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Better Web URLs – moving to an upscale address

January 16th, 2009 by mdmcginnis

Can your visitors tell what your Web page is about just by reading the title? Well, you hope so.

Okay, how about this one: can your visitors tell what your Web page is about just by reading the URL – the Web address?

And since we’re talking about search engine optimization, can a search engine tell what your Web page is about just by reading the URL? After all, search engines pay more attention to keywords in the URL than in almost anything on the page.

Try it yourself: which Web page do you think would have undergraduate transfer requirements for the Department of Biometrics?

  1. www.biometrics.tamu.edu/undergraduate/transfer.html
  2. www.bmtrcs.tamu.edu/webServices.aspx?dept=83&templateid=14&session_id=bqPHRw6nsa3

The second URL may have brilliant programming behind it, but it violates the usability principle of being “human readable.” You have to click on the link to find out if it’s worth clicking on the link. (Note to brilliant programmers: by using the Apache mod_rewrite module, you could turn the second URL into the first one. But be careful to only remove the parameters that are unnecessary. )

Of course, the second URL not only isn’t human readable, it isn’t very search engine readable either. Though Google says they can figure out dynamic URLs, a careless URL structure can result in sending the web crawler into a “black hole,” with an infinite number of possible URLs. (Note to brilliant programmers: since search engines treat every difference in the URL as a different Web page, how long do you think it will take to crawl your site if every URL has a different session ID?)

The way to create human-readable URLs is to use words in your URLs. Friendly words – words that describe the content of your site. Words that help visitors understand what your pages are about – both human and electronic visitors. Words are easier for visitors to remember than numbers, and having a memorable Web address makes it more likely that other sites will link to yours, which improves your search engine rankings. And when they use your URL to link to you, and your URL contains your most important keywords, that improves your most important search engine ranking.

  • Name each page according to what it’s about. What keywords might a visitor use to find that page? Use those keywords in the file name of the page. Use two or three of them if you need to, such as transfer- requirements.html. Don’t let it get too long, though, or stuffed with excess keywords. Don’t use meaningless, boring names such as “page1.html” or “folder” – they don’t share any new information. In fact, see if you can avoid any page and folder names that don’t contain useful keywords.
  • Use consistent case. Try to use lower-case letters for your page file names and folder names, since many users remember them better. Odd capitalization of URLs, such as MyPage.html or myPage.html, is harder for them to keep track of and easier to miss-type. It does clarify multi-word page titles, but Google prefers a hyphen, such as as my-page.html, instead.
  • Organize pages into folders, named after what they contain. Don’t go beyond the fourth level (no deep, deep nesting such as “www.12steps.org/overview/introduction/steps/step1/advice/ etc.”) How well you plan out your folders can determine how easy your site is to navigate. Some people organize Web sites for a living – they’re called information architects. Creating a logical structure isn’t easy. I intend to do it with my personal files at home too, just as soon as I get a chance.

Next in our series on search engine optimization: how to create better navigation

Friday, January 16th, 2009 Search
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