skip to main content

TAMU Webmaster's Blog


Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

Always use the same name for your Web page

January 21st, 2009 by mdmcginnis

Continuing with our series on search engine optimization, we ask: how many names can a single Web page have? Or to put it another way, how many times are you asking the search engines to index the same page? Depending on how your site is configured, it might be quite a few:

http:/www.tamu.edu/admissions/
http:/tamu.edu/admissions/
http:/tamu.edu/admissions
http:/tamu.edu/admissions/index.html
http:/www.tamu.edu/admissions/default.aspx
http:/tamu.edu/admissions/default.aspx
http:/tamu.edu/admissions/default.aspx?id=12345
http:/tamu.edu/admissions/default.aspx?userid=12345?pageid=54321
http:/tamu.edu/admissions/Default.aspx
http:/tamu.edu/admissions/index.html
http://www.admissions.tamu.edu/
http://admissions.tamu.edu/
http://admissions.tamu.edu
http://admissions.tamu.edu/index.htm
http://admissions.tamu.edu/default.aspx

Most web server administrators are more careful than this (and the people at Admissions are too), and they send 404 Not Found messages back for page names that don’t exist. By limiting the number of ways the same content can be accessed, you can avoid splitting what Google calls the “reputation” of your pages. It helps the search engine rankings of your best pages if everybody agrees on what to call them. It helps your branding. It makes your brand more memorable.

Still, it’s common for the same content to be reachable through several different working URLs. That makes it hard for search engines. To keep from indexing the same pages several times, they have to add controls to eliminate duplicate pages. Wouldn’t you rather decide for yourself which pages need to be indexed, instead of making Google decide which ones to eliminate? You want to decide in advance what the official URL for your Web pages – the “canonical” name – is supposed to be. By using the Settings page of Google’s Webmaster Tools, you can tell Google by which name you wish to be known.

For example, Admissions has decided they want to be known as http://admissions.tamu.edu/, without the www, not http://www.admissions.tamu.edu/. They clearly tell us not to use http://www.admissions.tamu.edu/, because their server gives us a 404 Not Found error message when we try to go there. Hopefully most visitors will know they should try their request again without the www.

Because they always use the right URL, Admissions makes it less likely that people will use the wrong one. After all, nobody can click on a bad link that isn’t there. All the pages on the Admissions website link to the home page in the same way, as http://admissions.tamu.edu/. Actually, they link to http://admissions.tamu.edu/default.aspx, which is a little longer and harder to remember, but at least they’re consistent.

Using a consistent URL for each page encourages other webmasters to link to your site consistently as well. Google uses the number of inbound links to help decide which page is most important, useful and informative. Each link to your page is a “vote of support” for that page, and you don’t want your supporters to split their votes. Google says it’s especially important not to serve the same content from from both your subdomain and your root directory, from both “domain.com/page.htm” and “sub.domain.com/page.htm”.

But what if people are already using different URLs for the same page? What if a lot of future students are typing “tamu.edu/admissions” instead of “admissions.tamu.edu”? That’s where you can use a server redirect; in fact, we do. Our main TAMU server redirects visitors to the correct Admissions URL without visitors even noticing. But it also sends a 301 Moved Permanently message. Because they get that message, search engines aren’t confused about where the page is really located or what it’s really called. We don’t recommend that you change your page names every time you redesign your site, but if you do, sending a 301 code is very helpful in referring visitors to the new page.

Webmasters can set up their own meta-refresh redirects, an example of which you’ll see if you go to http://www.tamu.edu/admissions/default.aspx. But partly because spammers use them so often, Google doesn’t recommend long-term use of meta-refresh redirects. Your server administrator can set up a solid, reliable server redirect for you by editing your configuration file. Apache settings can automatically redirect visitors to www, add a slash at the end of the URL, redirect traffic from your old site to your new site, and more.

As TV announcers used to say, stay tuned for our next installment on search engine optimization, when we’ll talk about the importance of content.

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009 Search
Share this article

1 Comment to Always use the same name for your Web page

  1. Good stuff. “By limiting the number of ways the same content can be accessed…” – the concept of basic web organization and standardization has been creeping its way into many a meeting lately, albeit quietly and by different terms.

  2. Wally on January 22nd, 2009

Leave a comment

Categories

Archives