Benefits of Plain English URLs

By Deane Barker

We have a client building a large, static site. The files in the site right now – in the middle of development – are named for their page ID on the content manifest:

  • A657.aspx
  • J864.aspx


We’re going through now and assigning them more usable, “plain English” URLs:

  • /products/industrial/portable
  • /products/residential/cleaning

This is going to be a tedious process, and I got to wondering why we do it. So I figure I’d write down all the reasons why the plain-English URLs are a good idea.

  1. They are easier to remember and communicate: The plain-English URLs are more memorable to the customer, and they impart some meaning. When picking URLs, we envision someone at the client’s firm reading the URL to someone over the phone. How easy is it going to be?

  2. Users can use them as a navigation device: The plain-English URLs impart some meaning to where the user is in the Web site. The URL becomes another crumbtrail.

  3. They have branding value: The URL becomes another way to position your product or information in the marketing space. It becomes another label to describe your product.

  4. They have SEO value: We’ve debated this before, but an unscientific study apparently proves there’s some value to it.

  5. You hide the file extension: I think this is a critical point (though I don’t always follow it). File extensions are bad form in general, because they bind you somewhat to the underlying platform.

  6. You can use the URL in code to determine context: By referring the URL in code, you can determine where the user is in the Web site. In this client’s case, we’re going to drive their navigation off the URL – based on what URL was accessed, we will decide what secondary nav to load in the sidebar.

  7. The URL becomes an abstraction layer to content: The long URLs don’t have to point to actual files. By using URL re-writing, you can point those wherever you want. Of course, you could do this with the short ones too, but “/products/industrial/” has universal value which you could always point to specific content. What universal abstract value does “A657.aspx” have?

  8. They open up new analytics: In particular, Google Analytics has “content drilldown,” where you can roll up traffic views based on URL pattern. You can see how many people visited the “portable” section, then how many visited the “industrial” section. This can tell you things like what the most popular section in “industrial products” was, etc.

That’s a quick list. If you have others, let me know in the comments.

(And yes, I know Gadgetopia’s URLs are somewhat lame in this regard. There are reasons why I did it, but changing it now would probably not be worth the value. But if I had to do it over…)

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