Google’s confusing and questionable advice on URL rewriting

Kudos to the Google Webmaster Central Blog for what seems like a conscious effort to try to address head-on the concerns of the community over common problem areas like duplicate content and 404s. But their most recent effort, which examines the pros and cons of statics vs. dynamic URLs from Google’s point of view, seem to have resulted in more heat than light, with a number of confused commenters responding to the post.

The gist of the entry was that you should probably leave your dynamic URLs as-is, because Google has no problem crawling them; re-writing them, if done improperly, can increase the difficulty of crawling your site, and is also hard to maintain.

I think Google seems to think that doing URL rewrites is more difficult than it is. I would like to think that most websites are either using a CMS that can adequately handle this (as is the case with WordPress, Drupal and Joomla! for instance), or are being run by someone who has the technical expertise to ensure that this is done appropriately and straightforwardly.

But even if that isn’t the case, Google’s advice here runs counter to the more reasonable advice provded in Tim Berners-Lee‘s W3C Style article, Cool URIs Don’t Change.

There are many reasons for using “cool URIs”, including the fact that they are easier to type, recognize and remember for people. One of the best reasons offered in this article, though, is that if you have a bunch of technology-dependent cruft in your URL, then you decide to switch the underlying technology, you’re going to end up with an entirely different URL structure, thus breaking all the bookmarks and links that have ever been made to your site.

I think the advantages of cool URIs outweigh the risks associated with mapping your dynamic URLs to static URLs, and it is kind of narrow-minded for Google to look at this only as a search engine crawling problem, rather than seeing it in a larger context.

UPDATE

There’s a good post over at SEOmoz on the same topic that lists a bunch of other reasons why, on balance, rewriting your dynamic URLs is still a good idea.

Incorporating web standards into your design brief or RFP

Working on a design brief for a radical makeover of the website at work, and have been doing a bit of digging around into how people specify web standards in their project specs. Came across this post from quite a while ago, and ended up using it as sort of a template, with some modifications:

Usability, accessibility and standards

  • The website will conform to the following standards:
    • Validation to either the W3C XHTML 1.0 transitional or strict document type
    • Validation to the W3C’s CSS 2.1 or 1.0
    • JavaScript will be implemented as progressive enhancement
    • Will meet all WCAG Priority 1 Guidelines, except No. 1
  • The website will render correctly in IE6+ and Firefox 2+
  • All multimedia files will be available for download, and video will be provided via Flash
  • Alternative stylesheets will be developed for printers and mobile devices
  • Character encoding will be UTF-8

This is still not solidified, and I may decide to put HTML 4 in along with XHTML, though my preference is for the latter (for more on developing with XHTMl, see Jeffrey Zeldman’s “Better living Through XHTML at A List Apart). Continue reading “Incorporating web standards into your design brief or RFP”