Human Friendly URLs

During the early years of Internet development URLs where considered the domain of technicians and the <title> tag was for the end user. I rarely look at the <title> tag contents, for those who do not know it ends up in the Window Title of the Browser. I always look at the address bar of the browser to get feedback what I am watching.

This is gradually changing but there are still a lot of sites where they have a technical URL space. Where there is usually a lot of digits that correlate to some id that is in a content database. When I look at the URL /enterprise/cache/19054-0-0-225-121.html you get the idea, it probably makes a lot of sense if you build the site. As a viewer the URL alone gives me no clue what I am watching.

As a counter example the URL /2006/WORLD/europe/08/11/terror.plot/index.html leaves little to guess about what I am watching.

I am a big supporter for human friendly URLs. There are a number of advantages I see:

  • They force you to think about organizing your site. Similar to how you organize your folders
  • They provide a clue to your visitors how your site is organized.
  • Searches try to mimic the behavior of users to a certain point. So they too start to assign more weight to the URL compared to the title. So human friendly urls increase your chance of a high search ranking.
  • A more technical reason is the ability to start using URL’s in REST based web services.
  • And last but not least, it simply looks better which makesyour whole site look better

And believe me most well known websites already do this. The ones that don;t are probably figuring out how to do it.

In both .Net and Java enironments it is now pretty easy to map URL’s to specific sections of code. For example in the Java world you can use J2EE Filters to process URLs and direct trafficto the proper Servlet and or JSP. Alternative you can use servlet-mappings in your web.xml file to map whole ranges of URL’s to one servlet. Oh yes and please no more .do URLs.

Most CMS systems that I have seen these days have the option to choose your own URL organisation for the items you want to display. Vignette has been the worst example of technical URLs when it comes to CMS products. Their own site does not give me much confidence that they are very far. The About Us page has as URL: /contentmanagement/0,2097,1-1-30-1458-81-116,00.html.

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3 Responses to “Human Friendly URLs”

  1. arnoudm Says:

    For the people interested http://static.userland.com/userLandDiscussArchive/msg003891.html has a description of how Vignette URL’s are composed.

  2. arnoudm Says:

    More evidence that having search words appear in the URL boosts your ranking in Google: http://beust.com/weblog/archives/000413.html.

  3. Vignette new URLs « Arnoud on Software Development Says:

    […] I wrote earlier about the importance of human friendly URL’s. Also included the example of Vignette as a system that has bad URL’s. Vignette has upgraded their product and also upgraded their site. Unfortunately human friendly URL’s was not one of the requirements. […]

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