A Googler's Sage Advice on Absolute vs. Relative URLs

Jun 10, 2008 • 7:11 am | comments (2) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under SEO - Search Engine Optimization
 

A common question in the SEO space is should I use absolute or relative URLs. Absolute URLs are when you link a URL by using the domain.com portion as well, so linking to my authors page would be a link like http://www.seroundtable.com/authors.php. The relative URL for that authors page would be a link like /authors.php.

As you can imagine, there are pros and cons. JohnMu, a Googler, has an outstanding post in a Google Groups thread with sage advice. It would be a crime if I did not quote the whole post, so here it is:

There are pros and cons to both absolute and relative URLs in links:

Absolute URLs: + help keep the links pointing to your content if someone were to copy it (*) + help keep the links pointing to your domain name if you cannot select a canonical (can't do 301 redirects) + help make sure that you're pointing to the right URL even if you move things around (say for stylesheets or graphics) - cannot be tested on a staging / testing server (eg locally) (unless you insert the links dynamically) - makes it hard to move content (unless the links are inserted dynamically)

Relative URLs: + make it easy to move content around + make it easy to test locally and on a staging server - are easy to break if linking to content that isn't moved as well (stylesheet, graphics, etc) - an evil scraper would have less work (*)

There's a middle ground as well, using absolute links without a domain name, eg: < a href="/resources/green/mostly/page.htm" ...> Personally, I prefer to use relative URLs + some absolute (without domain name) ones to shared resources. The advantage of being able to test things out 1:1 on a staging server can't compete with the pseudo-protection against scrapers.

The only place I would use absolute URLs would be if the site is hosted somewhere where the webmaster can't do a 301 redirect and may have trouble with duplicates. I've seen this a lot with sites hosted on a free account with the ISP; often it will be hosted as http://isp.com/users/~name/site ..., then perhaps http://domain.com/site... and http://www.domain.com/site... . By using absolute URLs in that situation, any value passed to one of the wrong URLs will automatically pass value to the correct URLs as well.

If you have a really good CMS you may be able to change from one to another and use a staging server without much work. In that case, it probably doesn't matter which one is chosen.

Solid advice!

Forum discussion at Google Groups.

This post was written on June 5th and schedule to go live today.

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Comments:

sina-ut

06/10/2008 11:41 am

I always use relative URL! Because it is simple!

Michael Martinez

11/18/2009 08:14 pm

Relative URLs create more trouble than they are worth. I am surprised John gave out such bad advice last year. I came to this article because of a link on SEOmoz in November 2009. Let me put this in the most delicate, politically sensitive way possible: Using relative URLs is completely stupid.

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