Major Google SEO Change: Google Prefers You Don't Use URL Rewrites

Sep 23, 2008 • 9:27 am | comments (24) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization
 

The Google blog has officially said that they prefer that in most cases, you should not use rewrites to change your dynamic URLs to static looking URLs. In my opinion, this is a major 180° on basic SEO practices. SEO 101 is to make sure your dynamic URLs are search engine friendly. But now, that has all changed with this blog post and even well before this blog post.

Back in October 2006, we told you, Dynamic URLs? Google Is Officially 'OK' With Them. But even then, Google still recommended, "rewriting dynamic URLs into user-friendly versions" as good practice. Recently, in the past few months, we have covered many dynamic topics that all implied issues with using static URLs in place of dynamic URLs. Here are those blog posts:

Why the change of heart from Google? For one reason, they can now better understand the purpose of the page from the URL structure. JohnMu explained:

One of the reasons for that is that we can use the information provided through the parameters to better understand what your site is doing with those parameters. For instance,the URL http://www.mysite.com/search.php?q=keyword can give us information about what is happening, it could even allow us to recognize that this is a search form and perhaps let us attempt other keywords that might lead us to content that we haven't seen for your site. On the other hand, a URL like http://www.mysite.com/search/keyword does not give us any information at all about what the "file name" is used for.

You see, Google can learn more information about the page and what it is suppose to deliver based on the URL structure.

But should you go ahead and undo all those dynamic URL rewrites? That is the question I asked but had no easy answer for at Search Engine Land. JohnMu said,

There is no "penalty" for switching URL formats, though it might take a bit of time for everything to catch up. One thing I would recommend is that you set up 301 redirects from all old URLs to the new ones (this is something that you should do in any case when changing URLs).

But, still, hundreds or thousands of URLs can take Google a long time to pick up on. Transferring that link popularity and indexing those new URLs can be a huge task for Google. And your site can suffer during that process. So what should you do?

I think it depends on the size of your site, the number of rewrites, how well those pages are ranking now and your analytics. Possibly, start slow - with the low performing URLs, see how switching those URLs may help. This can be a huge task and that is why god created SEOs and webmasters. :)

Forum discussion at Google Groups, DigitalPoint Forums, WebmasterWorld and Search Engine Watch Forums.

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Comments:

shumisha

09/23/2008 02:17 pm

Hi, Reading this same post, in the samples found near the end of this Webmaster blog post, we can see (paraphrasing) : "... if your real url is something like : www.example.com/article/bin/answer.foo?language=en&answer=3&sid=98971298178906&query=URL then do not rewrite it to : www.example.com/article/bin/answer.foo/en/3/98971298178906/URL because it will be harder for us to find our way through the various parameters and hence segregate relevant and irrelevant parameters. That may prevent us to properly identify duplicate contents for instance..." I understand and agree with that. However, my take to url rewriting (I author a piece of software dealing with this matter) is that I rewrite www.example.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12&Itemid=23 to www.example.com/my-seo-tips-page.html Under such circumstances, and assuming the same /my-seo-tips-page.html url is always used for the same content, I think this is at least still better "user-experience", and should not harm search result in any manner, if not improve it ?

Robin Wauters

09/23/2008 02:27 pm

You mean a 180°, I think.

Donna D. Fontenot

09/23/2008 02:31 pm

Crazy. Simply crazy. I'm calling this Google's "jump the shark" moment.

Barry Schwartz

09/23/2008 02:40 pm

Yea Robin, thanks!

Katinka Hesselink

09/23/2008 02:51 pm

I agree with the other commentators so far: I need more info before deciding to not have a standard rewrite for my blog and (future) clients.

lauren

09/23/2008 02:55 pm

i think that the preferrable solution is still to incorporate keywords, ie, mysite.com/category/page.php is still better than mysite.com/908tfdokj5460.php. in the example used by google, "www.example.com/article/bin/answer.foo?language=en&answer=3&sid=98971298178906&query=URL" is preferrable to , say "www.example.com/article/bin/answer.foo/en,3,98971298178906,URL", the difference being that the above URL gives more info than the second in regards to the process and site type. i personally believe that rewriting to give more info is better than the dynamic URLs that privde no information whatsoever. Also, while google may be 'getting better' at id'ing dynamic URL's and session ID's , for security purposes in e-commerce , its never good to have your sid's indexed... i think this is a move akin to "nofollowing paaid links" b/c it makes googles job easier - especially when refrencing specific site types - right now, you search for "XXX keyword", you get info sites, blogs, e-commerce.... when really google *should* know you wanted an ecommerce store served up b/c you searched for they keywords 'christmas gifts' or whatever.

