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SEO for Web Apps: How to Boost Your Search Rankings

Ankit Gupta

Full-stack Development

The responsibilities of a web developer are not just designing and developing a web application but adding the right set of features that allow the site get higher traffic. One way of getting traffic is by ensuring your web page is listed in top search results of Google. Search engines consider certain factors while ranking the web page (which are covered in this guide below), and accommodating these factors in your web app is called search engine optimization. 

A web app that is search engine optimized loads faster, has a good user experience, and is shown in the top search results of Google. If you want your web app to have these features, then this essential guide to SEO will provide you with a checklist to follow when working on SEO improvements.

Key Facts:

  • 75% of visitors only visit the first three links listed and results from the second page get only 0.78% of clicks.
  • 95% of visitors visit only the links from the first page of Google.
  • Search engines give 300% more traffic than social media.
  • 8% of searches from browsers are in the form of a question.
  • 40% of visitors will leave a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. And more shocking is that 80% of those visitors will not visit the same site again.

How Search Works:



  1. Crawling: These are the automated scripts that are often referred to as web crawlers, web spiders, Googlebot, and sometimes shortened to crawlers. These scripts look for the past crawls and look for the sitemap file, which is found at the root directory of the web application. We will cover more on the sitemap later. For now, just understand that the sitemap file has all the links to your website, which are ordered hierarchically. Crawlers add those links to the crawl queue so that they can be crawled later. Crawlers pay special attention to newly added sites and frequently updated/visited sites, and they use several algorithms to find how often the existing site should be recrawled.
  2. Indexing: Let us first understand what indexing means. Indexing is collecting, parsing, and storing data to enable a super-fast response to queries. Now, Google uses the same steps to perform web indexing. Google visits each page from the crawl queue and analyzes what the page is about and analyzes the content, images, and video, then parses the analyzed result and stores it into their database called Google Index.
  3. Serving: When a user makes a search query on Google, Google tries to determine the highest quality result and considers other criteria before serving the result, like user’s location, user’s submitted data, language, and device (desktop/mobile). That is why responsiveness is also considered for SEO. Unresponsive sites might have a higher ranking for desktop but will have a lower ranking for mobile because, while analyzing the page content, these bots see the pages as what the user sees and assign the ranking accordingly.

Factors that affect SEO ranking:

1. Sitemap: The sitemap file has two types: HTML & XML, and both files are placed at the root of the web app. The HTML sitemap guides users around the website pages, and it has the pages listed hierarchically  to help users understand the flow of the website. The XML sitemap helps the search engine bots crawl the pages of the site, and it helps the crawlers to understand the website structure. It has different types of data, which helps the bots to perform crawling cleverly.

loc: The URL of the webpage.

lastmod: When the content of the URL got updated.

changefreq: How often the content of the page gets changed.

priority: It has the range from 0 to 1—0 represents the lowest priority, and 1 represents the highest. 1 is generally given to the home or landing page. Setting 1 to every URL will cause search engines to ignore this field.

Click here to see how a sitemap.xml looks like.

The below example shows how the URL will be written along with the fields.


2. Meta tags: Meta tags are very important because they indirectly affect the SEO ranking,  and they contain important information about the web page, and this information is shown as the snippet in Google search results. Users see this snippet and decide whether to click this link, and search engines consider the click rates parameter when serving the results. Meta tags are not visible to the user on the web page, but they are part of HTML code.

A few important meta tags for SEO are:

  • Meta title: This is the primary content shown by the search results, and it plays a huge role in deciding the click rates because it gives users a quick glance at what this page is about. It should ideally be 50-60 characters long, and the title should be unique for each page.
  • Meta description: It summarizes or gives an overview of the page content in short. The description should be precise and of high quality. It should include some targeted keywords the user will likely search and be under 160 characters.
  • Meta robots: It tells search engines whether to index and crawl web pages. The four values it can contain are index, noindex, follow, or nofollow. If these values are not used correctly, then it will negatively impact the SEO.
    index/noindex: Tells whether to index the web page.
    follow/nofollow: Tells whether to crawl links on the web page.
  • Meta viewport: It sends the signal to search engines that the web page is responsive to different screen sizes, and it instructs the browser on how to render the page. This tag presence helps search engines understand that the website is mobile-friendly, which matters because Google ranks the results differently in mobile search. If the desktop version is opened in mobile, then the user will most likely close the page, sending a negative signal to Google that this page has some undesirable content and results in lowering the ranking. This tag should be present on all the web pages.

    Let us look at what a Velotio page would look like with and without the meta viewport tag.

