Top 10 Fatal URL Design Mistakes

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Address by sam.d

URL design?
Is there any design involved at all in deciding how your Internet address and directory structure will look like? Yes, there is, or at least there should be! Nonetheless I see the same mistakes daily all over the place as if URLs wouldn’t matter at all.

A bad URL means your website or page won’t be found, clicked, visited and linked or submitted to social media. Without proper URLs most of your other great web design, usability and SEO measures get wasted.

Thus I decided to show the top 10 URL design mistakes which I encounter most frequently and which are in many cases fatal for your findability:

  1. Session IDs: What’s that? Yeah, I ask you, what’s that: e967ef2d7f923aab20e10ddb4164a351 ? It’s a session ID. It’s different for every user so every user has a different address, it’s like inviting people to a party and giving them all a different address.
  2. Apostrophes and other special characters: %e2%80%93 – This is an apostrophe in a URL. You can’t submit this to StumbleUpon. If you do you end up with a broken link at best.
  3. Numbers instead of speaking URLs: Decide, 123 or angelina-jolie-naked, which URL speaks your language, which one you’ll rather click?
  4. Multiple URLs for one page: www.example.com, example.com, example.com/, example.com/index.php, example.com/index.php? all leading to one homepage? No you have 6 homepages and counting! Use a canonical URLs script (WordPress 2.5 already does by default)
  5. Too many parameters which also change randonmly. Ever tried to submit the New York Times to a social site? In many cases it’a a duplicate as http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/27/technology/27google.html?_r=3&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&ref=business&adxnnlx=1214553738-5Jvl01JfMCKLx5duMGRv9g&oref=slogin&oref=slogin
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/27/technology/27google.html?_r=3&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/27/technology/27google.html

    and dozens of other combinations are possible. This is even worse than #4

  6. Only keywords in URL: Recently bloggers tend to shorten their URLs inasmuch as their posting become totally boring. I won’t click /2008/06/27/google if I see only the URLs (like, say, in an email) but I will click google-files-for-bankrupcy
  7. Too many subdirectories or mimicked oney via URL rewrite: world/politics/asia/korea/local/ Huh? Do you know what I mean? If it’s that far down the hierarchy, why should I care at all? I want the frontpage news.
  8. Simply PHP crap: Do you use Joomla or Mambo CMS? Their standard URLs suck big time: option=com_content&view=article&id=72&Itemid=37 They suck for both Google and StumbleUpon, the 2 most important traffic sources nowadays. As a user I don’t want to look at such crap either.
  9. Finally date based URLs: 2008/06/27/ is fine but do you think I’ll click 2005/06/27/ ? No! I won’t. If you’re not into breaking news stop using the date as your most important first part of the URL.
  10. Changing URLs after publication: If you use a WordPress URL like mine
    http://seo2.0.onreact.com/how-to-spot-content-theft-on-social-media-and-elsewhere
    and change it after publishing to say

    http://seo2.0.onreact.com/10-ways-how-to-spot-content-theft-on-social-media-and-elsewhere

    the users who’ll visit via Technorati, Google BlogSearch etc. will just encounter an error. You can prevent that by using post numbers and descriptive URLs in WordPress

My 10 URL design rules are quite simple:

  1. Make the URLs clean
  2. Make them simple
  3. Make a URL human and machine readable
  4. Use one URL per page
  5. No special characters besides a minus/hyphen “-” ideally
  6. Use slashes like real directories
  7. Enhance URLs with numbers but don’t rely on them
  8. Skip the date, it’s not the most important info
  9. Do not ever change URLs once set
  10. If you have to change URLs move them with a “301 permanently moved” redirect

So you see: Achieving findability by appropriate URL design is not rocket science, it’s more preventing stupid mistakes. For deciding which URL structure is best in WordPress (not mine!) check out his how-to article of mine: WordPress URL Design. Also make sure to follow these 10 Coding Guidelines for Perfect Findability and Web Standards.

Did I forget something? Tell me.

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