, but that doesn’t mean it will score 100 on the Google page speed test. We ran our clients’ dynamic sites through the Google Page Speed Tool post-launch, and none of them scored above 60; all of them needed to optimize images, minify code and fix issues with render blocking scripts above the fold.

Dynamic Sites, Open Graph Tags And Tags

If you do a lot of social media sharing, set up a private Facebook page and Twitter account to test out the Open Graph tag implementation. If Facebook isn’t reading the tags properly, you’ll get a blank space the size of an image, or a severely distorted image. tags and other microdata will be your friend, but again, they’ll need testing. Google’s structured data tool is an important first step, but don’t be surprised if you have to tweak after launch. After six weeks of mediocre performance, one client fixed their schema tags and saw an immediate increase in the number of keywords ranking, as well as a big jump in keywords ranking in the top three. We suspect that if schema tags are implemented correctly, Googlebot will read and process them even if it can’t read anything else on the page.

Optimizing Dynamic Sites Post-Launch

Some things can’t be tested, including how Google will display site info on the SERPs. Expect to tweak for SEO after launch. Lever provided optimized product page URL structures, page titles, meta descriptions and H1s for the new site prior to the launch. Once the site was live, product page URLs were listed on the SERPs with the home page title and meta description because something in a script was off.

Finally, think long and hard about when to launch your new dynamic site. If the launch has problems, rankings and organic traffic will drop and could take a long time to recover once everything gets fixed. Is summer your busy season? Then launch in the dead of winter so you have time to correct the inevitable problems and regain rankings before your peak season approaches.

None of this is to say that problems can’t be overcome or that you shouldn’t move to a dynamic site. With hard work, our clients’ dynamic sites are up and running and performing well. The benefits for our clients are clear: Better UX, easier to maintain or create additional pages, better integration with the CDN. But better UX, maintenance and integration won’t matter much if SEO issues mean the dynamic site doesn’t rank.

Want to learn more or explore how Lever Interactive can help you with your site? We’d love to talk. Contact Us >>

Comments 1

  1. I think this is an impressive article and I particularly enjoyed the part about various ways to test if the content could be crawled/understood (FB was a good idea I never thought of). Only thing I didn’t grasp was what a “dynamic” site is. I think that word can be interpreted differently based on the audience.

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