  • Meta charset: It sets the character encoding of the webpage in simple terms, telling how the text should be displayed on the page. Wrong character encoding will make content hard to read for search engines and will lead to a bad user experience. Use UTF-8 character encoding wherever possible.
  • Meta keywords: Search engines don’t consider this tag anymore. Bing considers this tag as spam. If this tag is added to any of the web pages, it may work against SEO. It is advisable not to have this tag on your pages.

3. Usage of Headers / Hierarchical content: Header tags are the heading tags that are important for user readability and search engines. Headers organize the content of the web page so that it won’t look like a plain wall of text. Bots check for how well the content is organized and assign the ranking accordingly. Headers make the content user-friendly, scannable, and accessible. Header tags are from h1 to h6, with h1 being high importance and h6 being low importance. Googlebot considers h1 mainly because it is typically the title of the page and provides brief information about what this page content has.

If Velotio’s different pages of content were written on one big page (not good advice, just for example), then hierarchy can be done like the below snapshot.

4. Usage of Breadcrumb: Breadcrumbs are the navigational elements that allow users to track which page they are currently on. Search engines find this helpful to understand the structure of the website. It lowers the bounce rate by engaging users to explore other pages of the website. Breadcrumbs can be found at the top of the page with slightly smaller fonts. Usage of breadcrumb is always recommended if your site has deeply nested pages.

If we refer to the MDN pages, then a hierarchical breadcrumb can be found at the top of the page.

5. User Experience (UX): UX has become an integral component of SEO. A good UX always makes your users stay longer, which lowers the bounce rate and makes them visit your site again. Google recognizes this stay time and click rates and considers the site as more attractive to users, ranking it higher in the search results. Consider the following points to have a good user experience.

1. Divide content into sections, not just a plain wall of text
2. Use hierarchical font sizes
3. Use images/videos that summarize the content
4. Good theme and color contrast
5. Responsiveness (desktop/tablet/mobile)

6. Robots.txt: The robots.txt file prevents crawlers from accessing all pages of the site. It contains some commands that tell the bots not to index the disallowed pages. By doing this, crawlers will not crawl those pages and will not index them. The best example of a page that should not be crawled is the payment gateway page. Robots.txt is kept at the root of the web app and should be public. Refer to Velotio's robots.txt file to know more about it. User-Agent:* means the given command will be applied to all the bots that support robots.txt.

7. Page speed: Page speed is the time it takes to get the page fully displayed and interactive. Google also considers page speed an important factor for SEO. As we have seen from the facts section, users tend to close a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. To Googlebot, this is something unfavorable to the user experience, and it will lower the ranking. We will go through some tools later in this section to  know the loading speed of a page, but if your site loads slowly, then look into the recommendations below.

  • Image compression: In a consumer-oriented website, the images contribute to around 50-90% of the page. The images must load quickly. Use compressed images, which lowers the file size without compromising the quality. Cloudinary is a platform that does this job decently.
    If your image size is 700x700 and is shown in a 300x*300 container, then rather than doing this with CSS, load the image at 300x*300 only, because browsers don't need to load such a big image, and it will take more time to reduce the image through CSS. All this time can be avoided by loading an image of the required size.
    By utilizing deferring/lazy image loading, images are downloaded when they are needed as the user scrolls on the webpage. Doing this allows the images to not be loaded at once, and browsers will have the bandwidth to perform other tasks.
    Using sprite images is also an effective way to reduce the HTTP requests by combining small icons into one sprite image and displaying the section we want to show. This will save load time by avoiding loading multiple images.
  • Code optimization: Every developer should consider reusability while developing code, which will help in reducing the code size. Nowadays, most websites are developed using bundlers. Use bundle analyzers to analyze which piece of code is leading to a size increase. Bundlers are already doing the minification process while generating the build artifacts.
  • Removing render-blocking resources: Browsers build the DOM tree by parsing HTML. During this process, if it finds any scripts, then the creation of the DOM tree is paused and script execution starts. This will increase the page load time, and to make it work without blocking DOM creation, use async & defer in your scripts and load the script at the footer of the body. Keep in mind, though, that some scripts need to be loaded on the header like Google analytics script. Don’t use this suggested step blindly as it may cause some unusual behavior in your site.
  • Implementing a Content Distribution Network (CDN): It helps in loading the resources in a shorter time by figuring out the nearest server located from the user location and delivering the content from the nearest server.
  • Good hosting platform: Optimizing images and code alone can not always improve page speed. Budget-friendly servers serve millions of other websites, which will prevent your site from loading quickly. So, it is always recommended to use the premium hosting service or a dedicated server.
  • Implement caching: If resources are cached on a browser, then they are not fetched from the server; rather the browser picks them from the cache. It is important to have an expiration time while setting cache. And caching should also be done only on the resources that are not updated frequently.
  • Reducing redirects: In redirecting a page, an additional time is added for the HTTP request-response cycle. It is advisable not to use too many redirects.

