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SEO Myth: Dynamic URLs Can’t be Crawled

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Dynamic URLs Cannot be Crawled....BUSTED!


Myth – BUSTED!

OK Realtors, let’s see a quick show of hands – how many of you have been told, overheard or just assumed that the search engines cannot crawl and index pages if the URL contains a question mark?  Don’t get nervous, my hand is up too.  How many of you think it’s true?  According to Google, this is one of the most prevalent myths there are concerning what search engines can and cannot do.

As is true of most myths, it is based in fact.  When the first robots began to crawl the web they were rather dumb and not able to follow URLs if they had a “?” in them.  Because of this, dynamic pages were not included in the search indexes.  Thankfully, this changed a few years ago as the robots began to mature.  Unfortunately for us, that information did not trickle down to all the web site builders and owners and the myth continued to flourish.

In a post on the Google webmaster blog, they state that if you have a URL that reads something like “…?entertainment=2&artist=14” they can follow it and index the resulting content.  However, they also say that having URLs like this is not recommended.  Google suggests it is wiser, and more reader friendly to use a keyword rich URL like “/entertainment/music/punk/the-ramones/ .”  Reader friendly content…where have I heard that before?  The suggested format, often referred to as “permalinks,” also looks much better in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) and visitors are more likely to click on a link if they see what appears to be relevant information.

What Does This Mean to You?

If you’ve been worried about “fixing” your site so pages get listed…relax (a little).  They are probably already in the indexes and the content is helping you get a better placement in the rankings.  But, as you have read from me already (and will again), your goal should be the reader, not the robot.  Your click-thrus from searches will increase if you use human-speak in your URLs, not geek-speak.

Still Want to Fix Those URLs?

Good, I hoped you would.  When you create your new, reader-friendly URLs, you cannot just delete the old ones.  And, you also cannot just leave them alone either.  Hey, I never said that all SEO would be easy.

If you delete all the old ones you lose all of the inbound link credit you have earned, lowering your search rankings and certainly frustrating anyone that gets a “file not found” error when they try to follow a link to your site.

If you leave all the old links alone, then you’ll probably get penalized by the search engines for having duplicate content on your site.

Fixing the URLs correctly will probably require the help of a web geek to create what’s called a “301 redirect.”  This is special code that will take your visitors to the correct place if they follow a now incorrect inbound link, and also tells the search engines where the new file is located (and to update the location in the index).  Depending on the size of your site, this may take some time as it will need to be done for every URL you are updating. If you are using a Content Management System (CMS), like WordPress, it may be a bit easier for you. There are plugins available that allow you to create and manage your 301 redirects from within your WordPress admin (Hey Lani & Benn…did you see that?).

I don’t think I need to say it, but I will anyway to to be sure – BEFORE you make any changes that will effect your entire site in one fell swoop, make and verify a back up.

How Important is it to Update my Dynamic URLs?

On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say updating your dynamic URLs is only about a 4.  The engines can read your content so you are getting the full benefit of the page from that perspective.  However, there is the possibility of a slight increase in ranking if you were to use the key word rich URLs as suggested by Google.  If feel you have done all you can already and need to squeeze out a bit more SEO to nudge past the competition, then yes – you should do this.

The best thing is to not let your site get out of control with the dynamic URLs to begin with.  If you are new to this, as some of you have said you are, talk to your technology providers and figure out up front how to use permalinks on your site.

Jack Leblond is a SEO/SEM professional working for a large corporation full time in Austin, TX. He is not a Realtor, he is our in-house SEO expert. Jack is the Director of Internet Strategy and Operations for TG (www.tgslc.org). In addition to managing the team that develops and maintains the company's multiple Web sites, he focuses on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), e-marketing and Social Media. Jack's background ranges from Submarine Sonar Technician/Instructor for the United States Navy, technical writer, pioneer in internet/intranet creation for McGraw-Hill and Times Mirror Higher Education, former Adjunct Professor for two Universities teaching web-related courses, has served as a city council member and co-founded Net-Smart, a web design and hosting company, where he managed networks and oversaw the development of hundreds of Web sites. As a free-lance SEO consultant, Jack performs SEO Site Audits for small/medium businesses that want their web sites to perform better in the search engine listings.

