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Everything You Need to Know About URLs – Part 1

Posted by in Web Design / Development

It is amazing how often URLs are overlooked as part of the web design process. It is probably one of the most important aspects of a website as it’s sole purpose is to match a page on the Internet to a location. You would be amazed at how many development meetings I have been in where they have not even been discussed.

So what I propose with this series of posts is to outline the role of the URL, how they are constructed, and what happens when they change.

The Role of a URL (Uniform Resource Locator)

If you think of your own house for a moment and how important your address is (number, street, suburb, etc) for people to be able to locate your home, you can begin to grasp why it should be a part of every website development discussion.

Would you ever receive a piece of mail, or a visitor, if your house did not have an address? Think about how frustrating it is when you have taken down an address incorrectly, realizing only when it is too late. Or have you been in a situation where in a particular street, many of the houses may look the same – how do you locate the one particular to your situation?

All those above examples outline that there should be a clear address for your home on the Internet. Wisely, those that were a part of developing the Internet recognized the fact that we as humans remember names and words much better than a string of numbers, so they created URLs (Uniform Resource Locator/s).

What this enabled them to do is mask the true identify of the server computer (identified uniquely by an IP Address – a topic for a separate discussion) with a string of words. So in our case the IP address of E-Web Marketing is something like 122.200.85.129, but that is not what you type into your browser – you type www.ewebmarketing.com.au to find our website. How nice!

Can you imagine the confusion then, if your website has 2 different address that lead to the same location? Imagine if everytime you invited your friends to your home, you gave them 3 or 4 addresses, each with a different name. How would they ever find your house?

The same thing is true with URLs. There should only be one address to one particular page – it really is that plain and simple. So many fall into the trap of having multiple URLs for one particular page, and we as humans can fumble our way through and piece together the fact that we have arrived at the destination that we wanted to be at. But the search engines have a different issue. They follow addresses, and when they find 3 or 4 addresses all leading to the same page, how does it decide which one to choose? That is a very interesting and important question, and many SEOs have their own ideas and opinions.

I personally like to make it as easy as possible for the bots, and have implemented code and redirects to make sure that they know exactly what address they should be using.

What can you do to make sure your website has the same?

Speak to your web development or online marketing firm to implement the following:

  • 301 redirects – when relocating old pages and capturing external links so they never 404.
  • Canonical tags on key pages
  • A standard across the whole website regarding the format of internal linking.

Your visitors and search engines will thank you. I promise.

Next week, we will look at the actual construction of the URLs and how we can change it to help the search engines and your users.

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