Are Contextual URLs Worth the Trouble on an Intranet?

By Deane Barker

I’m wondering if there’s a really strong purpose to contextual URLs on intranets? I’ve been a strong proponent of good URLs in the past, but I’ve just converted an intranet from a URL pattern like this: /page.aspx?id=34237

To a URL pattern like this: /en/departments/customer-service/my-page

Now, this is great, right? There’s all sorts of reasons like contextual URLs are good.

But what I’m wondering is how many of these reasons hold weight on an intranet? For one, SEO is sort of out, as a benefit. I don’t really SEO my intranet. Sure, we can search bias a bit against our own engine, but that’s about the extent of it – the URL will never come into it.

Additionally, an intranet user is a different kind of user. They’re more…indoctrinated. They have a basic level of training, and softer reasons for contextual URLs like spatial awareness are less important. On an intranet, we find that user behavior is more known item seeking or re-finding more than just indiscriminate browsing.

The downside to these contextual URLs is that they can change. And they do – more than you think.

For example, due to a misconfiguration, we had the “/en/” in there. When we reconfigured and this came out, all the URLs changed, and by then they had a bunch of URLs baked into PDFs which had already been distributed far and wide, which left us scrambling to put in redirects.

But, beyond this problem, pages get moved, titles get changed, etc. I’ve been fairly surprised at how often these URLs shift around.

Essentially, we have no permalink under this scheme. The URL a page responds to is a temporary thing all of a sudden – there’s no URL that we know a page will always respond to, which I find is pretty important in an intranet. Every page in an intranet is kind of a historical record, and being able to find page ID #34237 – wherever it is right now – can come in handy.

To counter that, we’re probably going to introduce a permalink system, whereby we have a specific URL pattern of just the ID (“/34237”) that will redirect the user to wherever that page is right now.

On a public site, I would rationalize all this by saying that contextual URLs are absolutely worth the trouble. But, on an intranet, I guess I’m struggling to justify it more.

Anyone want to persuade me in either direction?

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