Friendly URLs in Content Management Systems


The way you configure the URL syntax and structure of your website has a direct effect on how Search Engines will rank it. “Unfriendly” URLs are a common SEO problem, one that will lower rankings and can even keep pages out of Search Engines’ indexes.

By default, many Content Management Systems create “unfriendly”URL structures when serving dynamic webpages. Consider this example from a typical Joomla! Installation where a default URL for the ‘Contact’ Page would read as:

http://www.example.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1&Itemid=2

Not only is that string of characters unbearably ugly for the untrained human eye, Search Engine’s bots don’t particularly like that kind of syntax either.
Compare it now to how it would look after a few simple adjustments:

http://www.example.com/contact

Definitely prettier, right?. And friendlier.

Although it is true that nowadays indexing dynamic URLs like in the example above is not as big of a problem for major search engines as it used to be, nonetheless Google itself still recommends that:

“If you decide to use dynamic pages (i.e., the URL contains a “?” character), be aware that not every search engine spider crawls dynamic pages as well as static pages. It helps to keep the parameters short and the number of them few.”
– from Google’s Webmaster Guidelines (June 2013)

Most popular CMS have at least some basic SEO features built into their applications, although usually they need to be manually activated. WordPress for instance offers an advanced ‘Permalink‘ setting that allows to make the permanent URLs of your website pages more SEO-friendly.

Navigate to ‘Settings -> Permalinks’ and choose from one of the “common” structures available or enter your own string in the ‘Custom structure’ field using the structure tags. Be careful with that option and stick to the “common” options offered unless you know what you’re doing.

wordpress-permalink-settings

Joomla! has something similar called ‘SEO Friendly URLs‘ that in conjunction with Apache’s mod_rewrite produces a “prettier”URL than the default settings.

Apart from having mod_rewrite enabled so that the rewrite rules will work, you will also need to rename the htaccess.txt file in your Joomla! installation directory to .htaccess (please be advised that you’d better don’t modify any .htaccess file without an understanding of how it works). Under ‘Site -> Global configuration’ in the admin panel you will find the ‘SEO Settings’ section where you can choose ‘Search Engine Friendly URLs’ and set ‘Use Apache mod_rewrite’ to ‘Yes’.

Joomla-Global-Config_Site

Drupal on its part knows them as ‘Clean URLs‘,  and starting with Drupal 7 the installer tests for compatibility with friendly URLs as a part of the installation process. If the environment is deemed as compatible, ‘Clean URLs,’ will then be enabled as part of the installation process and no further action is required from your part.

Later on you can enable or disable ‘Clean URLs’ by navigating to the ‘Clean URLs’ configuration page at ‘Administer -> Configuration -> Search and metadata’. An automated test will run, after which you can check or uncheck the ‘Enable Clean URLs’ checkbox.

drupal-cleanurls-test

Apart from those settings built into the core of these Content Management Systems, there is a large amount of WordPress plugins (extensions in Joomla!, modules in Drupal) that also deal with friendly URLs and extend the possibilities of optimizing your website SEO-wise.

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