The Single Page Application revolution will not be televisedIt is often strange to professionals when their particular skill or knowledge base is exposed in the media. Many a surgeon, architect, engineer or scientist has scoffed in my presence at some particular news story about a new building, bridge or technology.
The notoriously short attention of the mass media market scratched the surface with a light touch and missed entirely the underlying meaning and significance of the happening.
There is a quiet revolution going on in web based user interface technology and it could, if it progresses, create a significant change in the power of the internet.
What is that revolution? It’s known to most in development circles as a Single Page Application.
What is a Single Page Application?
Sorry, it’s just not that easy.
In order to understand what a Single Page Application is you have to understand how the web works. Not the internet, that’s all the protocols and wires and cables that connect everything together. We are talking about the web bit, web browsing to visit a site.
The web is more commonly called the World Wide Web, WWW or signified by its protocol -> http. We are just going to call it the web to make things easy.
How does the web work?
Here’s the basic principles:-
- You type a url into a web browser
- The browser goes to a web server and asks for the page in the url
- The server reads the page (which contains HTML) from the disk and gives it to the browser
- The browser renders the page HTML to the user
Now we have to add one further stage to number 3 in that process. There is usually a database involved somewhere. In most modern web sites the server doesn’t actually read a static html file. It runs a script or program that builds the HTML on the fly.
This is why most web sites go blank when you click a link.
The page clears as the browser is going to get a new page from the server. The page then loads as it receives the response.
So what is a Single Page Application? – second attempt…
Ever clicked a link on a website and something just happened? Ever used a website where the pages don’t reload when you navigate around?
Congratulations, you have already used a Single Page Application.
In a full blown Single Page Application the entire websites HTML is downloaded in a compressed bundle at the start and then a framework provides the navigation within the browser. When you click a link the framework simply shows a new page that it has already stored.
It never has to talk to a server to get HTML. It never has to reload the page.
Data is sent and received in small Json packets and each page is actually built inside the browser. It’s far closer to being an app than a standalone site as the server is barely involved.
This is why it is called a Single Page Application. Everything downloads at the start like a Single Page and then the framework provides an Application environment inside the browser for navigation.
So what’s the big deal?
Well it allows modern UI designers to bring a rich, rewarding and rapid experience to their users. There is no time delay while a user has to wait for a new page to load and in the world of user interface design that’s a pretty big deal.
Now we can just show you stuff really quickly. We can let you jump from page to page in an instant and get the things you want done in a much faster and friendlier way. It really makes a difference and all the major platforms and sites now use them, including Yatter.
It’s still not a revolution is it though? You led us on down this article telling us it was this big thing for Digital Marketers and it was going to reshape the internet and all you told us about was this mad geek thing that only technical people are really interested in, I have content to write, I am really busy……
Hold on. What if I told you that no-one can see inside a Single Page Application?
The important side effect of all this user interface goodness is that the server is no longer really involved. Everything happens inside the browser.
Existing crawler technology as employed by Google, Bing, Yahoo and every other search engine on the planet cannot see inside a Single Page Application. No legitimate technology can come into your home down the wire, look inside your browser and read what you are doing on the screen. Understand that crawlers have to talk to a server.
Single Page Applications cannot list on a search engine. The crawlers they use cannot see them.
Now this has significant ramifications for anyone that is looking to build a website to list on the search engines.
The simple advice is don’t use Single Page Application technology.
It’s still not a revolution is it?
AngularJS is one of the main Single Page Application frameworks and is owned by Google. The other major framework is ReactJS and it is being developed and supported by Facebook. Nearly all the Single Page Application frameworks have support from the major technology companies. This emerging tech could potentially impact their very existence. Assuming it continues to grow.
With a small but increasingly significant section of the internet now effectively out of reach of the search engines will this diminish their influence? In all honestly it is too early to tell. While WordPress (which is not in any way an SPA) still dominates the content sector it is unlikely to matter.
Ultimately the world of technology moves so fast and in so many directions it would not be surprising to see another revolution happen in the midst of this one. Single Page Applications seem to be expanding in reach but their replacement will no doubt be just around the corner. Who knows what that will bring?
The one thing that is certain about the internet is that nothing is certain.
It is very common to employ technology similar to a Single Page Application in a sales funnel as it dramatically improves user experience and conversion rates. Most developers would not necessarily use the term for a hybrid site but understand that search engine visibility is restricted in any circumstance where the browser manipulates the underlying page without a server round trip.
A good digital marketer needs to know where the line is with their content. Information that is contained further down the sales funnel may not be crawled by a search engine.
For those who work in larger corporate environments it is essential to consult with the development team to make them aware of the impact of their decisions on your marketing effort. Make sure they tell you where the line is and ensure that your content is going in places where it can get crawled by the search engines. Otherwise you are just wasting your time.
SummaryA Single Page Application is a site that runs entirely inside a browser without having to reload it’s pages every time a user clicks a navigation link. It could potentially have dramatic effects on how a search engine works because the crawler technology employed in gathering site information cannot see inside a browser based application.
Most major modern application sites are now beginning to switch to Single Page Application designs. This technology shift will have a significant impact on digital marketers interested in listing on search engines because any content they host in a Single Page Application cannot be crawled.
Yatter uses Single Page Application technology and that is one of the reasons why it is so fast. Search engines cannot scan its contents, even with security access.
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