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Stable, unique URLs

Documents on the Web have their own unique address (URL; Uniform Resource Locator). Links to URLs constitute the roads of the World Wide Web. Links connect one document with another; the reason why the Web took off in the first place and why search engines flourish today. Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly difficult for web users and search engines to find the information behind a link.

Dead-end URLs - also kwown as linkrot - are a big obstacle to Internet users trying to find information. Links on a website can lead to information within the site or on an external site, and vice versa. If such a link becomes a ‘dead-end’, information becomes inaccessible to visitors. This must be prevented by creating stable, unique URLs and effective redirection if a link goes 'dead'.

What does a URL look like?

Example of a URL

Example of a URL that generates 'dynamic' information

The part behind the question mark is called a ‘Query String’, in this case a method for telling the (script) file, default.asp, which 'item' from the database is to be shown.

Where do the problems occur?

  • Sometimes, pages are located in frames.
    These pages are included in another file, the frameset. The visitor can only see the frameset URL, not the URL of the page that contains the information. Consequently, the page is less accessible through search engines and the visitor’s Favourites.
  • Page URLs are changed and subsequently links become dead-ends.
    While maintaining and expanding websites, this problem is often overlooked. Links on other pages are not updated consistently with the new page URL, which frustrates visitors and search spiders following these links.
  • URLs are often unfriendly and illegible.
    URLs often look unnecessarily complex and cryptic (for instance ITEM=MBZ257225). This causes problems for content managers who wish to link information and therefore have to reproduce these URLs. Visitors deduce their location within the site from a URL. Unfriendly URLs are hard to expand and hinder search spiders.

Avoid using frames

Each document within a website must be accessible by means of a unique URL. Read more

Friendly URLs

Use 'friendly' URLs, which are legible and recognisable. Read more

Web Guidelines version 1.3, November 2007.