Dynamic URLs vs. static URLs

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 they 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 they 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: https://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: https://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 d