Search Problem Overview
I've read a great deal of discussion recently (both on this site and elsewhere) about "friendly URLs" but I'm not sure what exactly makes a URL "friendly" and why we really even care (up to a certain point). Illustration:
The following is an example of a URL that would be held up by the majority of current web developers as "friendly":
Whereas this would be considered "unfriendly" (i.e. bad, Neanderthal, ignorant, stupid):
- Doesn't the "friendly" URL contain duplicate identifying information about the blog post in question? In other words, once you have the id (123) of the post, why do you need the title? Wouldn't this be a violation of the "don't repeat yourself" mantra?
- What difference does the form of a URL make as far as users are concerned? Do users ever actually type full URLs by hand (other than the TLD, of course)? Do users ever look to the URL of a page to determine what the page is about? Why do we need the title of the blog post in the URL? Isn't that what the page's
<title>tag and content are for?
- I often hear SEO as a reason why the "friendly" URL form is preferred. Why does a search engine spider care about the URL? Aren't they just automated pieces of software that crawl pages (and the links to other pages that are contained within them)? If search engines were written like other software components (e.g. database access components), the URL would just be a meaningless identifier (similar to a rowguid in a relational database) to them. If I were designing a database schema with something like the "friendly" URL above as a table's primary key, I would (quite correctly) get chewed out.
I said earlier "up to a point" because obviously, URLs can get out of hand. Here is an actual URL from Amazon.com that I don't think anyone in their right mind would consider "friendly":
Solution 1 - Search
Tim Berners-Lee (the architect of the WWW) wrote http://www.w3.org/Provider/Style/URI">a great article about this subject about 10 years ago.
Your example is a bad URL -- but not just because it has both an id and a "slug" (the abbreviated, hyphenated form of the page title). Putting the page title into your URL is problematic in the long term. Content will change over time. If you ever change the title of that blog post, you'll be forced to choose between keeping the old URL, or changing the URL to match the new title. Changing the URL will break any previous links to that page; and not changing it means you'll have a URL that doesn't match the page. Neither is good for the user. Better to just go with www.myblog.com/posts/123.
Users often do need to type a URL, but more importantly, sometimes they'll also edit existing URLs to find other pages in your site. Thus, it's often good to have discoverable URLs. For example, if I want to see post #124, I could easily look at the current URL and figure that the URL for the page I want to see is www.myblog.com/posts/124. That's a level of user-friendliness that can be a big help to people trying to find what they're looking for. Including other information (like the subject of the post) can make this impossible -- so it reduces my exploration options.
Forget about SEO. Search engine technology has been reducing the effectiveness of SEO hacks for some time. Good content is still king -- and in the long run, you won't be able to game the system.
Solution 2 - Search
To me, friendly URL means there's been some attempt to include semantic information in the URL to make it more fit for human consumption. It's an interesting example of a computer-computer interface being augmented and built upon to make a better human-computer interface.
So, in your two examples:
www.myblog.com/posts/123/this-is-the-name-of-my-blog-postis friendly, because you've included the title in the URL - it tells you something about the page.
www.myblog.com/posts.aspx?id=123is unfriendly because it's cryptic and obscure: it makes perfect sense to a database, but none to you or me.
Friendly URLs are fantastic in some situations and useless in others. Basically, if a user is ever going to be exposed to it, I'd make friendly URL creation a priority, and it's not just a matter of aesthetics. It makes it much easier to get back to URLs from the address bar if you can quickly see and understand what the various options are, plus it makes it more obvious where you're about to go if you're following a link from a web page.
Combine all that with the awesome bar in Firefox 3+ (surely coming in other browsers too), and auto-complete in the address bar becomes incredibly powerful when you're dealing with friendly URLs.
Solution 3 - Search
There seems to be a lot of conflicting information about precisely what effect querystring have on crawlers, but the consensus is that having more than a couple parameters harms your SEO because a long querystring variable indicates dynamic content, and so most search engines will be a lot less aggressive indexing your page.
Adding a slug to your url, such as this-is-the-name-of-my-blog-post from your example, also makes your links more different from one another than a simple id number, and adds more significant words into the url. These are all things that search engines look for.
Personally I find such urls much easier parse visually because there are fewer punctuation characters used, and the name-value pairs in the querystring can be very verbose and hard to remember.
Solution 4 - Search
It's a good point about how your putting unnecessary information in the URL.
Once the unique id 522466 is known - the rest is useless, so it purely serves to make the URL look "nice" and provide the user with an idea as to what the page links to. But this creates another problem. Most sites do not "verify" that part of the URL, so you could put --
Yet it will still link to this post. You can see how this may cause more problems than they are worth because they could be used maliciously.
I feel Digg have taken the right approach to this. They do not use IDs in their URLs. Behind the scenes they get the ID from their database purely from the title given.
This, for me, is the perfect url. It gives me all the information I need to feel secure in clicking the link.
In fact, titles play such a huge role that, in the world of digg, people "blind digg" purely based on the fact that they like the title, or are interested in it. If your url looks interesting, you may very well be getting more traffic to your site. At the same time you will be making it more user friendly, prettier, and search engines will thank you. As far as I can see, friendly urls are win win for everyone.
Solution 5 - Search
My thoughts on your three bullets:
- I'd say that's not an optimal URL. I have no idea why one would show both the post identifier and title. I don't ever include post IDs in my URLs at all, only titles and (sometimes) dates
- For users, shorter is better.
- Search engines look at the url. Whether it makes sense or not, they do. Having keywords in the URL will offer some SEO benefit.
Solution 6 - Search
I happen to agree with you, but shhh don't tell anyone.
It's just my humble opinion, but it seems silly to me that
are the same page. I mean, I can see that the hyphenated question title gives the URL some context, but it unless you know that part's optional the URL just gets longer unnecessarily.
