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URL Re-writing Best-Practice

Introduction

A while back, I wrote this article about how Google recommended NOT using URL re-writing.

The Google article provoked a lot of debate and certainly managed to infuriate a lot of SEO experts.

Google's advice seemed pretty conclusive after that: don't use URL re-writing. However, Google released their updated SEO guide later, and the waters muddied. Page 8 had the following on URLs:

If your URL contains relevant words, this provides users and search engines with more information about the page than an ID or oddly named parameter would

Now this isn't directly saying that Google indexes the words in URLs. The example is showing the URL being displayed in search results for a user to see, so it might be misconstrued. It does however re-open the argument on whether we should add keywords in URLs for SEO, and that inevitably leads to URL re-writing.

I've a number of greenfield projects starting soon, and I've been mulling over whether to use re-writing again. The unresolved issue of Google indexing words in URLs will obviously play an important role in any decision, but the usability argument is possibly more strong. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of research or best-practices, so I've written this article to start a discussion on it.

As I'll explain below, I'd like things to be as evidence-based as possible, with links to relevant authorities. Most of the tips are my own thoughts on the matter, but I've tried to back them up with reasoning.

I welcome comments with evidence or reasoning, whether they back up or argue against what I've written. That way, we can put together a strong set of guidelines which will hopefully benefit everyone.

[More]

Comments
Shaun McCran's Gravatar Wow, tons of information!

URL rewriting is something I've been building on for a while now, and your article asks some interesting questions. I've never really considered some of the SEO angles you've raised, its always been about more friendly recognisable urls.

There are certainly a few pointers to take away and experiment with, thanks.
# Posted By Shaun McCran | 30/03/11 11:06
Lola LB's Gravatar Yeah, this is certainly a lot of information. I thought, one purpose of URL rewriting was to have easy to remember URLs, especially if you want the users to be able to link to that page. Also, to hide from the user as to what language it is written in. So why would Google want us to be using weird-looking URLs?
# Posted By Lola LB | 31/03/11 12:15
Gareth's Gravatar @Lola - Google want to discourage URL rewriting, because a lot of people are falling into the mistakes listed above. It means that their site isn't indexed properly, and sometimes not indexed at all. Dynamic URLs are always easier to index than rewritten URLs, even if they don't look as nice for humans. You can read the full Google Blog entry here: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/09...

There are various ways hackers can tell what server-side technology is being used, even if you've changed the file extension. You should always keep your server fully updated/patched, so that any known vulnerabilities are dealt with. Relying on just changing the extension will give you a false sense of security.
# Posted By Gareth | 31/03/11 14:56
Lola LB's Gravatar This Google article was written in 2008. Does their stance still remain the same today? Yes, I agree with always keeping the server updated/patched, as well as employing other security techniques (protecting against SQL injection, etc.)
# Posted By Lola LB | 31/03/11 15:02
Gareth's Gravatar I've been following the Google Webmasters blog for the past few years, and there's been no follow up to that post. I'm sure they'd have mentioned it if there was a change.
# Posted By Gareth | 31/03/11 19:09
Ben Nadel's Gravatar Definitely some great points; however, I just wanted to say that I don't think that anyone actually types in URLs anymore. Granted, people enter domain names; but, in the age of Google, I can't see why anyone would actually type in a full URL? If anything, having to remember URLs ends up serving the user with less value. If Google is doing it's best to server up the most relevant content, then either:

1. The user knows the domain they want.
2. The user wants the most relevant / meaningful content.

In #1, the user will type the domain (which doesn't require URL rewriting).

In #2, the user should probably just use Google Search as it will return potentially more relevant information.

Anyway, just my thoughts on that one particular aspect of URL usability.
# Posted By Ben Nadel | 05/04/11 15:24
Alain Vanderbroeck's Gravatar I agree with Ben Nadel. Most of the people just Google for what they want. For advertising i agree with Gareth: when people need to remember an url it's more clever to use short urls.

One part in your piece is not right according to SeoMoz SRF's 2011:

http://www.seomoz.org/article/search-ranking-facto...

Rel connical usage is a negative metric to use. My advise is to NOT use canonical URLs at all and work with URL rewrite or 301 redirects in the software code instead.

--

My conclusion: Just use URL rewriting for the usability.. but be sure the lead developer knows how to implement it so it is done the right way.

Thanks Gareth, good piece

http://twitter.com/@isgoed
# Posted By Alain Vanderbroeck | 10/07/11 00:10
Gareth's Gravatar @alain Thanks for posting that link - I hadn't realised seo moz now included scientific evidence in their report, as opposed to just opinions.

As they've made the raw data available, I'll see if I can use it to add statistical data to the rules above.

Regarding the canonical urls, I think they may have misunderstood how it works. Their results spreadsheet gives the following description:
"rel=canonical : -1 = present, and points to this url, 0 = absent, 1 = present and points to another page"

From my reading of it, they are giving a negative score when canonical url is working correctly. I've sent them some feedback, so hopefully we'll get clarification.
# Posted By Gareth | 15/07/11 13:27
Alain Vanderbroeck's Gravatar @Gareth:

Thanks for your feedback. It is my experience (and of other people around me) that people always Google for what they want. Mostly the simple web users (but developers like me too) just open up their browser and start typing in the google search field (on their startpage or in the browser's search box). Besides this, I think we can agree people don't like typing. I can' t find scientific evidence this fast for this opinion. I think i can get the evidence myself, by making a custom report in Google Analytics to see how much returning visitors come from search engines and how many type the url directly. "Direct traffic" isn't what it likes.. people can bookmark a page.. it is direct traffic, but still, they are not typing the url.

Regarding the conical urls: Where did you find this result spreadsheet? I didn't notice it myself, so i can't give my opinion about this. If it is like you say, i am curious on their feedback.
# Posted By Alain Vanderbroeck | 15/07/11 18:32
Gareth's Gravatar @Alain - I'd certainly agree with you, that most people will use google. However, it isn't the only way, and these tips are really about getting that extra 10% out of your site.

It would be interesting to see some data about keyboard usage, although I don't know if google analytics will have those figures.

You can get the results spreadsheet and a sub-set of the raw data in the methodology section here: http://www.seomoz.org/article/search-ranking-facto...

I still need to understand the Spearman Correlations better, but I did some quick analysis of the raw data subset using an online calculator. If you score the correct rel canonical results 1 instead of -1, and set the incorrect canonical results to 0, you get a slightly positive correlation score of 0.0135

These are rough calculations, on a small subset of the data, so it's probably best not to draw any conclusions about rel canonical yet. If seo moz send me the full raw dataset, I'll try and look at things properly.
# Posted By Gareth | 15/07/11 19:15
online exam's Gravatar Url rewriting is main key word thing in the good seo method for on page statics
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# Posted By online exam | 19/06/13 08:39
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