Are Short URLs Important To Your Website?
this very important question, Website Services turned to two ‘Net
experts. The consensus, if you have ever had to deal with the issue,
will not be surprising. “My years of experience have shown that short
URLs out perform the long URLs in almost every way,” said Bret Fencl of
FenclWebDesign.com LLC. “There are various reasons that web sites may
require long URLs, such as proprietary software that is licensed, but
there still may be workarounds for most of your important pages.”
it is those workarounds that the majority of us are most interested in,
as always, it is important to start at the beginning to learn what a
URL is and then to move on and see why long URLs create problems.
Bret Fencl: Let’s
start with the basics. URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator. The URL
is your web address that you see in the address bar of your browser. It
usually begins with HTTP, but may begin with HTTPS for SSL secure
pages. Usually your home page URL will look something like this: http://www.example.com.
The problem of long URLs isn’t usually on the home page, but the rest
of the pages and especially shopping cart pages. Take a close look
through your web site to see if you have any URLs that look like the
you did find some long URL then you may want to read further.
Shortening most or all of your URLs to the length below would make it
easier for your web site visitors to understand, plus help the search
engines with proper indexing of your web site.
“short URLs out perform the long
URLs in almost every way”
are many possible issues that long URLs may cause. One issue may be
that your visitors many not be able to email a working link of your
site to a co-worker or family member. The links may take up two lines
in the email, or break after the (?) question mark, and therefore
cannot be clicked properly.
Many search engines may have an
easier time navigating and indexing your web site correctly if the URL
simply matches the name of the actual product or subject on the page. I
am in no way suggesting that you stuff the URL with spam techniques
add the name of the product or subject of the page to the URL, but do
not go overboard. Going overboard such as the above keyword example
could cause your site to be penalized by search engines.
simplified readability of short URLs can help your click through ratio
on the search engines. When looking for a particular item in the search
results of a search engine, do certain web sites stand out clearer,
simply because they are easier to read? Did seeing the items name in
the URL catch your eye? Let’s assume that two web sites ranked equally
on your favorite search engine, and both web sites carry the exact same
product. If you had to choose one web site first to click, which result
below would you most likely click?
Example Company Widget Sales
Example Company Widget Sales
Why do long URLs create indexing problems for search engines and what can be done about it?
Bret gave us a great start into the basics of rewriting long URLs,
Website Services also turned to Jim Goslin, Director of Optimization at
Jim Goslin: Most major search engines can index sites that
use the querystring in the address that produce long URL’s, but they do
present drawbacks. Search spiders tend to crawl and index the pages
much slower than static html pages and if the Querystring contains more
than 3 parameters, they can confuse the spiders and cause pages not to
be indexed. In fact, if the URL’s contain session ID information or if
the URL contains the string “&id=” they may not be indexed at all.
The reason is that long URL’s tend to be pages that all use the same
template and can be seen as duplicate content and may not be indexed.
pages however are not the only solution to long URLs. Websites can
still use dynamic pages and mask the URL’s with something called URL
Rewriting; a simple process of having the server transform long url’s
into pages that appear to be static. This can be done on both
Windows/IIS and Linux/Unix based systems. Most implementations require
some basic knowledge of Regular Expressions.
For Unix/Linux Web Servers:
easiest implementation is done on Unix/Linux based systems using the
.htaccess File in your root directory. If speed is a concern, the most
popular web server on ‘Nix based systems is Apache, which includes a
built in module (created exactly for this purpose) called
For ASP Windows/IIS Web Servers.
best solution here is to use a third party program like ISAPI / Rewrite
from Helicon Tech. This will require having your systems administrator
install the program on your server.
For .ASPX Windows/IIS Web Servers
doesn’t have the same support for this functionality as ‘Nix/apache but
it can be done. The functionality can be coded into your web
applications in a few different ways, the simplest way is to have
regular expressions in your Global.asax file do the translations, this
is best used on a server without heavy load. If speed is a factor, a
custom or third party ISAPI Filter is best, this would be an
application that you install on the server that would do the
translations. Some example third party filters are URL Rewrite by
IISMods and URL Rewrite by Smalig|Webworks.
Are there some content management systems that are more user-friendly when it comes to recreating file names?
content management systems provide the functionality to create websites
that are dynamic and still use search engine friendly URL’s. The main
functionality to look for with CMS Systems is how customizable the
templates are, as well as the URL’s. Two good programs that perform
well under heavy load, are ablecommerce and Siterefresh from
Refreshsoftware. If cost is a factor, there are many free open source
tools available, like OpenCMS and Typo3.
Many thanks to Bret
Fencl of FenclWebDesign.com, LLC and Jim Goslin, Director of
Optimization at IncreaseVisibility.com for their valuable contributions
to the Website Services Magazine Ask The Experts section.