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Evergreen Googlebot with Chromium rendering engine: What technical SEOs need to know

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A WordPress safety plan for SEOs and developers


It’s been an exciting week with important announcements from the stage at the 2019 Google I/O event. Probably the most impactful announcement is that Google has now committed to regularly updating its Googlebot crawl service to begin using the most recent stable version of their headless Chromium rendering engine. This is a significant leap forward with more than 1,000 features now supported over the previous version.

Nearly all the new feature support is modern JavaScript syntax officially called ECMAScript (ES6). If you are a JavaScript developer, you really want to use the latest version of the language for access to syntactic sugar that continually appears as the language matures. It’s true that if you’re a vanilla JavaScript user, or if you favor one of the modern reactive frameworks, many neat new features come from developers who recommend better patterns for blocks of commonly written code.

One basic example is to add a value to an array, a very common thing to do using push():

<script>
  names = [
    'Amy',
    'Bruce',
    'Chris'
  ];
  names.push('David');
</script>

Reactivity in a Nutshell

In the example above, an array of names is defined and assigned 3 values: Amy, Bruce, and Chris. Then David is added to the list using the push() method. With modern reactive frameworks mutation of values can trigger ‘diff’ evaluations of a page DOM against a newer ‘virtual DOM’ by the framework, and since the array values differ, page values can be updated by JavaScript without reloading the browser window.

Reactivity in web-facing applications is where JavaScript has really added to our capabilities, and where our capabilities continue to advance as modern JavaScript further evolves on the server and in the browser. It gets tricky to keep track of JavaScript written for the server versus JavaScript that gets shipped to the browser. For example, with ES6 you can do the following, including the ability to use ‘let’ (and ‘const’) in definition statements:

<script>
  let names = [
    'Amy',
    'Bruce',
    'Chris'
  ];
  names = [...names, 'David'];
</script>

Backward Compatibility

The names array mutation above uses a newer ‘spread operator’ syntax [...names] to represent current values of the names array, and then adds David using an assignment operation instead of the push() method. The newer syntax is not compatible with Chrome 41, and therefore would not work prior to Googlebot’s update to Chrome 74. For developers it is like death by a thousand cuts to have to write or transpile ES6 down for backward compatibility.

Now modern JavaScript syntax will largely start to work straight out of the box with Googlebot and there are literally dozens of new features available such as the one above. Just be aware that Bing and DuckDuckGo (as well as social share crawlers) may not be able to interpret ES6 syntax.

Real-Life Example

The Svelte framework was recently significantly updated and revised to version 3. With this major overhaul came more precisely triggered assignment-based page reactivity. There’s a fun viral video about it going around. Having to write or transpile the ‘names’ array code to older push() syntax for Google in Svelte requires an extra step because push() adds values to an array but it isn’t a variable assignment operation, which is necessary to trigger page reactivity in Svelte 3.

<script>
  let names = [
    'Amy',
    'Bruce',
    'Chris'
  ];
  names.push('David');
  names = names; // To trigger Svelte reactivity
</script>

It’s easy to see why now being able to use ES6:

<script>
  names = [...names, 'David'];
</script>

…is more developer friendly for Svelte users than before.

Evergreen Chromium rendering

Now that Googlebot’s evergreen Chromium rendering engine can be counted on, React, Angular, Vue, Svelte 3, and vanilla JavaScript users can worry a little less about polyfills specific to Chrome 41 and writing or transpiling down ES6 syntax in projects anymore. Concerns still exist, however. You need to test and make sure the rendering engine is behaving the way you anticipate. Google is more guarded about exposing its resources than a user’s browser would be.

Google recommends that users check out the documentation to find references to Google’s Web Rendering Service (WRS) instances: basically Chromium 74, currently, in products like the mobile-friendly test and the URL Inspection Tool. For example, a Geo location script might ask for browser location services. Google’s rendering engine doesn’t expose that API. These kinds of exceptions in your JavaScript may halt your indexing.

Tracking Googlebot

If you’re still tracking visits from older versions of Chrome in your server logs, eventually they will update the user-agent string to reflect the version of Chrome they are running. Also, keep in mind that Google is a fairly large and dispersed company with divisions that have varying access to its network resources. A particular department might have settings to modify in order to begin using the new Chrome engine, but it stands to reason that everything will be using it very soon, especially for critical Web crawling services.

