Google - Latest word on dynamic vs. static URLs

djbaxter

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Dynamic URLs vs. static URLs
Written by Juliane Stiller and Kaspar Szymanski,
Google Search Quality Team
Monday, September 22, 2008

Chatting with webmasters often reveals widespread beliefs that might have been accurate in the past, but are not necessarily up-to-date any more. This was the case when we recently talked to a couple of friends about the structure of a URL. One friend was concerned about using dynamic URLs, since (as she told us) "search engines can't cope with these." Another friend thought that dynamic URLs weren't a problem at all for search engines and that these issues were a thing of the past. One even admitted that he never understood the fuss about dynamic URLs in comparison to static URLs. For us, that was the moment we decided to read up on the topic of dynamic and static URLs. First, let's clarify what we're talking about:

What is a static URL?
A static URL is one that does not change, so it typically does not contain any url parameters. It can look like this: http://www.example.com/archive/january.htm. You can search for static URLs on Google by typing filetype:htm in the search field. Updating these kinds of pages can be time consuming, especially if the amount of information grows quickly, since every single page has to be hard-coded. This is why webmasters who deal with large, frequently updated sites like online shops, forum communities, blogs or content management systems may use dynamic URLs.

What is a dynamic URL?
If the content of a site is stored in a database and pulled for display on pages on demand, dynamic URLs maybe used. In that case the site serves basically as a template for the content. Usually, a dynamic URL would look something like this: http://code.google.com/p/google-checkout-php-sample-code/issues/detail?id=31. You can spot dynamic URLs by looking for characters like: ? = &. Dynamic URLs have the disadvantage that different URLs can have the same content. So different users might link to URLs with different parameters which have the same content. That's one reason why webmasters sometimes want to rewrite their URLs to static ones.

Should I try to make my dynamic URLs look static?
Following are some key points you should keep in mind while dealing with dynamic URLs:

  1. It's quite hard to correctly create and maintain rewrites that change dynamic URLs to static-looking URLs.
  2. It's much safer to serve us the original dynamic URL and let us handle the problem of detecting and avoiding problematic parameters.
  3. If you want to rewrite your URL, please remove unnecessary parameters while maintaining a dynamic-looking URL.
  4. If you want to serve a static URL instead of a dynamic URL you should create a static equivalent of your content.
Which can Googlebot read better, static or dynamic URLs?
We've come across many webmasters who, like our friend, believed that static or static-looking URLs were an advantage for indexing and ranking their sites. This is based on the presumption that search engines have issues with crawling and analyzing URLs that include session IDs or source trackers. However, as a matter of fact, we at Google have made some progress in both areas. While static URLs might have a slight advantage in terms of clickthrough rates because users can easily read the urls, the decision to use database-driven websites does not imply a significant disadvantage in terms of indexing and ranking. Providing search engines with dynamic URLs should be favored over hiding parameters to make them look static.

Let's now look at some of the widespread beliefs concerning dynamic URLs and correct some of the assumptions which spook webmasters. :)

Myth: "Dynamic URLs cannot be crawled."
Fact: We can crawl dynamic URLs and interpret the different parameters. We might have problems crawling and ranking your dynamic URLs if you try to make your urls look static and in the process hide parameters which offer the Googlebot valuable information. One recommendation is to avoid reformatting a dynamic URL to make it look static. It's always advisable to use static content with static URLs as much as possible, but in cases where you decide to use dynamic content, you should give us the possibility to analyze your URL structure and not remove information by hiding parameters and making them look static.

Myth: "Dynamic URLs are okay if you use fewer than three parameters."
Fact: There is no limit on the number of parameters, but a good rule of thumb would be to keep your URLs short (this applies to all URLs, whether static or dynamic). You may be able to remove some parameters which aren't essential for Googlebot and offer your users a nice looking dynamic URL. If you are not able to figure out which parameters to remove, we'd advise you to serve us all the parameters in your dynamic URL and our system will figure out which ones do not matter. Hiding your parameters keeps us from analyzing your URLs properly and we won't be able to recognize the parameters as such, which could cause a loss of valuable information.

Following are some questions we thought you might have at this point.

Does that mean I should avoid rewriting dynamic URLs at all?
That's our recommendation, unless your rewrites are limited to removing unnecessary parameters, or you are very diligent in removing all parameters that could cause problems. If you transform your dynamic URL to make it look static you should be aware that we might not be able to interpret the information correctly in all cases. If you want to serve a static equivalent of your site, you might want to consider transforming the underlying content by serving a replacement which is truly static. One example would be to generate files for all the paths and make them accessible somewhere on your site. However, if you're using URL rewriting (rather than making a copy of the content) to produce static-looking URLs from a dynamic site, you could be doing harm rather than good. Feel free to serve us your standard dynamic URL and we will automatically find the parameters which are unnecessary.

