React SEO Guide : Including Importance, Benefits, Challenges & Solutions

By Saurabh Barot   |   10 September, 2021
React SEO Guide : Including Importance, Benefits, Challenges & Solutions

Quick Summary: Struggling with ranking your React web app on Google? Don’t know where to start or how to combine SEO and React? Here we have compiled some of the React SEO best practices and tips to ensure your intuitive, appealing, and user-approved website apps also appeals to the Googlebots on Google and other search engines.

React SEO has been an age-old problem that has troubled many developers over the years. Most developers switch frameworks without trying to understand the issue, let alone trying to solve it. While doing so might make sense in theory, React.js is one of the most popular JavaScript frameworks due to its ability to build reusable UI components.

Many popular establishments like Netflix, AirBnB, and The New York Times use it for running their web apps. At the same time, many small SMEs and startups are also choosing to React despite its SEO problems.

According to a survey conducted by Builtwith, there are atleast 9,695,386 React-enabled websites on the internet to put things in perspective.

ReactJS Usage Statistics

This only makes one wonder – Why React?

Why React?

React is one of the most popular front-end JavaScript frameworks that has overshadowed most of the other popular frameworks.React JS Trends on StackOverflow

As you can see, Stack Overflow Insights also show a steep rise in the number of queries regarding this popular framework over the years. There is evident interest and curiosity around React.js. To understand why React.js is getting so popular, we should look at the key features of React.js that developers and clients love –

Key Features of React.JS

1.Easy to create Dynamic Apps

React makes it easier for developers to build dynamic web apps as it provides more functionality with lesser coding than conventional JavaScript, making coding more complex.

2.React.js makes use of Reusable Components

One of the best features of React.js is its ability to reuse basic components that power the entire web application. Individual components have specific functions that are responsible for carrying out specific tasks in the web app.

They have their logic and controls and can be reused in the entire application. The ability to reuse these components drastically reduces app development time.

3. Improved Performance

React makes use of Virtual DOM that helps in faster web application development. Virtual DOM compares the component’s previous state and only updates the elements in the Real DOM that changed. Doing so reduces the burden of reloading the entire component for every small change.

Hence, the primary reason why developers and clients stick to React.js despite its SEO issues is due to its user-friendliness approach. It can build scalable, robust, and feature-packed web app solutions.

Does this mean its okay to ignore SEO entirely and continue with React.js as it is? No! SEO is still very important for your web app to be discoverable by your target audience.

You can open up the fanciest theme park in the entire country, but if your location is in a remote outskirt area with no connectivity, you will barely get visitors.

It is the same case with web apps. The next question that naturally follows is why React, and SEO don’t work well together. Before we address that, we should brush up on our SEO knowledge and why it is important for your web app.

What and Why SEO?

Before we dive deeper into React SEO, we should first understand what SEO is. SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the process of ensuring your website ranks on popular search queries on search engines like Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing, and more.

It is an amalgamation of some of the best practices to design and build your website so that it is easier for search engine crawlers to read and understand your content and index your pages.

The better your SEO optimization, the better chances of ranking for popular keywords that your users will use when searching for your services.

How does Google rank your website?

1.Google uses bots for ranking your websites.

These bots crawl your website pages for finding new ones. As a developer, you can control what pages you want Google to crawl by listing them in your robots.txt.file.

You should hide some pages from crawlers so that you don’t overload your website with bot requests.

2.Google indexes the pages visited by its bots.

After crawling through all the website pages in your robots.txt.file, Google analyzes the content of your web pages for understanding what the page is about. All the results of this interpretation are stored in Google Index.

Google Index is a huge repository with all information about all web pages. The web page indexing process is automated;hence, you need to put your content in a manner understandable by Google.

3.Google ranks and matches these web pages to the user’s search.

When a user searches for an inquiry that is close to your website services, Google will go back to its Google Index to find the most relevant website for that query.

The content of your website and the structure of your content, along with other SEO best practices, will determine where your website stands in the search results.

Now that we have a fair understanding of how Google indexes and ranks websites, we can figure out why enabling SEO in React JS is so challenging.

Challenges with React SEO

Challenges with React SEO

1. Empty First-Pass Content Visibility for Search Engines.

We know that React is a JavaScript-based framework. Unfortunately, JavaScript and SEO don’t go well together.

React adopts an app-shell model by default, which prioritizes a faster initial page loading process by using minimal HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files required to power the UI of the app.

The initial HTML has no meaningful content, and the user or a bot needs to execute JavaScript for getting access to the page’s actual content.

Due to this hiccup, Google bots detect an empty page during their first interaction with the web app. They only see the actual content once the page gets rendered.

This delays content indexing as Google already has thousands of pages in its Google Index repository to index daily.

2. Problem with Page Metadata.

Meta tags are super useful for Google and social media platforms to present your web page with appropriate titles, thumbnails, and descriptions for pages.