steve

09/23/2008 04:05 pm

If Google can't determine the purpose of my page through the title, meta information, headings, content, context, linking structure and anchor text, how will they figure it out through some cryptic query strings? And recommending a site to switch from properly rewritten "static" URLs to dynamic is absurd IMHO.

brian

09/23/2008 04:41 pm

I guess panic is a bad idea, but it seems to me that the warning shot has been fired. It's only one step away from Google declaring that URL rewrites are a form of cloaking. In general, Google has always moved in the direction of "leave things alone" "show s natural, high-value content" and when the technology catches up enabling Google to do and understand more, then the rules catch up as well, all the while enforcing a healthy, consumer-friendly discipline on web site owners. This one will be tough for exosting, large-scale, ecommerce sites, but in the end, worthwhile. I appreciate your suggestions for a slow-going strategy.

Chris

09/23/2008 05:13 pm

It seems to me from the examples they are not talking about all rewriting like how most of us use it, but rather rewriting the results of searches or other page actions that result from form submissions. The typical rewriting of say wordpress URLs, CMS urls, etc, that we all use, is not what they were talking about. In the end, SE friendly URLs are also people friendly, and you want your site to be people friendly. The question you have to ask yourself is this: Do you have dynamic URLs because you run a database driven site such in a way that the query string data is only used as a key for specific bits of data that will remain contant. Or.. do you have dynamic URLs as a function of an interactive portion of your site that takes user submissions and/or form data, such in a way that the content of the page changes in direct response to the user input (ie, a search form)? All I'm seeing is going is saying for the latter, you don't need to rewrite them. They're saying nothing about the former.

AlanBleiweiss

09/23/2008 11:51 pm

My twenty nine cents on this one (and if Paulson gets his way, that will be down to my 2 cents again shortly) is that this is another example of people in our industry trying to figure out what to do just because of interpretations related to Google's position (or their APPARENT position...) Well in this case I'm not going to stop using human readable URLs in any of the sites I manage the SEO for. First, it may be okay with Google to do so because they want to experiment and explore from their algorithms' random guessing what else might be found on your site... But hey - wait - what gives me any motive to allow them to do that in the first place? If I am not doing my job, sure - try to find pages I did a lousy job optimizing... Yet if I do my job, that's bogus - I have no desire to want them to use up more of my client's server bandwidth experimenting and exploring! And What about other search engines. As much as most of us care exclusively about what Google and Matt Cutts think and do, do we just throw all desire to have our client sites optimized for Yahoo or MSN? Do our clients care that their sites might be optimized for Google but that they may be missing 10, 15, or 20% of their market share and thus potentially 10, 15 or 20% of their revenue?

Jaan Kanellis

09/24/2008 05:02 am

How about just keep doing what your doing ignore this post. I think I shall.

gabs

09/24/2008 05:56 am

I'm not sure about who this post is for.. Why? Quote: " Should I try to make my dynamic URLs look static? 1. It's quite hard to correctly create and maintain rewrites that change dynamic URLs to static-looking URLs. 2. It's much safer to serve us the original dynamic URL and let us handle the problem of detecting and avoiding problematic parameters. 3. If you want to rewrite your URL, please remove unnecessary parameters while maintaining a dynamic-looking URL. 4. If you want to serve a static URL instead of a dynamic URL you should create a static equivalent of your content." OK.. My answers to the above: 1, no its not hard to do (50% of my job as a webmaster to rewriting 301's) 2,Safer? Maybe safe if you have never writern a 301 .. 3,That is the point !! 4,This is crazy.. Almost all large sites are DB driven hence dynamic. I can only assume this blog post has not been writern for seo's/webmasters.. all imho

Teddie

09/24/2008 07:50 am

I think there are some interesting points in the blog post, and John Mueller confirms that as well in the comments about why they wrote it - I completely agree with what he says, there are a few myths that need debunking about static vs dynamic URLs. However rather than being a post about 'best practice' URL design (both static and dynamic) it starts out on the wrong footing of basically contradicting some of their prior messaging, then lacks empathy with the broader considerations of URL design in some of its claims and statements. I think they should just rewrite the post, focus on what the actual problems they see are, and then explain how they apply to static or dynamic URLs, and how Google handles and can solve these problems for each. I'm sure that is what they were trying to do but it's just not very clear.

