As an SEO, I have experience working with a wide variety of CMS systems and website builders. Magento, Hybris and WordPress are among some of the most popular that I have experience with, but I also have worked with some lesser-known platforms like NetSuite and Firmseek Site Pilot. More recently, I was tasked with optimizing a site built on WIX.
WIX provides an easy-to-use platform for a non-developer to build a website. When I dove into the platform to explore the site prior to making SEO recommendations, I was impressed with WIX’s wide array of themes, dragging/dropping capabilities, point and click features and easy-to-use design tools. From my initial research it looked like WIX had everything I needed to boost the site’s on-page SEO which could rank it better in search engine results. However, after the launch of the site, I quickly discovered this may not be the case.
Here is a laundry list of SEO limitations I’ve found with using WIX:
WIX uses AJAX technology, a technique that creates faster and more interactive web applications with the help of XML, HTML, CSS, and Java Script. WIX claims it “allows sites to serve dynamic content to the end users while providing great user experience, and at the same time serve search engines the same content in a special version of the page.” WIX cites Google’s documentation on AJAX Crawling, which you can read here.
To summarize the AJAX Crawling debate with Google: back in 2009, Google advised against using AJAX Crawling because they hadn’t yet figured out how to crawl a site that used AJAX. Google has since taken back its initial recommendation, and now states that sites using AJAX are perfectly fine for getting indexed, but only to a certain degree. In its new statement on AJAX, Google said, “We are generally able to render and understand your web pages like modern browsers.” Generally able? Reminds me of “60% of the time, it works every time,” from Anchorman. So I take Google’s statement with a grain of salt and still have hesitation around AJAX and crawlability.
AJAX-Based Site URL Naming
The first real issue I noticed were the generated URLs: Due to the AJAX functionality, every URL of the site contained a bunch of extra characters. Because of these extra characters, the URLs could not be considered “clean”, which is not only a best practice for SEO but also for user experience (UX). In fact, WIX had completely disregarded the optimized URLs I wrote for each webpage. After contacting WIX Support with this concern, I received the below response:
“In regards to the URL’s, the hashbang symbols (#!) are part of the AJAX technology and deep linking mechanism and cannot be removed or altered. This mechanism is important for SEO purposes, as it ensures the visibility of your site content for search engines. Click here to learn more about the URL structure of your WIX site. You can use the 301 redirect feature to create custom URLs for the purpose of sharing your site pages. These URLs can be shared via social media or via email. Keep in mind that the customized URLs will redirect to the original URL when the page is loaded.”
So, WIX wants you to create 301 redirects to new URLs if you want clean URLs to “share.” They even recommend using Google’s URL Shortener if you’re “so bothered” by the special characters that are tossed into the URLs. Thanks, WIX, but I want a platform that won’t insert random characters into a URL when I create a page. I don’t want clean URLs for social sharing, I want them for user-experience and SEO!
AJAX in the Source Code
With my SEO-based knowledge of HTML, I wanted to check that the site’s Title tags, Meta Descriptions, and Heading Tags were populating on the site. After pressing CTRL+U on my keyboard to open the source code, I quickly noticed the layout was unlike anything I’d seen before. Once again, I reached out to WIX Support to help me better understand this different type of source code, to which they explained:
“WIX uses AJAX Crawling to help search engines read your site’s code. With AJAX Crawling, your content, data and design are merged together and extracted easily by search engines. AJAX Crawling changes the way that you access your site’s source code. It is not possible to simply right click and view source to see your site’s source code. To learn how to view your site’s source code, click here.”
So thanks again, WIX, for claiming that having AJAX on your site is fine for search engine crawlers, but providing no evidence. For the record, I had no trouble getting the website indexed, but there is plenty of evidence of sites running on AJAX failing to get indexed with Google.
WIX gives you the ability to implement Heading Tags, from H1s down through H6s, along with paragraph tags. They do a good job at explaining the importance of these heading tags for SEO, however, where they misguide users is with the “Site Title” option. The “Site Title” is actually the H1 tag. For a non-SEO building a website, I’m sure they moved forward with listing their company name in the header, and tagged the text as “Site Title.” Why wouldn’t they? The problem is that WIX’s “Site Title” tag is an H1, therefore making every page on the user’s site have the same H1 tag. This is a huge SEO red flag.
Since I couldn’t verify the heading tags via source code because the AJAX coding merges everything, I used a custom crawl tool called Screaming Frog to crawl the site for my H1 tags. After the crawl was complete I realized all my H1s on my site were all duplicated after tagging the company’s name as the “Site Title.” Ugh.
In case the WIX Support team didn’t dislike me enough, I contacted them yet again explaining the problem with listing the “Site Title” as an H1, and how I changed my “Site Title” to a paragraph, <p> tag so that my site didn’t have all duplicate H1 tags. The response I got:
“Please note that we strongly recommend using the proper tags, especially the Site Title.”
WIX, come on! I’m not even sure you understood the issue, and you continue to recommend bad implementations for SEO.
No Custom 404 Pages
404 Pages are a unique way to keep visitors on your site who have somehow reached a non-existent page, or a page that no longer exists. Google clearly outlines the importance of these pages. Unfortunately, WIX does not currently offers a solution to create a custom 404 page. They admit:
“Currently, it is not possible to customize the 404 error page that appears when the connection between your domain and site is lost. We are always working to update and improve our products, and your feedback is hugely appreciated. If this is a feature you would like to see in the future, please click Vote for this feature and we’ll make sure to keep you updated.”
So let me get this straight: if a visitor somehow incorrectly types in a URL, or someone incorrectly links to my website, the user cannot be brought to a custom 404 page that could potentially apologize and offer some direction to remain on the site. I have no way to reduce my bounce rate, but at least WIX allows you to vote for a feature, amiright? That’s exactly what I want to do in my spare time…vote for features on a CMS.
All in all, optimizing a website built on WIX was a good learning experience. These easy-to-use website building platforms may allow you to construct a beautiful site for a fraction of the cost, but what does it matter if you can’t get your website in front of the people actually searching for your business or services? WIX claims their SEO features are robust and effective, but it is obvious there are limitations. If you are interested in obtaining Organic Traffic, make sure you do your research before building your website.