Solution 7 - Search
First off, they're friendly to search engine crawlers. Google and others put a high value on words in the url that match words on the page, so if the title of your blog post is in the URL, it will help your search engine juice.
Secondly, they're friendly to people who don't know what they're visiting. Which of the links that you used for comparison are you more likely to click on if it comes across your twitter/email/IM/etc?
Solution 8 - Search
Ahh...the trick is who the URL is friendly to. Search engines perceive the first url as more friendly because it apparently has content information in the URL and it doesn't look like the same page being repeated with a different parameter.
For instance, comparing
a robot will say okay, I don't know what these are...but they look like the same page to me.
makes them look like different pages (even though it may be the same aspx page serving them up), and robots tend to rank them higher.
EDIT: Additionally, it should be noted that many robots look at the text of the url to determine usefulness, so a search for "Lost" will likely hit the second type of url more than the first, even if the page content is identical.
Solution 9 - Search
>Wouldn't this be a violation of the "don't repeat yourself" mantra?
That refers to the application CODE!!, not the application it self!!
It makes complete sense to have
- Title in the <title> tag
- In the URL
- And as first line in the content.
And pretty much everywhere else the content need it.
What that "mantra" refers if the your code should look like this:
Link to this:<a href="getHrefFor( object.getTitle() )">obj.getTitle()</a>
Instead of having different methods with copy/pasted code all around your app.
Solution 10 - Search
The "unfriendly" URL you show exposes an implementation detail: what if, sometime in the future, you decide to drop ASP and to use something else? You would have to change all the URLs (baad!) or to employ a renaming scheme.
Having the title repeated in the URL is maybe not that necessary but it turns out handy when you do a lot of link pasting, to double check that you are linking to the correct place.
Solution 11 - Search
Our website uses so-called 'unfriendly' URLs, but we create special 'friendly' URLs for specific locations that members of the public use for specific functions, especially on printed material.
For example, our parking tickets have http://www.dnv.org/parking on them.
Solution 12 - Search
Well, for a start, try to keep characters apart from (a-z,A-Z,0-9) and of course :/._- out of the url. Not everyone has all of those on their keyboards (for example, I don't have & on my keyboard, neither do I have ~)
When for example, doing some url parsing or something alike, also helps if the url syntax is "clean"
Solution 13 - Search
The 2nd URL looks more user friendly, whereas the first looks search-engine friendly.
Search engines give a higher relevance to words that appear in the URL. The domain name gets the highest (because it can't change), the rest of the URL gets a high priority because the length is limited, and then the body of the document is analysed.
My answer is quite subjective, because it depends on whether you are being human friendly (easy to type manually, or read to a friend) or whether you are being search engine friendly (boosting your ranking.)
Solution 14 - Search
In this situation, it doesn't really break the DRY principal, because as far as a search engine is concerned, '522466' is not the same thing as 'what-makes-a-friendly-url'
Generally for sites like StackOverflow, the token is the only piece of information that matters; usually you can put whatever you want after that point and it'll take you to the same place (ignored by the web server).
The page description is only there to help the search engines identify what the page is about (which is nice)
Solution 15 - Search
Another point: people sometimes manually edit URLs, in order to go up the directory tree. So they might try to load a page like http://site.com/a/b, get a "Not found" error, and then try http://site.com/a or http://site.com. Of course, if your URLs aren't based on an actual directory tree, this may not work. But you can still try to support it.
Some browsers even encourage this, like IE with its error messages, and Safari with a menu that appears when you right-click the page title.
Solution 16 - Search
Matt and @bigmattyh: SEO is not "hacks": it's understanding what "good content" means on the web. Page titles are part of the content. Good anchor text in links is "good content" (rather than using words like "click here" as the link text). Placing links in context rather than as a list is "good content".
Page titles are low-hanging fruit, but they remain one of the easiest ways to improve SERP. Yes, inbound links (and their quality) are critical, but titles can do wonders, particularly in the short-term. You don't have to use the page title (which may change from time to time) as the post title: summarize the content manually.
Don't guess on this stuff: (a) read sources like SEOmoz.org and (b) analyze your own site rigorously.
Solution 17 - Search
The term readable url is also used a lot. Using friendly/readable urls is a SEO born technique and that is about it. Otherwise the shorter the path the better. Doing rewrite rules usually slows the process of getting the page fast to the client so take that in consideration as well.
Solution 18 - Search
In my opinion, IDs and UUIDs should never be part of the URL, never.
Some NoSQL databases don't use IDs at all, they use UUIDs. UUIDs are long, portions are separated using dashes. Google will treat a dash like a words separator: that means your url will have 5 more useless keywords.
A human being does not understand IDs or UUIDs. A person understands words and talking URLs.
If the title changes you can simply make a redirect like WordPress does, like @TRiG pointed.
Finally, remember to use a date, so you can discern between two articles having the same title and posted in a different year, month or day. For example you can have two reviews (first edition and second edition) of the same book.
5) A date will also help any user to figure out if the content is recent or is not.
A date will add an important keyword to your URL: the year. Let's suppose I want see the most beautiful girls in the world, I will type in Google: "most beautiful girls in the world 2014". My url will be:
Last but not least, Chrome caches the site you visited, so you can find the above site just typing in the address bar "girls".
Solution 19 - Search
Thematically linked inner pages that logically work within each other. That is the best way to Silo a URL structure.
The best example, without using client websites would be to look at the BBC website, this has been done in best practice:
Inner pages have been correctly organised. This is best practice to tell the search engines how to move around the website.
Solution 20 - Search
The term readable url is also used a lot. Using friendly/readable urls is a SEO born technique and that is about it. Otherwise the shorter the path the better.