A Clean URL is a Good URL

By Dave McAnally, Natural Search Supervisor

There has been much talk this week over Google's official blog post regarding URL rewriting. Some think it’s a game changer, and some don’t. Essentially, Google recommends that you shouldn't attempt to make dynamic URLs look static because A. Google can crawl those URLs anyway, B. some of the information passed in those URLs can help Google understand the content better and C. apparently, people screw up URL rewriting and then Google doesn't see any of the information (a symptom of which I would believe yields much greater problems than Google not seeing your content-namely that your site wouldn't be functioning).

You see, URLs wear many hats. They are a branding tool (for better or worse), they are instructions for how a page should be rendered, they give people something to bookmark and the list goes on. When one 'rewrites' a URL, they may be doing so for a number of reasons. The most obvious reason is to shorten them and make them easier to read (and thus, more likely to be clicked on, remembered from a print ad and so on). We KNOW Google recognizes words in URLs, and there are even operators to search for them there.

Even if the words in a URL aren't factored into how a page is assigned a rank for a given search result, we certainly can draw attention to a URL if it has a word in it that matches a query. One would think from the SEO perspective, that we are leaving money on the table if we aren't capitalizing on that opportunity.

When I first read the post from Google's blog, I sent an email with the link out to our SEO team here in my usual sarcastic-yet-overly-dramatic tone (i.e. exercise lots of hyperbole all in caps). It engendered a nice back and forth about how we should approach URL rewriting.

It certainly seemed like Google's attempt to discourage URL rewriting was half-hearted at best. To my eyes, it translated like, “We know there are many positives to clean URLs, but there could be a few times where things might go awry”. Well Google, be that as it may, we still can’t ignore our user experience. Besides, weren’t you all about writing pages for users not spiders all along? Let’s be honest, those huge URLs with gibberish (in the eyes of a user) aren’t doing a user any favors!

As of right now, my opinion on URLs is that a clean URL is advantageous to the user, and thus, advantageous to the marketer. I think our collective interpretation of this message over the week is that Google is cautioning people of incorrectly setting up rewrite conventions. They are concerned people will attempt to strip out the 'wrong' parameters which will cause Google to not crawl pages correctly (and probably more detrimental- cause your pages not to render to the user correctly). Either way, they don’t help matters!

I can see why a company like Google would take issue with webmasters rewriting URLs to appear static on the premise that it will help manipulate rankings. However, there's a big picture to URL rewriting, and for a holistic SEO approach, clean and concise URLs are always preferred.

What's your take?


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