Search Engine Watch published an interesting case study today about a site that remapped all dynamic URLs via a tools such as mod-rewrite/.htaccess file (Apache Webserver) or Helicon ISAPI Rewrite (Windows IIS Webserver) to static URLs and 301 redirected (Not 302!) all dynamic URLs to the new static looking ones.
For example “site.com/category.aspx?Cat=991” , which is a .NET script that dynamically renders different product category pages depending on the value of the “Cat” parameter value, probably pulled from a Database, was changed to “site.com/Cat/Bathroom-Faucets/991”.
The rewrite tool translates in the background the seemingly static URL to the old dynamic one based on specified rules, so no code needs to rewritten or even changed. You should of course change your website internal links to the static looking ones, which probably takes a bit programming work, depending on the amount of internal links and if those links are also generated dynamically by a script or if they are “hard coded”.
The case study showed that this simple change alone had a significant impact on the sites search engine visibility. Nothing else was changed or optimized during the study. The number of indexed pages in Google almost doubled, tripled in Yahoo! and almost quadrupled in MSN.
The traffic from organic search results increased by 50%. Not bad for a simple change like that. This result can not be seen as an average, nor as specifically dramatic or low. Results depend on a lot of other factors, such as the number of pages (percentage) of all available (unique) pages already indexed by the search engines.
That a change of dynamic URLs to static ones will do little miracles like this was nothing new to me. My eyes looked in disbelief at the numbers when I did it for the first time for a site of mine in 2002. Search engine spiders had back then much bigger problems with dynamic URLs than they have today. Google even changed their Guidelines not to long ago regarding dynamic URLs. However, this study shows that it still makes a difference for the search engines today and that you look into this for your own website, if you have cryptic looking dynamic URLs.
This Webconfs.com article seems also to confirm the results of SEW’s case study. If you want hear what Google’s Matt Cutts has to say to this, check his video at Google Video. Do you need more proof? How about an additional reason for the change. Rand Fishkin at SEOMoz pointed out once that static URLs also tend to improve their usability.
To the best of my knowledge is it not proven yet that static URLs shown for a page in the SERPs (Search Engine Result pages) instead of a dynamic URL with ? and & characters will increase click-through rates, but I do not need a statistic to prove to me that static URLs look “friendlier” to non-Geeks than URLs with one or multiple weird and cryptic characters. Add to the static URL some descriptive element such as the category name or product name and I bet my retirement that the new URL will outperform the old in regards to CTR (Click-through Rate).
Another thing I got out of this case study was something else. The merchant changed virtually ALL URLs of his site over night. The simple thought of the possible consequences of such change alone can cause nightmares for Webmasters and SEO alike. Will the search engines pickup the new URLs and drop the old ones without risking that may be all pages will disappear because of the feared “duplicate content penalty” (not filter!).
While those fears seem to be warranted to some extent* (see the SEOMoz post “Expectations and Best Practices for Moving to or Launching a New Domain”) does it seem to be misplaced for a change and 301 redirection of all URLs on the same domain. There was virtually no negative impact of the change for the site in SEW’s case study. The number of pages indexed and traffic simply was going up only. In record time I might add.
A behaviour as seen for whole site moves to a new domain would be reason enough for a business to think more serious about doing this. if it is worth the risk and if the potential loss of traffic for a limited period of time is financially feasible.
Here are some additional resources to the subject of redirection, URL and URL rewrites you might find helpful.
Search Engine Watch Thread: mod rewrite tips and tricks
Rand Fishkin at SEOMoz: 11 Best Practices for URLs
Cumbrowski.com: SEO Webmaster Tools and Resources
Do you know other good resources to this subject? Share them with and post a comment below.
Internet Marketer and Entrepreneur and owner of the free internet marketing resources portal at Cumbrowski.com
* If you want to move your whole site to a new domain, I strongly recommend to contact an expert SEO, who is specialized in this and can show already completed and successful moves of sites to his credit. Things are constantly changing, to the better or to the worse. Discuss options, possible consequences and create together with the SEO an action plan to make the transition as smooth as possible and with the least possible negative impact on your site’s traffic in the short, mid and long term.