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Using Search-Engine-Friendly URLs in Your Business Website

Developers often use content management or storefront systems that automatically generate URLs for dynamic pages pulled from databases in business websites, such as product catalogs. Unfortunately, search engines are better at crawling static pages; they might have trouble with or ignore dynamic pages.

Rather than use arbitrary filenames, include different keywords in URLs for different pages. For example, the URL for a bakery site might be www.YourBakery.com/storefront/fresh_breads.html. Putting a few (no more than three to five) keywords in the filename portion of a URL (after the last /) is more helpful than having keywords in the directory or subdirectory name (where storefront appears in this example).

The length of a URL doesn’t matter to a search engine, but shorter is better — 2007 research from Marketing Sherpa shows that short URLs attract twice as many clicks! Although domain names themselves aren’t case-sensitive, the portion of a URL that follows the top-level domain (after .com, for example) may be.

Keep it simple with all lowercase characters. Using symbols in a URL can cause major headaches. If you use too many, the URL becomes practically toxic to search engine crawlers. Compare the number of characters — other than dash (—), underscore (_), letters, or numbers — in the “bad” and “good” versions of URLs in the examples in the following paragraph.

To avoid problems, limit symbols such as %, &, and = to no more than three (definitely a case of “less is more”). Many systems also generate unsearchable URLs when they initiate an onsite search, tracking code, or session identification number (or token).

The best URLs are short, static addresses using only lowercase alphanumeric characters, hyphens, and underscores. Compare these URLs:

www.badproductURL.com/cgi-bin/shop.pl?shop=view_category&category=bolts%20carriage&sub_category=&group=2&wholesale=

www.goodproductURL.com/browse/4396.htm

www.betterproductURL.com/gifts/heart-pins.htm

www.badcontentURL.com/Regional/web/Content.jsp?nodeId=160&lang=en

www.goodcontentURL.com/incentives/Tax_Credit_1_2_2.htm

www.bettercontentURL.com/incentives/tax/credits

www.badsessionID.com/index.htm?&CFID=1180599941&CFTOKEN=37702390

www.goodsessionID.com/gp/yourstore/ref=pd_irl_gw/002-9876543-1234567

www.bettersessionID.com/onlinestore/123

Surprisingly, some of the worst violators of this guideline are expensive, enterprise-level content management systems for large, database-driven websites. (For shame!) Those software manufacturers should know better.

Fortunately, several solutions exist to solve the problem of unfriendly URLs. The most common is the Apache Module Rewrite. Ask your developer to visit to see how to convert plug-ugly URLs on the fly into ones that are search engine friendly.

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