Technical SEO Advice

What does this mean for technical SEOs? There will be fewer critical indexing issues to point out for sites running modern JavaScript. Traditional advice, however, will remain largely intact. For example, the new rendering engine does not shortcut the indexing render queue for reactive code. That means sites running React, Angular, or Vue etc. are still going to be better off pre-rendering relatively static sites, and best off server-side rendering (SSR) truly dynamic sites.

The nice thing about being a Technical SEO is we get to advise developers about practices that should align with Googlebot and that mostly they ought to be doing in the first place. The nice thing about being a SEO Developer is there’s a never-ending river of exciting modern code to play with, especially with Google now caught up with Chromium 74. The only drawback is evergreen Chromium Googlebot doesn’t help you with Bing, DuckDuckGo, or social media sharing crawlers.

That’s A Pretty Big Drawback

The more things change the more they stay the same. You should still advise clients about pre-rendering and SSR. This ensures that no matter what user-agent you’re dealing with, it will receive rendered content for search or sharing. The predicament we find ourselves in is that if the planned application has a huge volume of reactive parts to it, for example constantly updating sports scores or stock market prices, we must do reactivity and SSR alone won’t work.

That’s when it’s necessary to do SSR and ship custom JavaScript for deferred hydration, similar to code-splitting. Basically, the complete HTML is shipped as fully rendered at the server, and then JavaScript takes care of updating the reactivity parts. If JavaScript doesn’t render in Bing or DuckDuckGo, then it’s all right because you already shipped fully rendered HTML. This can seem excessive but keep in mind that the search engine will only ever be able to represent rankings for your page in the state it was at a particular point in time, anyway.

Why Such Reactivity?

SSR can accomplish the SEO rendering feat across user-agents for you, and user browsers can run JavaScript for reactive features. But why bother? If you are using a reactive framework just because you can, maybe you didn’t need to in the first place. If you want to avoid all the trouble and expense of having myriad complex details to manage when the nature of your site doesn’t require much reactivity, then it’s a really good idea to build static sites using a strategy with pre-rendering if necessary, or write vanilla JavaScript for the feature or two which may actually require reactivity.

Server Side Rendering

If you think server-side rendering is a piece of cake, read a post that describes some of the horrors you might encounter before you charge in, especially if you’re trying to retrofit a pre-existing application. In short, you should be writing universal JavaScript and it gets complex quickly including security implications. Luckily, there is also a terrific new set of nicely written posts that comprise a fairly thorough React tutorial if you’re working from scratch. We highly recommended reading it to supplement the official React guide.

A New Hope

Things move quickly and keeping up can be tough, even for Google. The news that it has updated to Chrome 74 for rendering more of the modern Web is long overdue. It’s important that we know it intends to improve Googlebot to within weeks of the consumer version of Chrome releases. We can now test more code using local software to make sure our sites work with Googlebot. A very intriguing new paradigm for reactivity is Svelte. Svelte has a SSR output mode that you can test directly in its tutorial REPL. Svelte brings us reactivity that is closer to vanilla JavaScript than others, a real achievement.


About The Author

Detlef Johnson is Editor at Large for Third Door Media. He writes a column for Search Engine Land entitled “Technical SEO for Developers.” Detlef is one of the original group of pioneering webmasters who established the professional SEO field more than 20 years ago. Since then he has worked for major search engine technology providers, managed programming and marketing teams for Chicago Tribune, and consulted for numerous entities including Fortune 500 companies. Detlef has a strong understanding of Technical SEO and a passion for Web programming. As a noted technology moderator at our SMX conference series, Detlef will continue to promote SEO excellence combined with marketing-programmer features and webmaster tips.



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New site Hotspot Law like ZocDoc for lawyers

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Local search is probably more visible than it has ever been since the advent of Google Maps. Yet, paradoxically, there’s almost no consumer-facing innovation taking place. There’s Google, Yelp, Facebook (somewhat) and a range of specialized vertical apps and sites, some of which have simply survived but aren’t thriving.

Little or no ‘horizontal’ innovation. Part of the lack of “horizontal” innovation in local is likely the result of venture capital not wanting to fund anything that goes up directly against Google. The company may appear to many investors now like an insurmountable juggernaut in local/mobile search.

Any new local-consumer startups, therefore, are likely to appear in specific industries or otherwise offer specialized use cases. Such is the case with Hotspot Law, a new legal search site that hopes to bring ZocDoc-style appointment scheduling to the legal profession. It also seeks to provide a more reliable and cost-effective flow of leads to consumer attorneys.

The legal vertical has a quite a few competitors, including Avvo (Internet Brands), LegalZoom, FindLaw and several others. Despite this, Hotspot Law founder Felix Shipkevich believes he’s solving two unsolved problems in the legal vertical.

