There has been some buzz in the SEO community during the last few days regarding Google’s recent, apparent shift in policy towards Dynamic URLs vs. static URLs. I’m going to talk about the issue, what Google is saying and show you their new policy is actually a bunch of one-sided fluff worth about as much as Washington Mutual’s stock price:
The SEO issue of Dynamic vs Static URL’s
For a long time people have clamored over how to properly format web page URL paths to gain maximum search engine benefit. Typically you can either format URL’s in a "dynamic" looking fashion:
or in a "static" looking fashion, like so:
Obviously, the second format looks a bit cleaner and over the years we’ve heard a lot from the SEO community that URL’s should be static looking without extra, unneeded GET variables – and while true, is not the entire story. We’re now hearing authoritative SEO websites reeling about Google’s blog post as if it were a major surprise:
"Does [Google's post] mean SEOs and webmasters should stop rewriting their dynamic URLs? Would I personally recommend that? I think so, based on what I have been seeing recently from Google… Again, this is a huge change in SEO philosophy and practice."
Google’s post is actually not a surprise and isn’t a huge change in SEO philosophy.
As it turns out and to those in tune with search, there isn’t anything in inherently wrong with a dynamic looking URL, as Google spells out in their blog. On the flip side, as most webmasters know and I’ll point out later on, dynamic looking URL paths can generate trouble for your site.
What Google is saying about static vs dynamic URL’s
Google is saying, "look, the way in which you can go about formatting your URL path’s is not a black and white world when it comes to SEO. There is no evil in serving up dynamic looking URL’s so long as they don’t create duplicate content and you can remove all irrelevant information from the URL" – and this makes a lot of sense because Google only wants relevant information as it helps them to create more quality search results and ultimately more shelf space for advertising purposes.
So really, nothing has changed. Google just decided to make the URL formatting issue a little more clear for those that may not understand the benefits and drawbacks of static vs dynamic URL’s.
What Google is NOT saying
Google is not saying that if you currently rewrite dynamic URL’s you are doing something wrong – on the contrary, if you or your webmaster rewrite URL’s you’re probably doing so because of the benefits to your human visitors as well as guiding the way in which a search engines views your web page, through descriptive, informative page URL’s. Google just wants to avoid webmasters who think they need to mindlessly rewrite dynamic URL’s because it’s "the thing to do" but end up doing more harm than good as in the following example:
getting changed to
is a totally pointless way of generating a URL rewrite and offers no value to human visitors or search engines. A much better way of rewriting the URL would be something like
if you are able to make it that clean. On the other hand, if maintenance deems too much work or too costly then sticking with the dynamic URL version is recommended by Google – just make sure and strip out the extra junk that a search engine doesn’t need.
What this means for webmasters
I wouldn’t sweat it. It appears bloggers are saying Google has shifted big on their URL policy but they really have not at all. I’d actually be a little happier than I was before their post. Why?
- Google is just clarifying a technical issue to help webmasters understand URL issues
- If anything you can rest easier since Google has now confirmed that they are just fine with dynamic looking URL’s (so long as irrelevant information and potentially dangerous GET variables are removed).
In response to Google’s post, Search Engine Round Table is quoted as saying:
"…Google can learn more information about the page and what it is suppose to deliver based on the URL structure."
Which I think is true, but don’t forget that modern search engines base their relevancy algorithms largely on inbound link analysis and so it’s hard to beat the benefits of inbound links to a page, which usually give a better understanding of what a web page is about, especially popular pages. Oh and if a search engine can’t understand what a page is about based on the content and or title tag then it probably is not a very good search engine at all.
Who should use dynamic URL format?
If you’re thinking about switching from your current URL path format, think first:
- If the costs outweigh the benefits of making the switch to dynamic looking URL’s then why bother?
- Don’t forget you’ll need to 301 redirect your all your old URL’s to the new ones.
- Remember that a dynamic URL path format is going to be more difficult for people to remember, link and return to. You might give in to Google saying they can learn more about your page but don’t forget about your visitors – they’re the ones who link to you (not Google).
Sites that might benefit from sticking with dynamic URL’s are sites that have a huge number of pages, e-commerce shopping sites for example, but also have a limited IT budget for trouble shooting the move to a static looking URL path format. I can’t really think of a situation where a perfectly good static URL format would need to be changed to dynamic, it’s just not necessary.
What to watch out for with respect to dynamic URL’s
Aside from Google’s praise for extra information on dynamic looking URL’s, there are some drawbacks you should be aware of IF you are thinking about switching or staying with dynamic URL’s:
- Dynamic URL’s can create duplicate content situations on your website
- Dynamic URL’s are a bit more difficult to remember
- Dynamic URL’s can reveal the internal mechanics of your web server and can open up potential security flaws
- You can’t always fit keywords into your URL like you could with static versions
- Dynamic URL’s don’t look so hot on marketing material outside of the web (as Rand Fishkin pointed out).
Where to go from here?
If you’re still wondering weather or not you should make the move from dynamic to static URL’s then you probably don’t need to do anything at this point. If you’ve got a system that works, stick with it. Remember, Google is NOT telling you to move to dynamic URL’s, they are simply saying "dumb webmasters, please don’t automatically use URL rewriting without thinking about what you are doing", and that’s all