Thursday, March 17, 2016

Googlebot 2: Electric Boogaloo

This week, Google announced something potentially significant for mobile Web standards in general, and search engine optimization (SEO) in particular. They said that the Googlebot webcrawler code they use to index the internet would no longer represent itself to webpages (using the user-agent string) as an iPhone device running iOS 8.3, but as a Google Nexus 5X device running Android 6.0.1 instead.

It used to be the case that the mobile Safari browser (on iPhones) was the most representative of mobile web users, but in Google's determination, that is no longer the case. Although iOS and Safari have a large presence online, the sheer number of Android devices helps give them and Chrome (the Android browser) a bigger footprint.

I found this part most interesting:
Our evaluation suggests that this user-agent change should have no effect on 99% of sites. The most common reason a site might be affected is if it specifically looks for a particular Googlebot user-agent string. User-agent sniffing for Googlebot is not recommended and is considered to be a form of cloaking. Googlebot should be treated like any other browser.

Basically, this is yet another policing technique for Google to ensure that its searches remain relevant, and truly the best organic results climb its ranks, without gamesmanship.

The implications for SEO are obvious: Google searches will now favor results employing newer Web standards like CSS/HTML5, rather than pages mired in older gimmicks like JavaScript, image overlays and Flash. So along with keeping content, backlinks and metadata in mind, marketers need to keep an eye on the underlying code and rendering of their webpages as well.

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