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URLs: Static, Dynamic, Page Names, and Canonicalization

Posted on 10.29.2007
The Web Design SEO Checklist (Part Two)

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Welcome to part two of our Web Design SEO Checklist. Today we are covering all things related to URLs. So let’s begin:

A search engine wants to only index unique pages. So in an attempt at doing this they often will ignore URLs that appear similar. This is an issue often confronted by shopping carts, forums, and other database driven websites because they produce what are referred to as dynamic URLs. Dynamic URLs look similar because often the only thing differentiating them is one variable out of a long list of variables.

Re-writing dynamic URLs to create unique static URLs is a common way to correct this problem. A static URL doesn’t contain long strings of variables and stays the same even if the contents on a page are dynamically generated from a database. For example below is a common looking e-commerce product page URL,

Dynamic URL:
http://www.SITE.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=39&products_id=3
By re-writing this URL (commonly referred to as a “mod re-write”) a cleaner looking more search engine friendly static URL is generated.

Static URL:
http://www.SITE.com/KEYWORD-KEYPHRASE/
Also, creating static URLs provides an opportunity to rename the pages using a keyword or phrase. Using keywords or phrases in page names helps search engines understand what primary keywords should be associated with a page.

Canonicalization is also something to be addressed when speaking of URLs. Wikipedia defines canonicalization as “the process of converting data that has more than one possible representation into a "standard" canonical”. When speaking of URLs an example would be how a typical website home page could be represented by all of the following:

www.SITE.com
SITE.com/
www.SITE.com/index.html

Because a web server can return different content for each of these representations Search Engines treat these as different URLs. Where this becomes a problem is with link popularity. Search Engines use link popularity (the number of links pointing to a webpage) as a means of determining a web pages importance. So multiple representations of a URL split the link popularity and thus divide your web pages importance.

To correct canonicalization issues simply decide which version of your URL is the primary one and set your web server to 301 (permanent) redirect the other versions towards the primary one.

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Next we discuss Internal Linking, Navigation and Site Maps.

John Fitzsimmons is a Search Marketing Manager with Spiderbait.com. He also consults on web development projects and social media.
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