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Old January 25th, 2006, 09:56 AM
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Default Discussion: URL Rewriting

On a recent thread, user "ghari" posted a link to a 4guysfromrolla/MSDN article regarding URL rewriting:

http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/en...lrewriting.asp

The basic idea being to convert complicated URLS like:

   http://yousite.com/displayCategory.aspx?CategoryID=5

to something more human friendly such as:

   http://yoursite.com/products/Widgets

ghari said:
Quote:
quote:
This link really helped me to solve my current problem.
I tried implementing URL Rewriting and amazingly it did more than what I really require.
...
I like to hear from some of the experts over there on this subject
I took the initiative to start a new discussion thread to get other users opinions on this interesting topic.

-Peter
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Old January 25th, 2006, 10:25 AM
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I started reading the article but stopped shortly into it because I started disagreeing with much of what they were saying.

They give the impression that web users spend a lot of time typing in complete URLs to get to where they wish to go. That makes no sense to me. When was the last time you went to amazon.com and typed in the full URL to a product or "department" you wanted to see? I can't say I ever had. Part of this might be the fact that their URLs are very complicated and make no sense (which of course is the whole point to the article referrenced).

A web user should not need to type in a URL other than the root site address. In the case of amazon.com, when you want to get to a product, you enter a search for it! While I like the coolness factor of the whole URL rewriting idea, I think it's a needless addition. Focus on building a usable search mechanism for your web site/application and you'll provide a much better way for users to access information.

Another point they make in the article address making your site URLs "hackable". To paraphrase: "The user should be able to manipulate the URL and have it return something good."

My alternative? Build a logical and intuitive navigation system. Perhaps time could be better spent learning some site usability rather than building a technical solution to support "URL hacking" that won't necessarily be all that logical to a user anyway.

When I think about designing something for the web, I think about how I would direct my dad to go to a page on the site over the phone. (My dad's a bright guy, computers just aren't his strength.) Which scenario would you find easier:

Me: "Hey dad."
Dad: "Hey kid, how do I get to that cheese grader page?"

(Scenario 1)
Me: "Type into your browser address bar..."
Dad: "What's that?"
Me: "(*sigh*) That's the white box at the top where you normally type in 'google.com'."
Dad: "Oh right, ok..."
Me: "Type in mysite dot com slash products slash kitchen slash cheese grader"
Dad: "Is there a space in cheese grader?"
Me: "Nope"
Dad: "Ok, now what."
Me: "(*sigh*) Hit enter or click the go button."
Dad: "Hmm... didn't work."
Me: "Ok, read back what you typed."
Dad: "myside dot com slash product slash... oh wait, I spelled kitchen wrong."
......and so on.

(Scenario 2)
Me: "Go to mysite dot com"
Dad: "Ok, I'm there now."
Me: "Type in cheese grader in the search box and click search. You should get back links to all the cheese grader products."
Dad: "Ok... Ah there they are. Thanks."


Expecting users to use the URL to navigate/search your site requires them to have some understanding about how URLs work. The article says that they shouldn't be expected to understand how query strings are used to drive the pages. If you can't expect them to understand that, then how can or why should we expect them to understand any of it? More importantly, as I pointed out earlier, eliminate the need all together and build a site with a good search and good navigation and your users can get to where they want with a minimum of key strokes or mouse clicks.

-Peter
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Old January 25th, 2006, 03:38 PM
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While I agree with most of what Peter said, I'd like to bring in a few more considerations.

1. Search Engine Optimization
Search engines like Google seem to be able to deal better with URLs like www.volvo.com/850/T5 then with www.volvo.com/Car.asp?Type=850&model=T5.

The rationale behind this is that it is able to distinguish folder names and link them to keywords, while apparently it can't do that with query string parameters. Also, there seems to be some consensus about the number of parameters in the query string: avoid extremely long query strings, and less is better. Rewritten URLs are supposed to score better than pages with query strings.

Unfortunately, I don't have hard figures to support this thought. I know sites that break about every SEO law and still score very high in search engines. On the other hand, some "optimized sites" have very low rankings....
My own site at http://imar.spaanjaars.com is completely query string driven, yet has been indexed by Google completely.

2. Marketing
I agree that hardly anyone types in a full URL to a page anymore. Indeed they go to the homepage and type in a keyword.

However, traditional marketing tools (e.g. newspaper, magazine TV and radio ads, business cards etc) still present a lot of URLs to end users. In those ads, it's much easier to point someone to the first URL I gave than it is to tell them to type in the second. Again, proper rewritten URLs can solve that problem.

Of course there are ways to fix this without URL rewriting. A local telco in the Netherlands uses the "keyword" feature. In radio ads, they tell you to go to their corporate web site and type in a specific keyword, like Mobile or "Business Solutions". These keywords trigger special actions on the web site and take you directly to the page in question.

So, all in all, I think URL rewriting is just another tool. Use it when appropriate, but consider it carefully before you do so. URL rewriting isn't a fix for ill designed web sites. If you have query strings with a zillion parameters, you may need to reconsider your design.

IMO, nothing beats a well-designed web site. If you give a lot of consideration to usability, design and SEO, you may not need a tool like URL rewriting....

Imar
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Imar Spaanjaars
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