Every day, more and more web designers and developers are taking advantage of new technologies and tools that enable more enjoyable user experiences. From jQuery to Flex, designers and developers have no shortage of options for building more intuitive, responsive and efficient websites.

But many, if not most, of these options come at a price: an SEO hit. That’s because it’s difficult for search engines to make sense of content that is controlled by these technologies and tools.

AJAX, or asynchronous JavaScript and XML, is a favorite collection of client-side technologies that many designers and developers use to build interactive websites. But AJAX-based websites aren’t very popular with search engines because content controlled by AJAX is essentially invisible to search engines most of the time.

Google, however, thinks thatmaking this content available for crawling and indexing could
significantly improve the web
” and is looking to change that. The search giant has released a proposal for crawling AJAX-based websites. For non-techies interested in the 30,000-foot overview, it would work like this:

  • Some URL trickery would enable Google to identify AJAX pages that should be crawled.
  • Google would call said AJAX pages and the web server would use a special browser (called a headless browser) installed server-side to render the page as a real user would see it and return a “snapshot” to Google.
  • The “snapshot” would be crawled by Google and the page could be included in Google’s index.

It’s a simple enough solution that seems entirely logical and viable. Unfortunately, however, the requirement that websites provide the headless browser is a big drawback that I believe will significantly limit how useful this proposal is. Google’s desire to have websites provide the headless browser is understandable (it shifts some of the crawling process’ resource burden from its own crawler to the website’s server). But the reality is that not everyone who uses AXAJ has the ability to install a headless browser on their server, even if they know about the possible SEO benefits available to them by implementing Google’s final proposal.

That said, Google’s proposal is a step forward. Right now websites that make extensive use of AJAX and similar technologies are largely being left out in the cold. So just about anything is an improvement and it’s good to see Google making an effort to crawl the growing portions of the web that it isn’t right now.

Photo credit: adactio via Flickr.