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If your web site is dynamic, meaning its content is stored and retrieved from a database (for example, an ecommerce site that stores its products in a database or any site that uses a content management system, or CMS), then you are at a disadvantage with regards to search engines. Consider this example, which is a fake example based closely on a typical url from a web site I am currently working with:


Can you tell what the above link relates to? That’s the first problem. It is indecipherable. A human reader will have no idea what this links to. But the main problem is that the url has 6 parameters. It is unlikely a search engine spider will follow this link. No follow, no index. And getting pages indexed (and then ranked) is the name of the game. Imagine if the above url were written like this:


Can you tell where this link goes? Chances are pretty good it will take you to a page of lcd tv’s. But more important, there are no parameters for a search engine spider to have to digest to figure out where to go. Just follow the link and it’s there.

So how does a dynamic site accomplish this miracle of semantics? With something called “url rewriting”. This is too complicated a topic to go into great detail here, but we will cover the basics. Url rewriting is the process of having the server convert and un-convert url’s from one to another. For example, the second url above, when clicked, would be converted into the first url on the server in order for the server to send the correct page to the browser.

Windows and Apache web servers work quite differently with regard to implementing url rewriting. Apache has a module called mod_rewrite that accomplishes this. If your site is built using a content management system, such as mambo, then it’s possible the CMS can be configured or extended to perform url rewriting. If this is the case, you can just configure it in the CMS and not worry about doing anything on the server. For instructions on manually configuring the mod_rewrite component on an Apache server, check out the following link:


IIS, the web server that comes standard with Windows servers, does not have any kind of built-in support for url rewriting (a major oversight). Instead, Windows servers allow what are called ISAPI filters, which extend the functionality of IIS. If you are a skilled programmer, you can write your own ISAPI filter to accomplish this. Otherwise, you can purchase a component to do this for you. One well-known component is ISAPI_Rewrite, which you can read about at the following link:


The company also has a version called ISAPI_Rewrite Lite that is lacking some functionality but is free. If you are on shared hosting, you may have to request that your hosting company install the component for you. Regardless of the approach you take to url rewriting, you will probably have to configure the server to rewrite the url’s. Often, as is the case with both mod_rewrite and ISAPI_Rewrite, you will have to use regular expressions to tell the component what to rewrite and how to rewrite it. Regular expressions are fairly complicated, so when you get to that point, consult the component documentation and do a search for “regular expressions” to learn how to write them.

Setting up url rewriting for your site is not the easiest thing, unless your site runs on a CMS that does it automatically, but it is well worth the effort. Your site’s links will be much more readable by the human eye and will be much easier followed by the search engine robots. If you need help implementing url rewriting, call or email Work Media today.