SEO for reactive JavaScript using React or Vue with NodeJS and other backend stacks

During our live discussion on how to Power SEO Friendly Markup With HTML5, CSS3, And Javascript earlier this year, we spent a good deal of time talking about React. I’m going to dig into the nuances for React what you need to keep in mind for SEO. We’ll be using code for analysis by Russ Jeffrey, director of strategic integrations at Duda, who participated in the discussion.

To React, or not to React?

A react framework can make website (application) pages feel like there’s magic burbling up beneath them as dashboard details are kept in concert with a community of lively users, kind of like the experience you expect from Facebook and Twitter.

Business requirements must dictate what technology you end up using on a project, however. If you are writing an app that needs a Facebook type of dynamic, then you’re going to want to invest in creating a reactive framework to deliver it. Yet, in reality, very few sites have those kinds of requirements. In most cases you are better off with jQuery, or vanilla JavaScript if you can get away with it, for basic performance reasons.

If you use one reactive element on a handful of pages, then there are ways to confine your reactive code to where and when it is needed. Write server-side, (or even client-side), conditional code to load it. If all you want to do is power popup modals, interactive menus, and tabbed content etc., then the cost vs. benefit consideration of reactive libraries won’t favor them against other approaches.

Rendering strategies for SEO

You will definitely need to think differently about how and when your web app renders important content for SEO. That is the learning Russ brought us in the second half of our discussion. He shows examples for how to build server-side and ship an optimized app shell alongside JavaScript so crawlers can get what’s necessary for SEO and the remainder is rendered client-side using ‘hydration.’

Watch the full discussion here.

Frameworks

Application programming in this context typically involves more than the frontend library alone. A convention over configuration file layout design with utility scripts can constitute what is referred to as a framework for React or Vue. Next and Nuxt are NodeJS-based React and Vue frameworks respectively.

Frameworks simplify scaffolding project files and services according to conventional specifications and best practices. Russ provided us with links to GitHub projects demonstrating how to integrate React and Vue with several other popular backend programming languages. Check them out if you want a different runtime process on the backend than NodeJS.

SEO code snippets with NodeJS

When you reach enterprise or startup level requirements, a service level agreement with a framework may not be possible. Russ walks us through getting started with SEO code snippets based on NodeJS (with Express) alone.

Three key files in both sample React and Vue projects contain the necessary code for our analysis:

  • The app.js file governs a “blog” app shell.
  • The server.js file pulls in the Express library, configures it for request handling including render methods for SSR.
  • The index.js file, serves as the entry point for the NodeJS runtime process.

SEO-friendly React

The App.js example for React demonstrates routing SEO friendly paths to URLs that don’t rely on fragments for SPA-style virtual page views. In server.js a ‘context’ data object implies resource details for calling ReactDOMServer.renderToString() to render our app shell with context based on URL and potentially other criteria.

The server.js file has the data context object for more refinements. Russ demonstrates replacing title and other meta data to complete the SEO for a constructed app shell before finally sending it on its way to the browser.

Lastly, index.js serves as the starting point for the NodeJS process and ReactDOM.hydrate() is used to flesh out our app with less important auxiliary content after the shell loads.

A ‘build’ directory contains index.html as a target file for SSR template construction. Two other files, the components Home and Posts, are stored using a .js extension, which is implied by convention and therefore does not need to be explicitly spelled out in the import statements. We’re going to expediently skip analysis of component files, except to say that it’s typical to find component files re-organized into a components subdirectory.

In Russ’s examples, all files, including component files, are located in the project base directory. This is what the directory tree for the React files looks like:
├── App.js
├── Home.js
├── Posts.js
├── build
│   └── index.html
├── index.js
└── server.js

If you’re not familiar with JSX syntax, it is a JavaScript language extension meant for React component encoding with XML so that template files can include JavaScript. Child components are imported and get referenced later by name convention (Home.js and Posts.js map to <Home/> and <Posts/> respectively) in the XML template block.

Russ makes use of react-router-dom libraries (which you may need to install via NPM): Router and StaticRouter, Switch, and NavLink. These libraries provide readymade helpers for convenience with common tasks, such as using the NavLink ‘to’ helper to generate HTML links to a url path or resource, which is somewhat analogous to Rail’s ‘link_to’ helper.

Through Switch and Router in App.js Russ demonstrates the syntax for matching url paths. Notice the ‘exact’ keyword for the index path statement. It’s required to match only exactly ‘/’ or it would otherwise match every path of the application! Using the ‘exact’ keyword changes the default criteria from greedy match which matches ‘/posts’ and also ‘/posts/hello-world’ etc.

In server.js Russ makes use of a common external framework called Express to set up our application with the required port listener and response methods needed to serve our app on the network. If you are working locally, you’ll want to establish a local environment variable PORT to match an open port that you plan to work with via localhost requests. In production, this will usually need to get set to port 80.

Vue framework

Lastly, Vue framework is one of the more approachable reactive frameworks and that concept is felt from the start. Template files are literally HTML with handlebar-style JavaScript interpolation. If you’re using Vue, then it’s more likely that you’re working with your own backend, although Nuxt is a state of the art framework for Vue if you decide to go that route.

Russ points us to the Vue SSR documentation and his code snippets operate using essentially the same file structure and layout for implementation of the Vue version of our blog app. Find the code for both React and Vue available below in the following Gist.


About The Author

Detlef Johnson is the SEO for Developers Expert for Search Engine Land and SMX. He is also a member of the programming team for SMX events and writes the SEO for Developers series on Search Engine Land. Detlef is one of the original group of pioneering webmasters who established the professional SEO field more than 20 years ago. Since then he has worked for major search engine technology providers, managed programming and marketing teams for Chicago Tribune, and consulted for numerous entities including Fortune 500 companies. Detlef has a strong understanding of Technical SEO and a passion for Web programming.

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