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Most search marketing experts are full of advice for folks who are struggling with weird looking URLs that search engine spiders really don't like. I should know, because I have always been loaded with that kind of advice, too.

I mean, here is an actual URL I saw on the Web site for Sears a few years ago: %20Guides&cat=Televisions&BV_UseBVCookie=Yes&splash=true&n-state=!0B6765CD4C51!XRHzYAguDp1SwH5C~~~~@

You can't make this stuff up.

Now, not only is that a URL that only a dynamic Commerce engine could love, but it's one that both search engines and normal people avoid. Spiders probably won't index it and other sites won't link to it.

So what do you do if you have funny URLs? Not necessarily THAT funny, but you have a few dynamic parameters dribbling off the end of your URL, with question marks and equal signs and other weird-looking stuff?

There are some standard things that people (yeah, people like me) advise:

  • URL Rewrite. Depending on how you serve up your pages, your Web server probably has some way to rewrite those URLs from something crazy to something intelligent.
  • Redirects. Sometimes, you can change odd URLs (such as those with metrics parameters dumped at the end) so that many weird-looking URLs reolve to one URL. Just be sure to use 301 redirects instead of other methods, or the search spiders will ignore your instructions.

But suppose that stuff is beyond you? Or you don't even have access to your dynamic Commerce server? Or your shared hosting plan doesn't allow you to do redirects the required way?

That would probably mark you as a normal person who does not beep when you talk. Is there anything that you are allowed to do that you actually have a possibility of being able to do?

Well, you actually have an option in some of these cases. If you have several weird URLs that you are trying to map to a single URL (such as those pesky metrics tags at the end of what is basically the same page), check out the <canonical> tag. The search engines all pay attention to it now and if you can code HTML tags, this should be something you can do.

But there is a bigger lesson here. Just because you can't personally do something doesn't mean it can't be done. If your host or your Web server doesn't allow you to do these things, then complain to them and think about switching to someone new, if that is possible. If you are simply incapable of doing this stuff (I understand), get help from someone who knows how.

Weird URLs seem like a nit in search marketing, but they can have serious consequences. If your URLs are the size of a small Latin American country, you need to do something.

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November 23, 2009

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


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Another thing to note here is that, not only proper URLs are readable by search engine robots, but also readable by human. Just by looking at the URLs, they will instantly know what the link is all about.

I always prefer 301 redirection and it works for me

Thanks for providing information about SEO... Specially the making pretty URLs for search engine spiders.. Nice Work...

Nice tips Mike, i often use .htaccess command to restrict some pages on my site, because robot spider should be maintained well.

I just tweeted this article! Great SEO article on how search engine spiders,bots and crawlers like (or don't) like URLs.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > Making Pretty URLs for Search Engine Spiders