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Search Friendly URLs

Many sites generate very complex URLs for a number of reasons, it could be that a developer wishes to have pages in which search queries can be easily bookmarked, it could even be inexperience leading to dynamic pages being created when static ones would do the job just as well. Whatever the reason, if you really want to your pages to be deemed as relevant by the search engines then you need to use search Engine friendly URLs. These are short, memorable and don’t use a lot of extraneous punctuation marks. These can be generated simply by using sub-domains or replacing underscores with hyphens. In some cases it may be necessary to rewrite the URL. This means that the server makes changes to the URL without involving the browser. There are tools available for this in both the Windows and the UNIX operating systems, although the latter is a bit more complicated.

Having a higher relevance often means a better ranking in the search engine results and this in turn results in more people seeing your website. Unfortunately it`s still possible to find a ton of sites which are using URLs that contain a lot of punctuation marks and identifiers that essentially do nothing but make it more complex. These are termed ‘dirty URLs` because of the amount of trash that they contain. This isn`t so much of a problem with static pages but rather with dynamic web pages. The advent of the dynamic web has led to more visually appealing sites, but these dirty URLs are fraught with difficulties including:


There`s a much greater possibility of typos being entered as the length and complexity of the punctuation is high.


Some URLs are short and easy to remember. The advantage of that is it will be at the top of a person`s mind when they are searching for that particular topic. Not many people can remember a dirty URL and, since they tend to not be very keyword oriented, provide little information to the user as to the relevance of the content.


Hackers use many tricks in order to compromise the integrity of your site, and modifying the query string which follows the ‘?` mark of dirty URLs is one of them. This is used to launch a front door attack on a web application. Even the .asp and .jsp extensions can be a weak point. They pretty much expose the type of website you`re running and so the potential hacker will know what kind of attack to mount.

The question is, given all of these disadvantages, why do people still use them instead of search engine friendly URLs?

  • They`ve become an accepted practice in web development and it`s hard to break from convention.

  • They make it easy to bookmark query pages so you don`t have to do an entire search again.

  • They can be good if, for some reason, you don`t want users to remember the URL or be able to type it easily. This can be useful if you have a niche site and you`re trying to conserve on bandwidth.

Is that really worth it though? For the majority of sites, having search engine friendly URLs is far more advantageous. Fortunately, it`s not that difficult to clean up URLs using the following methods:

  • Keep the URLs as short as possible. One way of doing this might be through the use of sub-domains, but this can get tricky as the site grows and becomes more complex. Try to name directories and files based on keywords and make them meaningful.

  • A popular practice is using underscores to separate words, for example This isn`t very search engine friendly and, if you feel that you must have this separation, it`s better to use hyphens as they are easier to type.

  • Depending on your web server`s operating system, your file and directory names might end up being case sensitive. This isn`t such a problem on a Windows system but UNIX systems are a bit different and don`t actually recognize and as the same. Your best bet is to just use everything as the lower case since most people type domain names in this fashion.

URL Rewriting:

This can seem complex and it does take some time to learn how to do this. However, it is well worth the effort since it is one of the most effective ways of cleaning up dirty URLs and making them search engine friendly. What exactly does URL rewriting entail though? It is essentially the manipulation of a URL in such a way that dynamic modification and redirection is undertaken at the web server, without having to get the browser involved. The process is very similar, whether on a Windows or UNIX/Linux based system, but the latter does have a slightly higher learning curve. Both operating systems use a mod_rewrite module in order to effect URL rewriting and to:

  • Provide better URL protection.

  • Improve search engine visibility.

  • Save bandwidth by preventing hot linking.

Firstly, you need to make sure that the module is properly configured on the server. It`s usually there in Windows systems but it`s possible to find some UNIX based machines in which it wasn`t a part of the original installation. You can determine if it`s there by looking in the module directory of the server. If not, you`ll need to get it installed. This is fairly simple if you`re using a shared server as the hosting company can do it for you. UNIX systems use the Apache server and mod-rewrite isn`t typically set to run when the server loads so you`ll need to do that manually. We`re not going to go into too much detail here since you`ll need to really pay close attention to a tutorial in order to use the mod-rewrite option properly.

URL rewriting isn`t for the faint of heart as it can appear to be very daunting initially. Once you get the hang of it though, you`ll quickly see what a useful process it can be. You`ll end up with short, understandable URLs which don`t give away any of your implementation details to potential hackers. This will not only improve the security of your site, but also boost the relevance of the pages in the eyes of the search engines.

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