Year on year, mobile usage increases, and more importantly, so does the use of mobile browsers and applications. This means that developers are constantly trying to make the user experience on the mobile web as streamlined and efficient as they can. That’s where Progressive Web Apps come in.

As you may recall, Google Developers first created Progressive Web Apps last year, as a way to combine both a website and a mobile app. The aim was to develop an app like user experience on a mobile browser, giving the user the benefits of an app; push notifications, offline accessibility etc. while eliminating the process of visiting the app store and downloading it. A study showed that an app loses 20% of its users with every step from their first contact with the app in the app store, to downloading it, then installing it and finally using it.

How they work and why they are beneficial

Progressive Web Apps are really intelligent in the way that they work. They have built-in intelligence that is able to record user’s habits and actions when using the app and can therefore deliver a more personalised experience for those returning and using the app often. This also helps them create another benefit, push notifications. By building a relationship with the user, the app can then deliver notifications based on their previous activity. This makes it easy for users to then re-engage.

While you are online and using the Progressive Web App, it is able to cache the data available. This then means that it can then be used when you are offline. This is hugely beneficial for users with slow or limited internet access, as it means lower data usage. Not only does cached data allow for offline availability, but it also helps the apps work extremely fast. Also, by removing various steps that websites take to gather data and features, it increases the load time of Progressive Web Apps significantly.

With a highly responsive layout, it means the apps are also a lot easier to navigate than a desktop website that has been condensed down for mobile purposes. They offer a wide range of hardware access as well e.g. screen orientation, geolocation, micro phone and camera access etc. Finally, as there is no download involved, they are available to everyone.

Google and Progressive Web Apps

Although these apps are designed and built to help aid the mobile users online experience, the one question that all SEO’s will be asking is ‘how do Progressive Web Apps effect SEO?’. Firstly, it’s important to state that the Googlebot, in most cases, will crawl them just like any other page on the web, as they use JavaScript and will be seen by Google as a JavaScript site. However, there can be potential problems that can impede crawlability. Google’s John Mueller, wrote a detailed article in March of this year on how they deal with Progressive Web Apps and JavaScript sites in general. Below are the main points to take from it and remember when building a PWA:

  • Don’t cloak to Googlebot. Use “feature detection” and “progressive enhancement” techniques to make your content available to all users. You also shouldn’t re-direct to an unsupported browser.
  • Use rel=canonical when serving content from multiple URLs is required.
  • Avoid the AJAX-Crawling scheme on new sites
  • Don’t use the # symbol in the URLs as Googlebot tends not to index them.
  • Use Google’s Search Console’s Fetch and Render tool to test how Google sees your pages.
  • Ensure that all required resources aren’t blocked in robots.txt.
  • Limit the number of embedded resources, in particular the number of JavaScript files and server responses required to render your page.
  • Google supports the use of JavaScript to provide titles, description & robots meta tags, structured data, and other meta-data.
  • Finally, remember that other search engines and web servers may not support JavaScript at all, or may support a different subset.

When developing these apps, people need to be aware of the potential problems that could come when being indexed by Google. Although there may be some limitations when it comes to SEO, and they will possibly be seen as more of an extension to an existing website, Progressive Web Apps will still provide huge benefits to the user experience and are set to be the next step for mobile web as it continues to grow.

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