Some tools help us find the score of our website and provide information on what areas can be improved. These tools consider SEO, user experience, and accessibility point of view while calculating the score. These tools give results in some technical terms. Let us understand them in short:

1. Time to first byte: It represents the moment when the web page starts loading. When we see a white screen for some time on page landing, that is TTFB at work.

2. First contentful paint: It represents when the user sees something on the web page.

3. First meaningful paint: It tells when the user understands the content, like text/images on the web page.

4. First CPU idle: It represents the moment when the site has loaded enough information for it to be able to handle the user's first input.

5. Largest contentful paint: It represents when everything above the page’s fold (without scrolling) is visible.

6. Time to interactive: It represents the moment when the web page is fully interactive.

7. Total blocking time: It is the total amount of time the webpage was blocked.

8. Cumulative layout shift: It is measured as the time taken in shifting web elements while the page is being rendered.

Below are some popular tools we can use for performance analysis:

1. Page speed insights: This assessment tool provides the score and opportunities to improve.

2. Web page test: This monitoring tool lets you analyze each resource's loading time.

3. Gtmetrix: This is also an assessment tool like Lighthouse that gives some more information, and we can set test location as well.

Conclusion:

We have seen what SEO is, how it works, and how we can improve it by going through sitemap, meta tags, heading tags, robots.txt, breadcrumb, user experience, and finally the page load speed. For a business-to-consumer application, SEO is highly important. It lets you drive more traffic to your website. Hopefully, this basic guide will help you improve SEO for your existing and future websites.

Related Articles

1. Eliminate Render-blocking Resources using React and Webpack

2. Building High-performance Apps: A Checklist To Get It Right

3. Building a Progressive Web Application in React [With Live Code Examples]

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Did you like the blog? If yes, we're sure you'll also like to work with the people who write them - our best-in-class engineering team.

We're looking for talented developers who are passionate about new emerging technologies. If that's you, get in touch with us.

Explore current openings

SEO for Web Apps: How to Boost Your Search Rankings

The responsibilities of a web developer are not just designing and developing a web application but adding the right set of features that allow the site get higher traffic. One way of getting traffic is by ensuring your web page is listed in top search results of Google. Search engines consider certain factors while ranking the web page (which are covered in this guide below), and accommodating these factors in your web app is called search engine optimization. 

A web app that is search engine optimized loads faster, has a good user experience, and is shown in the top search results of Google. If you want your web app to have these features, then this essential guide to SEO will provide you with a checklist to follow when working on SEO improvements.

Key Facts:

  • 75% of visitors only visit the first three links listed and results from the second page get only 0.78% of clicks.
  • 95% of visitors visit only the links from the first page of Google.
  • Search engines give 300% more traffic than social media.
  • 8% of searches from browsers are in the form of a question.
  • 40% of visitors will leave a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. And more shocking is that 80% of those visitors will not visit the same site again.

How Search Works:



  1. Crawling: These are the automated scripts that are often referred to as web crawlers, web spiders, Googlebot, and sometimes shortened to crawlers. These scripts look for the past crawls and look for the sitemap file, which is found at the root directory of the web application. We will cover more on the sitemap later. For now, just understand that the sitemap file has all the links to your website, which are ordered hierarchically. Crawlers add those links to the crawl queue so that they can be crawled later. Crawlers pay special attention to newly added sites and frequently updated/visited sites, and they use several algorithms to find how often the existing site should be recrawled.
  2. Indexing: Let us first understand what indexing means. Indexing is collecting, parsing, and storing data to enable a super-fast response to queries. Now, Google uses the same steps to perform web indexing. Google visits each page from the crawl queue and analyzes what the page is about and analyzes the content, images, and video, then parses the analyzed result and stores it into their database called Google Index.
  3. Serving: When a user makes a search query on Google, Google tries to determine the highest quality result and considers other criteria before serving the result, like user’s location, user’s submitted data, language, and device (desktop/mobile). That is why responsiveness is also considered for SEO. Unresponsive sites might have a higher ranking for desktop but will have a lower ranking for mobile because, while analyzing the page content, these bots see the pages as what the user sees and assign the ranking accordingly.