“The legal market is in dire need of an upgrade,” argues Shipkevich.

Making direct connections with lawyers. “Once you’ve finished searching online, you have to start calling,” he said. “You don’t get to speak directly to attorneys, you typically talk to a gatekeeper.” He points out that this process of getting to a lawyer is time consuming for people who need legal help. “None of these [completing] platforms directly connect the consumer with an attorney.”

Shipkevich, who is an attorney and faculty member at Hofstra Law School, said he was inspired by ZocDoc and the way it enables direct connections between doctors and patients. Similarly, he wanted to remove the friction in lawyer-consumer matchmaking. Shipkevich explained that also sees Hotspot Law as a way to make “justice” more accessible to consumers.

Why you should care. Legal lead-gen is costly. Shipkevich believes that existing legal sites and ad solutions don’t serve lawyers particularly well either. “PPC advertising can be extremely expensive; in New York it can be $60 to $80 per click.” He adds that “Yelp is expensive. Sometimes it takes $2,000 to $4,000 to bring in a case.”

He wants to solve that problem with simplified reasonable pricing for lawyers who may be struggling to find clients. But he also sees Hotspot Law evolving into a platform to help attorneys manage existing clients. Currently the site only operates in New York, with plans to expand geographic coverage in the coming months.

For the time being Shipkevich will need to rely on SEO for discovery but over time he hopes to build a branded consumer destination. It will be very challenging given the current structure of local SERPs. One has to admire the ambition and chutzpah.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He researches and writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.

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Remembering the Tragedy That Made Our Community Start Talking

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About one year ago, everything changed for me and for our community.

A tragedy that struck home so hard it shook us to our core.

A suicide.

A dear friend, brilliant mind, adored father, respected colleague … the list goes on, left us in a way that hits straight to the heart and wakes you up like very few other events can.

I certainly woke up that day. That alarm screamed as loud as it could and I still hear it to this day.

I know I wasn’t alone. So many of my peers experienced similar emotions, sensations, and reactions.

We Could No Longer Ignore the Problem

Sadly, this wasn’t the first tragedy we’d encountered that year – we lost other friends and colleagues as well.

But we knew we couldn’t stand to lose any more amazing people.

We couldn’t look away. We couldn’t just carry on anymore.

So we started talking.

I have been blown away by our internet marketing community. Many of us have never even met face to face and yet the comradery, the friendship, the support among us run rampant!

Never before have I seen a group of people come together so quickly and so openly as when we were forced to face this tragedy.

Groups were formed. Calls were made. Texts were sent. Face-to-face get-togethers were had. Columns like this one were created.

And the best part of it all? It didn’t stop!

We saw the need to stay connected. We recognized that we are a family that needs to support each other. And, perhaps most of all, we saw that we were not alone in our struggles.

It has been amazing to see the openness and honesty that has become so commonplace over the past year. I have seen people that once felt they couldn’t risk being seen without their mask on break down and lay themselves out in the most vulnerable ways.

I include myself in that list. I have become more able to reveal myself to the world around me. That has only been made possible by others sharing in that journey with me.

In leading up to this piece, I knew that I wanted to really find a way to focus on the positive changes that our community has seen because of Jordan Kasteler.

I wanted to honor him in a way that really brought some form of good to this incredible loss that we all experienced due to his passing.

Where Are We Now? Thoughts from Our Community

I reached out and asked a few people in our community if they would share some words of how they have been changed for the better as well as how they have seen our community as whole making changes to support each other over the past year.

Here is what they had to say:

Alexandra Tachalova:

“Working days, nights, and weekends was normal for me a few years ago. However, at that time I couldn’t say that I was really happy. I didn’t understand at the time that my work-life balance was completely off, and I now know that that could have developed into something truly horrifying.

I eventually reached such an emotionally unstable point that I hit a time where one week I was super productive, but the following week I felt hugely demotivated and absolutely miserable. (I know this is a familiar story with many others as well, I hear people telling similar stories and sharing similar experiences regularly.)

Over the past while, I have been working diligently to save myself from this emotional trap. This new focus has led me to investing more time into things that are not related to work and putting more time into the things that help to create a happier life for myself.

I can see that more people in our community are becoming more aware of the need to make this sort of a switch to their schedules and priorities as well, which is brilliant to see!”

Melissa Fach:

“In the past year, I have noticed a massive shift in our community not being ashamed to reach out and ask for help, advice, or just a kind word. I feel like masks have been dropped, and people are not embarrassed to discuss what make them “real”; I love it!

