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March 4, 2008

The Theory of Relative URL�s

E=mc or e=mc2 ?

Have you ever tried to type E=mc?  Notice how difficult it is to find the funny little 2.  In fact how many people even know how to go about finding that ?  Similarly while Pi can be rounded to 3.14 the number is infinitely long and trying to remember it rounded to two decimal points is hard enough.  However, this is not a science or maths lesson.  The point I’m trying to make here is that Pi is easier to remember than 3.14… or how to find the .

Similarly we can compare the following URL’s:

www.widgets.com/purple-widgets.htm
www.widgets.com/itempage.htm?id=123

At first glance we would assume that one is a static URL and the other a dynamic URL.  Both of these URL’s could be the exact same item, but which one are you more likely to remember?  Already, by looking at the above mentioned URL’s you would be able to guess which one of those pages may relate to purple widgets.

We know that the anchor text in a link carries much weight when it comes to gaining a top rank for a specific keyword.  Indeed anchor text alone can get a site ranked for a search term that is never mentioned on that page.  This has been used and abused in the past.  Link bombs, such as the “miserable failure” Google Bomb, serve to prove just how valuable anchor text in a link can be.  While many links created on websites are displayed as “widgets.com” you can already see the benefit of having keywords in your URL.

The search engines continue to preach how you should be optimising your site for real people and not the bots that visit the website.  With this in mind I wouldn’t be surprised to find that www.widgets.com/purple-widgets.htm would be ranked higher simply because it is simpler URL and surely a lot easer to remember than a messy dynamic URL.  This could just be wishful thinking on my part, or is it?  When running a few searches I found that 7 out of the top 10 results all had keywords in the URL.

Search engines prefer the use of hyphens in domain names because they can produce more accurate search results by being able to divide and recognize specified keywords in your URL.  After all if it’s easier for us to read purple-widgets than it is to read purplewidgets why shouldn’t it be the same for a bot?

Many would then assume that the underscore “_” would be the same as a hyphen.  This is not true.  I would appear that as the underscore character is often used in programming languages it is treated as a whole other character of its own.  As we all know a hyphen simply adds words together it is read as a simple join between two words, nothing more.

It is also be worth mentioning that the URL is listed in the actual search results themselves.  While just a small single text entry the URL may give the searcher a little more faith that the page listed is actually what they are looking for.  So with a neatly put together Title, gripping description and a URL that matches both you might just find that the URL could even aid in generating traffic.

Useful Tips:

  1. When picking a domain name that people will link to, use your targeted search phrase.
  2. When creating directories and files use your targeted keywords.
  3. Individual words in the URL should be separated as the search engines can’t recognize then when joined, i.e. purplewidget.htm should be purple-widget.htm
  4. When separating words in a file or directory, use a hyphen rather than an underscore (this is easier to see as an underscore can’t be seen if the link is underlined).

As you can see, the search engines and visitors alike have very similar needs when it comes to making sense of your website.  Google have been on a crusade for as long as I can remember, trying to get webmasters to design websites that are aimed at a human audience.  Perhaps this is prime example of good structures that work for both human and bot.  Perhaps this is just a coincidence.  But while we hope that the search engines return more accurate search results, this could indeed be a step in the right direction.

Which brings me back to the original question: E=mc or e=mc2 ?
Remember to always pick one that will easier for the end user to understand be it human or robot.  As it would appear that they are a lot closer than many may think.

Author:  Robert Cerff is a search engine analyst and marketing consultant for Prop Data Internet Solutions. He has ten years experience in e-commerce, online marketing and web development. http://www.propdata.co.za

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