Factors that affect SEO ranking:

1. Sitemap: The sitemap file has two types: HTML & XML, and both files are placed at the root of the web app. The HTML sitemap guides users around the website pages, and it has the pages listed hierarchically  to help users understand the flow of the website. The XML sitemap helps the search engine bots crawl the pages of the site, and it helps the crawlers to understand the website structure. It has different types of data, which helps the bots to perform crawling cleverly.

loc: The URL of the webpage.

lastmod: When the content of the URL got updated.

changefreq: How often the content of the page gets changed.

priority: It has the range from 0 to 1—0 represents the lowest priority, and 1 represents the highest. 1 is generally given to the home or landing page. Setting 1 to every URL will cause search engines to ignore this field.

Click here to see how a sitemap.xml looks like.

The below example shows how the URL will be written along with the fields.


2. Meta tags: Meta tags are very important because they indirectly affect the SEO ranking,  and they contain important information about the web page, and this information is shown as the snippet in Google search results. Users see this snippet and decide whether to click this link, and search engines consider the click rates parameter when serving the results. Meta tags are not visible to the user on the web page, but they are part of HTML code.

A few important meta tags for SEO are:

  • Meta title: This is the primary content shown by the search results, and it plays a huge role in deciding the click rates because it gives users a quick glance at what this page is about. It should ideally be 50-60 characters long, and the title should be unique for each page.
  • Meta description: It summarizes or gives an overview of the page content in short. The description should be precise and of high quality. It should include some targeted keywords the user will likely search and be under 160 characters.
  • Meta robots: It tells search engines whether to index and crawl web pages. The four values it can contain are index, noindex, follow, or nofollow. If these values are not used correctly, then it will negatively impact the SEO.
    index/noindex: Tells whether to index the web page.
    follow/nofollow: Tells whether to crawl links on the web page.
  • Meta viewport: It sends the signal to search engines that the web page is responsive to different screen sizes, and it instructs the browser on how to render the page. This tag presence helps search engines understand that the website is mobile-friendly, which matters because Google ranks the results differently in mobile search. If the desktop version is opened in mobile, then the user will most likely close the page, sending a negative signal to Google that this page has some undesirable content and results in lowering the ranking. This tag should be present on all the web pages.

    Let us look at what a Velotio page would look like with and without the meta viewport tag.

  • Meta charset: It sets the character encoding of the webpage in simple terms, telling how the text should be displayed on the page. Wrong character encoding will make content hard to read for search engines and will lead to a bad user experience. Use UTF-8 character encoding wherever possible.
  • Meta keywords: Search engines don’t consider this tag anymore. Bing considers this tag as spam. If this tag is added to any of the web pages, it may work against SEO. It is advisable not to have this tag on your pages.

3. Usage of Headers / Hierarchical content: Header tags are the heading tags that are important for user readability and search engines. Headers organize the content of the web page so that it won’t look like a plain wall of text. Bots check for how well the content is organized and assign the ranking accordingly. Headers make the content user-friendly, scannable, and accessible. Header tags are from h1 to h6, with h1 being high importance and h6 being low importance. Googlebot considers h1 mainly because it is typically the title of the page and provides brief information about what this page content has.

If Velotio’s different pages of content were written on one big page (not good advice, just for example), then hierarchy can be done like the below snapshot.

4. Usage of Breadcrumb: Breadcrumbs are the navigational elements that allow users to track which page they are currently on. Search engines find this helpful to understand the structure of the website. It lowers the bounce rate by engaging users to explore other pages of the website. Breadcrumbs can be found at the top of the page with slightly smaller fonts. Usage of breadcrumb is always recommended if your site has deeply nested pages.

If we refer to the MDN pages, then a hierarchical breadcrumb can be found at the top of the page.

5. User Experience (UX): UX has become an integral component of SEO. A good UX always makes your users stay longer, which lowers the bounce rate and makes them visit your site again. Google recognizes this stay time and click rates and considers the site as more attractive to users, ranking it higher in the search results. Consider the following points to have a good user experience.

1. Divide content into sections, not just a plain wall of text
2. Use hierarchical font sizes
3. Use images/videos that summarize the content
4. Good theme and color contrast
5. Responsiveness (desktop/tablet/mobile)

6. Robots.txt: The robots.txt file prevents crawlers from accessing all pages of the site. It contains some commands that tell the bots not to index the disallowed pages. By doing this, crawlers will not crawl those pages and will not index them. The best example of a page that should not be crawled is the payment gateway page. Robots.txt is kept at the root of the web app and should be public. Refer to Velotio's robots.txt file to know more about it. User-Agent:* means the given command will be applied to all the bots that support robots.txt.