I think many people used to feel they had to have public persona that was acceptable, and now they know we all have issues and it is OK to talk about.

I have a picture of Jordan out that I see every day. I moved past the guilt and the pain when I looked at it, and he is now a daily reminder to stay present with my friends as much as I can.

And, it is a reminder to me to stay focused on my well-being as well. I tend to overwork and do too much for everyone and end up exhausted. I take steps now to take care of me more than ever before.”

Steve Wiideman:

“Though I’ve been in the industry for years, I’m still a somewhat newer member of the SEO community. Call it fear of rejection, social anxiety, whatever, I’ve always been nervous to put myself in a position to be judged by my peers.

It really wasn’t until I was invited to an amazing Facebook group made up of a small close-knit group of industry peers focusing on supporting each other through the day-to-day struggles that I realized that nearly everyone shared the same fears, anxieties and experiences that I have.

What a relief it is to know there is a place where we share what we are feeling and have so much empathy! Finally I have a place I can turn to where people understand me.

Even if I don’t share as much as others, I have peace of mind knowing there are people there ready and willing to listen and help, where there’s no judgement, just open arms.”

Danny Goodwin:

“We’ve definitely made a lot of progress over the past year as a community. However, if I’m being completely honest, we still have a long way to go. I’m still hearing about issues of bullying. I’m seeing people piling on people they disagree with on Twitter.

While, thankfully, these are in the minority, the polarization and black-and-white thinking needs to stop. The judging and assuming needs to stop. The trolling and “mob mentality” needs to stop.

We need to stop fighting each other and start lifting each other up – treating everyone like human beings. Nobody is perfect, but I hope we will continue to see more people be able to let go of their hate and negativity to accept love and positivity into their lives. I know that will continue to be our aim with Friday Focus – to remind everyone that they are not alone in their struggles.

Ultimately, though, I am so happy to be a part of something so positive in our community – and it’s great to see so many others jumping onboard, too.”

Kim Krause Berg:

“It’s easy to assume that your peers are generally doing better than you, making more money than you, and are super successful in every way. It is only in the past few years that I realized this is baloney.

I respect people who remove their masks and show who they really are. We are people with lives and struggles, heartache, depression, and pain.

In the past year I have opened up more and made new friendships as a result. We have more in common with each other than we might think.”

Dave Davies:

“Over the past year I’ve seen an incredible shift in our community.

Social media itself breeds an environment where we see only the best of our peers and post the best of ourselves and being in marketing, needing to be on social media, needing to market ourselves on social media and seeing only the best version of those trained in presenting the best version of themselves – one can feel very alone in difficult times. Compounding that we face an often isolated profession where even sitting beside someone, we are focused on a screen and all they contain.

Sadly, we all know too well what that leads to, and over the past year we collectively recognized that we are human. That those around us are human. That others need support and perhaps most importantly, that we do too.

We finally heard the words spoken all too often after those tragic events, “If only they had asked for help.” And we took it upon ourselves to do so.

We finally knew to listen, to watch and to find out how those around us were doing, lest we face the loss of another friend who we would have dropped everything for, ‘If only they had asked for help.’

The community has grown it’s heart and soul over the past year.

There is still a lot to do. There are still many who don’t know where to turn. Many who don’t know who to talk to. But each time we reach out and each time we talk about challenges openly, share our own and listen to theirs … each time we do that, the community grows it’s heart a little more.

It has been a incredible year of change. While we will forever mourn the spark, the now burning fire keeps us all warmer.”

Jeremy Knauff:

“One thing that has changed dramatically in our industry over the last year, is that as individuals, we’ve become a lot more vocal about asking for help when we need it.

I think most people are more than willing to help each other. They just have to know that someone needs help. Now that people are starting to open up more about their personal struggles, the community is able to better support them.”

Thank You!

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you – whether I know you in person, whether I know you online, even if I don’t know you at all –- thank you for being here.

Thank you for caring and sharing and being a part of the positive change that we are all working so hard at creating.

Keep being a force for good in our community.

Together we will make a difference.

Remembering the Tragedy That Made Our Community Start Talking  

 

This piece is written in memory, honor, recognition, and gratitude of Jordan Kasteler. For all that he gave us, shared with us, taught us and left us with. We are eternally grateful.

 


***PLEASE DO NOT STRUGGLE ALONE! Reach out, ask for help and know that you are valued.
CLICK HERE for a list of phone numbers for Suicide Hotlines around the world.***



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20190718 SEL Brief

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