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According to this spec, making AJAX site crawlable by Googlebot means that you have to use hashbang (#!) links in it which means it won't degrade gracefully when JS is turned off. This might mean that crawlability and graceful degradation are mutually exclusive. Is it in fact so? Is there something that can be done about that?

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You should check out:

Stack Overflow: Is making an Ajax site crawl-able and degrading gracefully with js possible?

Snippet:

When possible, I like to only use AJAX to load new pages when history.pushState is available. When history.pushState is not available, I fall back to non-AJAX. While this may be a sub-par experience for those without history.pushState, it makes sure the URL is always pointing to the right place and that the site will be accessible to both Google and users with JavaScript disabled.

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Yes, you can implement node.js based SEO server that runs javascript on Server side and present the webpage it to crawlers just like it is rendered in browsers.

You also need to implement the redirection rule for "_escaped_fragment_"

RewriteCond %{QUERY_STRING} ^_escaped_fragment_=(.*)$
RewriteRule ^$ /handler.php?_frag=%1  [L]

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