Friendly web addresses | Boagworld - Web & Digital Advice

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Paul Boag Posted by: Paul Boag On Sunday, 11th May, 2008

Friendly web addresses

When redesigning boagworld considerable time was spent formatting the sites’ web addresses. In this post I explain why so much time was taken and introduce you to the tools I used.

Better UX Development:
The estimated time to read this article is 4 minutes

Website owners are beginning to realise that the address of each web page is a crucial part of its design. These friendlier website addresses provide three benefits:

  • Memorability
  • Better navigation
  • and improved search engine placement

Understanding these benefits provide a small but significant advantage over the competition.

Memorability

For Boagworld, the major consideration was ensuring my web addresses were memorable. If you have ever listened to the podcast you will know that each week I refer users to the shows notes by saying something like…

Go to boagworld.com/podcast and select show 114.

I did this because the address was too long to read and remember. A typical show would have an address of…

http://www.boagworld.com/archives/2008/03/114_forum.html

The problem was almost always the same when referring to third party sites. The URLs were just too hard to remember or guess.

Being able to guess a web address isimportant, and leads nicely on to our second benefit.

Better navigation

A well designed web address should enable a user to guess other related addresses. Take for example Flickr.

To see my photos you go to…

http://www.flickr.com/people/boagworld/

Once you have seen that website address, it is easy to guess the address for another users photographs. The same applies to tags. Once you have seen that photos tagged with my name have the address…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/paulboag

…it is easy to guess the format for other tags.

However, the addresses on flickr do more than provide navigation. They also give context as to your location within the site. By looking at the addresses above you know not only where you are in the site but what type of information you are viewing.

In effect the web address contains valuable information about the page. This helps explain why friendly urls are good for search engine rankings.

Search engine ranking

Search engines do not always like web addresses produced by dynamically driven sites. Long query strings such as…

http://www.boagworld.com/index.php?sourceid=navclient&q=4

…would have once been rejected entirely by search engines. Today things have moved on, and most search engines will crawl them. However, they still place limits on how they crawl them and so generally they should be avoided.

Worst still, the web address above provides no keywords to help a search engine understand the meaning of the page.

However, a semantically written web address like the one for this article…

http://boagworld.com/technology/friendly_urls/

…says a lot about its content.

Hopefully now the benefits of meaningful web addresses are obvious. Let me now show you two tools I have used to improve the web addresses on the boagworld website.

Useful tools

The method for making your web addresses more friendly is largely dependant on the technology that generates your site. However if like me you are using a blogging platform, the chances are it already has the tools built in. Both movable type and wordpress allow you to set the format of your addresses and both have pretty poor defaults.

For example, movable type will default to archiving blog posts using the following format…

http://www.boagworld.com/year/month/name.html

Generally people are not interested in seeing posts from a specific period. Instead they want posts on a similar subject. I have therefore changed the format to…

http://www.boagworld.com/category/name.html

Of course, you maybe working with a technology that does not support this feature. If that is the case, check out How to succeed with URLs(A) on A List Apart. This article provides so very practical approaches which may help.

The other tool I have adopted provides a useful fallback if all else fails. It is called Shorty(B) and works likeTinyURL. You install it on your server and it takes long URLs and shortens them to something memorable.

Screenshot of Shorty

For example I could take the web address of an article on sitepoint about Friendly URLs and reduce it from…

http://www.sitepoint.com/blogs/2007/11/05/friendly-urls/

to…

http://boagworld.com/links/sitepoint

This is invaluable on the podcast as it allows me to read every address. However it could also be used to shorten the URLs of key content on your site.

Hopefully I have convinced you of the value of friendly URLs and provided a couple of suggestions about how to start. However, I would love to hear your tips on creating the perfect web address. Post them in the comments below.

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