Can you give me an example?
If you have a dynamic URL which is in the standard format like foo?key1=value&key2=value2 we recommend that you leave the url unchanged, and Google will determine which parameters can be removed; or you could remove uncessary parameters for your users. Be careful that you only remove parameters which do not matter. Here's an example of a URL with a couple of parameters:

www.example.com/article/bin/answer.foo?language=en&answer=3&sid=98971298178906&query=URL

language=en - indicates the language of the article
answer=3 - the article has the number 3
sid=8971298178906 - the session ID number is 8971298178906
query=URL - the query with which the article was found is [/INDENT]Not all of these parameter...up if you have any further questions.[/QUOTE]​
 

motokochan

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Nice for them to finally clarify the mess around re-writing URLs and pointing out a lot of the problems that others have mentioned for some time. Hopefully those "experts" will actually listen, although judging by the comments, it looks more like they are prepared to argue.

BTW, I also posted this on the official SMF community forums. Hope you don't mind me using the red highlights you added.
 

djbaxter

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Not at all. Like you, this Google post says a lot of what I've been trying to say for about three years now.
 

Secure

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Not at all. Like you, this Google post says a lot of what I've been trying to say for about three years now.
That is a very good article. Thanks for sharing it Minstrel. I found a link to it in another topic.
 

alemcherry

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Very valid and relevant points. Should be an eye opener to a number of newbie SEO "experts" who would do anythign to create a /Id_this_is_the_title_of_the_story_and_more.htm kind of URLs. Filling keywords in such static looking URLs should only help invite penalties. Google knows the URLs a lot better than many people believe.
 

Cadet

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Question-does this make things like "pretty url" worthless to SEO?
 

motokochan

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Question-does this make things like "pretty url" worthless to SEO?
Well, it's been that way for some time, just Google is finally stating what a lot of us have been saying, and giving authority to what we have been saying all along.

Also, it's not entirely worthless as you get some help when the URL is used as the link text, but it certainly shows that it is not something to concentrate on. In fact, according to the article, it has the potential to cause problems with the indexing.
 

izumou

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I think this article is clear.forum admins should forget about rewriting their urls,There are always problem doing it and it does more harm than good.Thanks to gogle for resulving this hot arguments by webmasters.
 

sirhcrettop

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oh yeah some sites are not good. i posted some links with static urls! and specially sites with nofollow..
 

terrymason

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I'm a little late to this thread, but this is huge news!

Does this mean that VBSEO isn't worth the money?
 

djbaxter

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Does this mean that VBSEO isn't worth the money?
In my opinion, it never was worth the money. This is simply confirmation of what I and many others have been saying for a good couple of years now.

Your mileage may vary, of course. I'm just (re-)stating my opinion.
 

phreakwars

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What I'm wondering is this... I changed to static urls on my phpbb3 forum a few months back and I was thinking of uninstalling the MOD. It causes too many board problems for the effort. Mainly pagination issues. Will I now have to worry about what has already been indexed in the spiders that is static, and how will that affect my page rank. I am assuming what google will have is older outdated static urls that will lead to nowhere since they will no longer exist as static.
.
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djbaxter

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What I'm wondering is this... I changed to static urls on my phpbb3 forum a few months back and I was thinking of uninstalling the MOD. It causes too many board problems for the effort. Mainly pagination issues. Will I now have to worry about what has already been indexed in the spiders that is static, and how will that affect my page rank. I am assuming what google will have is older outdated static urls that will lead to nowhere since they will no longer exist as static.
Yes. However, your main index page isn't going to change (and the PageRank for that page won't change), and Google will respider your links and replace the old ones with the new correct ones within a few months, perhaps faster.

To an extent, this is the same problem faced by people converting to different forum software, e.g., from phpBB or SMF to vBulletin.

Your best bet is to create a custom 404 page letting people know that the site has been restructured and the link followed is outdated - I would suggest that you put a link to your main index page as well as a custom search box on that page if you can.
 

hari

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What about the simple fact that dynamic URLs just look goddamn ugly and give the end user no clue about what page they are seeing and sometimes even cause problems with certain non-standard characters?

In the process of pandering to google, let us remember to serve our primary audience: human beings, a.k.a homo-sapiens. :)
 
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