Chris McElroy

09/24/2008 08:31 am

It seems to have been directed at people who do not know how to do the rewrites properly. He even said in the comments that wordpress handles the whole permalink structure thing well. The post won't change anything I've been doing, especially with mod rewrite for permalink structure.

Alan Bleiweiss

09/24/2008 08:31 am

I've been seeing this discussed elsewhere tonight, which prompted me to re-reading and I can't believe I missed Juliane & Kaspar's little tidbit "While static URLs might have a slight advantage in terms of clickthrough rates because users can easily read the urls, the decision to use database-driven websites does not imply a significant disadvantage in terms of indexing and ranking." That line is buried in the post. Yet they emphasize in bold "avoid reformatting a dynamic URL to make it look static." Uh, excuse me, but since when did Google abandon the mantra that it's all about the people doing the search? So even though in their "abandon static" confusion, they admit that it's better for people doing the search to see the "static" version like whatever.com/catalog/Mens-Shoes/Brown-Calfskin-Leather/ because to them, it makes more sense, and when done right, actually confirms that this search results entry is a perfect match to their search, whereas whatever.com/?C=93&PID=a2993 is just noise... So I agree with Teddie that they should scrap the post, start over, and perhaps create two, each with it's own audience, arguments and points of validity.

Rey

09/24/2008 08:23 pm

Well, Google is back in it's manner of shifting the load to webmaster's. What about looking for smth hidden between the rows? I'm not exactly a "Google conspiracy" fan, but...: "the URL www.mysite.com/search.php?q=keyword can give us information about what is happening" Sure, it can! It can give absolute understanding of the purpose of that kinda page better than www.mysite.com/keyword/. It can also give understanding of that should Google do with it. Catching it? Other thing is a buzz that Google has a problem with serving all that stuff indexed. So, Matt asks you to help them reduce it. That's your choice to join or avoid.

Myx Buendia

09/25/2008 01:01 am

I think SEOs will have different reactions/opinions about this. Some may think that they will have a huge task ahead of them and maybe some SEO will ignore this blog post. I think, I need more information about this before I decide what will I do next or what is the best thing to do/believe as a new SEO Specialist.

Bagish

09/25/2008 11:41 am

Google webmaster blog also have same explanation on dynamic and static URL. Some SEO's make dynamic URL to static to make it more Search engine friendly. Google have made some progress in both areas. Google can crawl dynamic URLs. Static URL help boost your click through rate. Google Webmaster blog explanation: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/09/dynamic-urls-vs-static-urls.html

No Name

11/11/2008 04:33 pm

bummer. guess I gotta change with the thymes.

Tom

12/21/2008 08:21 pm

Google is a joke. So many man hours wasted on people trying to beat a "system" which Google keeps changing for the sake of change. Why should we spend our development time trying to cater to Google versus to our customers? Pure nonsense. As for the "search.php?q=keyword" bit... give me a break. Google is now going to try to not only index your site, but make educated guesses as to alternate places to search your site? Right... Google is far from "not evil".

Alfredo

02/04/2010 01:29 pm

I don't think I will change any of my urls. I have already everything tidy and I don't want to mess up anything

trafford

03/01/2010 12:55 pm

I think there is an advantage in rewriting URL from both user prospective and ranking prospective. If you do any search in Google you will discover that many sites on top have rewritten URL. Even google webmaster blog also use it. check the below URL. http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/09/dynamic-urls-vs-static-urls.html

yuliang11

11/16/2011 03:53 pm

Google is  god. Sometimes they want this , then the very next day it changes 360 degree. 

Adamdon101

04/18/2013 03:06 pm

http://riptot.com

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