Such websites rely on the <head> tag of the fetched website for getting this information. They don’t execute JavaScript for the target page.

The problem with Reactjs meta tags is that React renders all this content with meta tags on the client side.

The app shell is consistent for the entire web application, making adapting metadata for individual pages difficult.

3. Website Loading Time and User Experience.

Compared to HTML, JavaScript always takes longer to fetch, parse and execute the web app data. Since JavaScript can fetch data and content from third-party sources, it can add to the wait time for users before they can view their requested information.

Google has a set of guidelines known as Web Vitals, which ranks a website based on user experience. Delayed loading time can impact the user experience score, resulting in a lower ranking for React-based websites.

4. Inability to create in-built Sitemaps

One of the major drawbacks of React.js is the absence of the feature of creating sitemaps in the framework.

Sitemaps are an important file format that contains useful information about your videos, pages, and other files on your website and their relation.

Unfortunately, Google bots access these files to understand your website better and crawl it with more accuracy.

There is a workaround for this problem by utilizing React Router for handling routing and finding tools to create a sitemap. However, it’s too much effort and not as accurate as well.

How to make React SEO Friendly?

Now that we have listed down all the bottlenecks and challenges of React SEO optimization, we can find effective workarounds and solutions for creating an efficient React SEO Optimization strategy. Here are the possible React SEO best practices for integrating SEO in React –

React SEO Strategies

Popular React SEO Strategies

1. Isomorphic React Apps

Isomorphic JavaScript apps or Isomorphic React apps are modifications made to your original React app in a way that enables them to run on both – the client and the server-side.

This enables you to run your React app and render the browser’s HTML file that otherwise is rendered. You can give access to this HTML file to anyone who requests the website, including Google bots.

Using React app on the client-side allows the app to use HTML as a base and operate it on the browser as ifthe browser rendered it.

You can push additional data through JavaScript if needed, as your isomorphic React app is still dynamic.

Using isomorphic React apps gives you control to decide whether the client can run scripts or not.

If the JavaScript is turned off – all the code gets rendered on the browser or the server. Hence, the browser or the bots will access all content and meta tags present in the HTML and CSS files.

If the JavaScript is turned on –only the first page gets rendered to the server. Hence, the browser gets access to HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files.

Subsequently, JavaScript starts running, allowing the rest of the content to be loaded dynamically. Due to this, the first page loads faster than any generic JavaScript framework and makes the user interactions smoother.

SSR Approach – Next.js vs. Gatsby

SSR Approach with Next.js

Next.js is a popular framework that helps you develop React apps that work on the server-side efficiently and quickly. It enables automatic code splitting and hot reloading. In addition, this framework can full-fledged server-side rendering, which means HTML is generated for each request when the user makes a request.

Due to this, Next.js becomes the ideal choice for solving the SEO challenges of a React app with dynamic data. However, for utilizing server-side rendering on React, developers will also need to use the Node.js server that is capable of processing requests on runtime.

How Next.js Works

Key Features of Next.js

  1. Facilitates full-fledged server-side rendering
  2. Supports static page generation at build time
  3. Supports Hot Module Replacement – seeing all changes in real-time.
  4. Intelligent enough to load only CSS and JavaScript.
  5. Comes with many ready-to-use components.

SSR Approach with Gatsby

Gatsby is an open-source compiler tool that enables developers to create robust and fast websites. It does not provide full-fledge rendering like Next.js but takes a different approach. It generates a static website beforehand and holds the HTML files in the cloud/hosting service.

How Gatsby Works

All the HTML pages get pre-generated during the development/build phase and loaded on the browser. These websites are naturally fast since HTML files aren’t generated on runtime and don’t need to wait for data to be fetched from API or databases.

However, the data gets fetched during the build phase, so if you have an app that has constant new content, Gatsby is not the ideal choice for your React server-side rendering SEO requirements.

Key Features of Gatsby

  1. Allows you to bring data from anywhere.
  2. Performance-driven tool out of the box.
  3. Extensive open-source system.
  4. Proper documentation.

2. Prerendering for React SEO

Prerendering for React SEO

Isomorphic React apps are one approach to making React SEO friendly ;however, there is an alternative approach. You can also prerender your React website/web-app’s HTML elements on the page and cache all the SPA pages on the servers by utilizing their Headless Chrome.

You can rely on any efficient prerendering tool for this. Any prerendering service will interpret all requests coming to your web app and, with the aid of a user-agent, differentiate if a bot or a human is viewing the website.

If it identifies the viewer as a bot, it fetches the cached HTML version of the web page. If it were a user, your React SPA would load normally.

