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July 02, 2008

SEO's Ruby Slippers

By Julie Joyce


Ruby on Rails...just the name evokes something bright and beautiful, clear and FAST.

For those who don't have the same interest in programming languages that some of us, ahem, do, to put it very simply, Ruby is a programming language and Rails is a framework. Ruby has been called everything from artful and beautiful to practical and flexible, and once many programmers get a taste of it, they're hooked. The Rails framework, which is a full-stack framework for developing database-backed web applications according to the Model-View-Control pattern, in conjunction with Ruby thus becomes Ruby on Rails, otherwise known as RoR.

What sums RoR up the best, for me speaking from the point of view of someone who manages technical projects and (occasionally) cranky programmers, is this quote:
"Ruby on Rails is an open-source web framework that's optimized for programmer happiness and sustainable productivity." Did you see the part about programmer happiness??? That's enough for me.


So enough about what RoR is: let's dive into using it for SEO, which is what we really care about. To do so, I've turned to none other than the brilliant RoR programmer and SEO extraordinaire, Mr. Tony Spencer. In this blog, Tony describes a little bit about the typical SEO concerns, whether it's how to write search engine friendly URLs or cloaking for legitimate reasons. What stands out is the speed and ease of doing all of these tasks; programming time can be drastically reduced, leaving you more time to go redo your meta tags and do a bit of keyword stuffing. OK that's a joke...but you get the idea.

How does Ruby on Rails compare to other popular languages? This is one of the most common questions asked by programmers. Rather than rephrasing, I'll simply point you to Tony's prior blog posts on the subject:

If you're using PHP this may interest you.
If you're using Java, check this bit out.

Is there any evidence that moving a site from another language to RoR has improved its search engine friendliness?
"Each case is different and this will depend heavily on the technology the site owner is moving away from. The cases where you will see an improvement will be those where your existing site is running on a poorly designed system with regards to on page SEO. So for instance if your old site is utilizing session rewriting and appending session ID's to URL's and you migrate to a new system running on Rails, those many thousands of dynamic URL's will disappear as Rails by default will only produce one URL for one piece of content and will always use cookies for session tracking. In a nutshell Ruby on Rails does everything by default that an SEO wants for good on page optimization and also makes it easy for you to write a custom controller to ensure that all your old content and URL's can be 301 redirected to the new URL's."

Once you learn RoR, what is the time difference between putting up a new site using it, and putting one up using PHP?
"In my opinion, a custom site or CMS can be built in Ruby on Rails in about 1/5th to 1/10th of the time it would take to build from scratch in PHP. This framework is simply the first I've seen that does a truly great job of getting all the unnecessary crap out of the developer's way and eliminates repetitive code. Now keep in mind, I've not had the opportunity to try some of the PHP frameworks like PHP Cake and I'm sure if you mastered it you would see a much faster development time than simply writing new code from scratch with no framework, but I've found the Ruby language to be so slim and easy to read that employees tend to fall in love with it. Even designers who don't write code love Ruby and Rails because it does such a fine job of separating the HTML from the Ruby code and what little Ruby code the designer has to interact with is minimal, and reads like English which nearly always makes it possible for them to do their magic directly in the Rails project without the help of a developer."

Are there any major hassles with RoR and the engines right now? Anything about it that's massively unfriendly for spiders?
"There is nothing that I've seen that is a major problem, but there is one issue that recently arose that is not documented and we stumbled upon by accident. In older versions of Rails we would perform a 301 redirect by adding the following lines of code:

headers["Status"] = "301 Moved Permanently"
redirect_to :action => 'index'

Don't ask me why but in Rails 2.0 this line no longer works and the redirect will default to HTTP 302 which we all know is not good. The worst part is that Rails will silently ignore it and not report an error so if you have built a new site in Rails and written code to 301 redirect all your old URL's and then upgrade to Rails 2.0 you would be shooting yourself in the foot without realizing it. Here is the new way to perform a 301 redirect with Rails 2.0:

redirect_to :action => 'index', :status => 301"

Any more information would require that Tony actually writes your code for you...which he might do for a Starbucks giftcard. As you can see, RoR is quite search engine friendly and insanely straightforward once you learn how to use it. I've seen one reluctant programmer change his mind within 15 minutes of viewing a few Ruby demonstrations, actually. If time is something that you're concerned with, you really should start looking into RoR.


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Oh no. I'm certainly no extraordinaire.

I only know how to find and hire those guys.

Great RoR articles on SEO factor.
Yesterday I did read some where that search engine are now begun reading flash content (spider friendly).

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