Web 2.0's impact on search technology

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While there are multiple Web 2.0 technologies that can impact your search optimization efforts, this article concentrates on AJAX. It is increasingly finding its way onto marketers' radar screens because it improves the on-page experience for Web site visitors.

So what is AJAX? It stands for asynchronous javascript and XML. It allows a Web site visitor to customize his or her experience on a page without having to reload the page multiple times. Besides being a convenience for visitors, it can also help to differentiate your site from those of your competitors.

Two sites that employ AJAX functionality are Google Maps and Kayak.com.

During a recent trip I used Google Maps to seamlessly get directions from my hotel to a restaurant. Another map site would have required reloading based on any directional changes.

Similarly, I was able to use "sliders" in Kayak to adjust and view flights that met my specifications for time, airline and cost. It sure beat having to wait while Expedia searched for flights that met my preferences.

What's the catch? Search engines haven't quite caught up to AJAX yet. They're still figuring out how to index Flash. Since reloading pages to access new content isn't necessary using AJAX, it may inadvertently tell the search engine spiders that your site has fewer pages than it actually has. This is because a spider cannot interact with the javascript tools on the page.

Fear not though. Should you decide to ditch your existing interface in exchange for the improved customer experience AJAX provides, there are various workarounds. All that hard work to get those pages indexed and all those inbound links to point to those indexed pages wasn't for naught.

Just make sure that your content lives in a place that search engines can access it. Make an HTML version available to spiders and leave the AJAX version for live visitors. This can be accomplished by utilizing user agent detection. It's perfectly ethical because you're not presenting different information to visitors than you are to spiders. Everybody wins - search engines can crawl it, and users get a better experience with AJAX functionality.

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