React SEO Optimization Tools

React.js realized the issues their users were facing with integrating SEO for react app and came up with some native tools that are super-useful for improving React App SEO

Popular React SEO Optimization Tools

1. React Helmet

React Helmet is a React document head manager. This tool makes it easy to update the meta tags on the server and the client-side as well.

This helps in making your React Web Apps SEO and social media-friendly. In addition, it can be used for changing the page title, meta-data, and language.

You can work on your page <html> and <head> elements by utilizing the document object. However, it is not the best possible solution, as it requires us to use React component’s lifecycle to add a code that can do that.

React Helmet provides an easier alternative approach.  Combining server-side rendering with React Helmet allows React developers to create SEO-friendly react apps.

You can install React Helmet by adding this line of code –

npminstallreact-helmet--save

Now, you can import React Helmet and use it in your React app project. The following code sample shows how to set the page title, language, and description for your React web app –

import React from "react"
import {Helmet} from "react-helmet"
exportconst SEO = () => {
return (
<div>
<Helmet htmlAttributes>
<html lang="en" />
<title>Hello from React Helmet</title>
<meta name="description" content="Basic example" />
</Helmet>
</div>
);
}

Key Features of React Helmet

  • Support all valid head tags – title, meta, NoScript, script, base, link, and style.
  • Support attributes for HTML, body, and title tags.
  • Support for server-side rendering.
  • Callback from tracking DOM changes.
  • Nested components override duplicate head changes.
  • Duplicate head changes get preserved when specified under the same component.

2. React Router

The biggest problem with optimizing most React web apps is the fact that they are React SPAs. Singe Page Applications provide great comfort and reliability to the users; however, the SPA model can be enhanced as long as we specify certain rules and the right SEO elements in our React pages.

The biggest SEO challenge in SPAs is to open pages as separate URLs without relying on # (hashtag), as Google bots cannot read URLs related to the hash.

Google will mostly not index such URLs. For example, if you have a URL that reads – www.samplewebsitename.com/#react-seo, Google will most likely not index such page sections.

React Router URL Best Practices for SEO

React Router should be used in your React web app’s URL for effective SEO. Following are the few best considerations to keep in mind when utilizing React Router for improving React SEO.

1.Case Sensitivity

Using lowercase or uppercase makes a difference in URLs as Google considers these pages as two separate pages.

For instance –

www.samplewebsitename.com/react-seo is different from

www.samewebsitename.com/React-seo.

Pro Tip: One of the React SEO best practices is always to use lowercase to avoid duplication or complications.

2. Utilizing ‘A Href’ and not ‘On Click’ for Links

You should list your links with the ‘a href’ tag and not ‘onclick’ tags. This is because Google bots cannot read the links given with ‘onclick.’

Hence, it is very important to make use ‘a href’ tags so Google can find other relevant pages and visit them when they’re on a page.

Step by Step of using React Router

1.Install React Router

C:\Users\username\Desktop\reactApp>npm install react-router

2.Create Components

import React from 'react';
import ReactDOM from 'react-dom';
import { Router, Route, Link, browserHistory, IndexRoute } from 'react-router'
class App extends React.Component {
render() {
return (
<div>
<ul>
<li>Home</li>
<li>About</li>
<li>Contact</li>
</ul>
{this.props.children}
</div>
)
}
}
export default App;
class Home extends React.Component {
render() {
return (
<div>
<h1>Home...</h1>
</div>
)
}
}
export default Home;
class About extends React.Component {
render() {
return (
<div>
<h1>About...</h1>
</div>
)
}
}
export default About;

class Contact extends React.Component {
render() {
return (
<div>
<h1>Contact...</h1>
</div>
)
}
}
export default Contact;

Create the app components. This component is used as a tab menu. The remaining three components are Home, About, and Contact, which get rendered once the route changes.

3.Add a Router

Next, we add routes to the app. Instead of rendering App element this time, we will render the Route element. For this you need to set components for each route like –

ReactDOM.render((
<Router history = {browserHistory}>
<Route path = "/" component = {App}>
<IndexRoute component = {Home} />
<Route path = "home" component = {Home} />
<Route path = "about" component = {About} />
<Route path = "contact" component = {Contact} />
</Route>
</Router>
), document.getElementById('app'))

Wrapping up!

These are the best ways of implementing React SEO best practices for making your React.js apps SEO-friendly. So make sure to optimize your React project for SEO and get your best user-friendly intuitive web application that is also easy to rank on the first or zeroth position of Google search engines for all the possible relevant keywords for your business. We hope this React SEO guide helped you.

Get in Touch!

Saurabh Barot

Saurabh Barot is co-founder and Experienced Chief Technology Officer at Aglowid IT Solutions. His deep industry experience in Angular, React, Ruby on Rails, PHP, Mean Stack and just to name few, has helped the company reach to a new level. He believes that technology is all about exploring new possibilities. Whatever a mind can think (exception can't be ruled out), technology brings it into reality.

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