7. Page speed: Page speed is the time it takes to get the page fully displayed and interactive. Google also considers page speed an important factor for SEO. As we have seen from the facts section, users tend to close a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. To Googlebot, this is something unfavorable to the user experience, and it will lower the ranking. We will go through some tools later in this section to  know the loading speed of a page, but if your site loads slowly, then look into the recommendations below.

  • Image compression: In a consumer-oriented website, the images contribute to around 50-90% of the page. The images must load quickly. Use compressed images, which lowers the file size without compromising the quality. Cloudinary is a platform that does this job decently.
    If your image size is 700x700 and is shown in a 300x*300 container, then rather than doing this with CSS, load the image at 300x*300 only, because browsers don't need to load such a big image, and it will take more time to reduce the image through CSS. All this time can be avoided by loading an image of the required size.
    By utilizing deferring/lazy image loading, images are downloaded when they are needed as the user scrolls on the webpage. Doing this allows the images to not be loaded at once, and browsers will have the bandwidth to perform other tasks.
    Using sprite images is also an effective way to reduce the HTTP requests by combining small icons into one sprite image and displaying the section we want to show. This will save load time by avoiding loading multiple images.
  • Code optimization: Every developer should consider reusability while developing code, which will help in reducing the code size. Nowadays, most websites are developed using bundlers. Use bundle analyzers to analyze which piece of code is leading to a size increase. Bundlers are already doing the minification process while generating the build artifacts.
  • Removing render-blocking resources: Browsers build the DOM tree by parsing HTML. During this process, if it finds any scripts, then the creation of the DOM tree is paused and script execution starts. This will increase the page load time, and to make it work without blocking DOM creation, use async & defer in your scripts and load the script at the footer of the body. Keep in mind, though, that some scripts need to be loaded on the header like Google analytics script. Don’t use this suggested step blindly as it may cause some unusual behavior in your site.
  • Implementing a Content Distribution Network (CDN): It helps in loading the resources in a shorter time by figuring out the nearest server located from the user location and delivering the content from the nearest server.
  • Good hosting platform: Optimizing images and code alone can not always improve page speed. Budget-friendly servers serve millions of other websites, which will prevent your site from loading quickly. So, it is always recommended to use the premium hosting service or a dedicated server.
  • Implement caching: If resources are cached on a browser, then they are not fetched from the server; rather the browser picks them from the cache. It is important to have an expiration time while setting cache. And caching should also be done only on the resources that are not updated frequently.
  • Reducing redirects: In redirecting a page, an additional time is added for the HTTP request-response cycle. It is advisable not to use too many redirects.

Some tools help us find the score of our website and provide information on what areas can be improved. These tools consider SEO, user experience, and accessibility point of view while calculating the score. These tools give results in some technical terms. Let us understand them in short:

1. Time to first byte: It represents the moment when the web page starts loading. When we see a white screen for some time on page landing, that is TTFB at work.

2. First contentful paint: It represents when the user sees something on the web page.

3. First meaningful paint: It tells when the user understands the content, like text/images on the web page.

4. First CPU idle: It represents the moment when the site has loaded enough information for it to be able to handle the user's first input.

5. Largest contentful paint: It represents when everything above the page’s fold (without scrolling) is visible.

6. Time to interactive: It represents the moment when the web page is fully interactive.

7. Total blocking time: It is the total amount of time the webpage was blocked.

8. Cumulative layout shift: It is measured as the time taken in shifting web elements while the page is being rendered.

Below are some popular tools we can use for performance analysis:

1. Page speed insights: This assessment tool provides the score and opportunities to improve.

2. Web page test: This monitoring tool lets you analyze each resource's loading time.

3. Gtmetrix: This is also an assessment tool like Lighthouse that gives some more information, and we can set test location as well.

Conclusion:

We have seen what SEO is, how it works, and how we can improve it by going through sitemap, meta tags, heading tags, robots.txt, breadcrumb, user experience, and finally the page load speed. For a business-to-consumer application, SEO is highly important. It lets you drive more traffic to your website. Hopefully, this basic guide will help you improve SEO for your existing and future websites.

Related Articles

1. Eliminate Render-blocking Resources using React and Webpack

2. Building High-performance Apps: A Checklist To Get It Right

3. Building a Progressive Web Application in React [With Live Code Examples]

Did you like the blog? If yes, we're sure you'll also like to work with the people who write them - our best-in-class engineering team.

We're looking for talented developers who are passionate about new emerging technologies. If that's you, get in touch with us.

Explore current openings