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Benn Rosales

    September 17, 2008 at 10:01 am

    We rank it at about 1 for changing (for us) based on this video which was one of a few primary references we used when rolling out Ag. https://www.viddler.com/explore/jpozadzides/videos/2/

    WP default was billed as the perfect seo engine in 06, and 07, and based on what we’ve seen there is a lot of truth in that position which includes the wp suggested link structure. Over time it has become more easy to change structures, but the risk of position makes the proposition of changing a suicide to a site of this magnitude.

    We have a strategy in the future where links are concerned that makes sense, that is based more on user ease and a little less on whether google sees the words in links as relivant.

  2. Todd

    September 17, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Anyone wishing to step up from WordPress to Drupal will find lots of tools for 301’s and aliases;

    https://drupal.org/project/globalredirect

    Drupal renders pages just beautifully ( markup ) – I would be interested in Mr. Leblond’s opinion of how good he thinks Drupal’s SEO is.

  3. Jay Thompson

    September 17, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Benn –

    I don’t have time right now to watch an hour long video. Can you summarize what Cutts said and what you’ve seen that supports a URL like “AgentGenius.com/?p=4571” would be better for SEO than say “AgentGenius.com/dynamic-url-myths-exposed” ?? There is no question that Google can “see” words in a URL, and little debate that keywords in URLs are part of the algorithm. So I struggle that “?p=####” would be better for SEO that some pertinent keyword(s). (not to mention that for me at least, I like to see a URL that makes sense as I tend to hover over links and look at the URL before clicking. But maybe that’s just me)

  4. Jack Leblond

    September 17, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    Jay – I took time today to watch the video. In it Matt Cutts, the Google spam lord talks about two types of URLs. First, those with dashes,underscores, or words all crammed together. He does say that it is better to use hyphens. But also says it’s not worth the trouble to change to them if you have one of the others. He also touches on dynamic URLs and says that the GoogleBot can index them – I didn’t hear mention of if they are good, better,best. Or if they should be left alone.

    I’ve attempted to contact Matt directly for an explanation and also reached out to a few A-List SEOs for their opinions. I’ll keep everyone updated as to what they say.

  5. Benn Rosales

    September 17, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    “default wordpress install is best” along with “if you’re using the ? post number you’re fine, google sees you” Btw, I didn’t say he said anything about better, what I am saying he said was it made no difference in googles eyes.

    Simply referring to the ? myth- we picked our url because or CM needs, it works- and God bless us we have a lot of content to manage.

    But if I may, I’ll go one step further on SEO for a wordpress BLOG (not static)- a BLOG is a wall of words, rich wonderful keyword rich words that make walls- if I may be so bold- your post TITLE matters, not the url behind it- otherwise thousands of CMS sites would be in a lot of trouble and rank at the very bottom of scale.

    Where I do believe it matters is in reverse use, an example would be if I were to track back to your recent post where you have 25 real estate related keywords in your url, but you can mitigate and maximize that by use of title=”the full title”.

    I’m probably right and probably wrong on some fronts, but the bottom line is the ? is fine with google. I would watch the video, there are a lot of little tidbits to be had.

    As I said earlier, we’ve got something more useful coming down the pike in the coming weeks but as for messing with it right now, it ranks a 1. I I set one up for a client today, I would go with a longer keyword url as Jack advises because in a local race, “every ounce” does matter.

  6. Jay Thompson

    September 17, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I’ll watch the Cutts video (actually, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it before, but any hour with Cutts is generally worth repeating).

    To b honest, I don’t pay a great deal of attention to SEO when I write. The “wall of words” Benn mentions does a pretty good job, and Google bots are pretty darn smart — they generally can tell what a post is about.

    Changing URL structure is a scary thought. 301 redirects? I’ve read horror stories about people incorrectly 301’ing .htaccess’ing and sending their sites into oblivion. Unless someone (or several someones) said whatever I was doing was fundamentally harmful, I wouldn’t touch them. Heck, I don’t even like opening the permalinks page in WP, much less changing anything on it. When I set up blogs for others, I use %postname% just because it seems like keywords in the URL (assuming the writer has used them in the title) can’t hurt and can only help.

  7. Bob

    September 17, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Matt has stated more than once that urls can make a difference.

    They also play a part in conversion, but that really wouldn’t apply to AG.

  8. Hawaii real estate company

    September 17, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    I am in the camp that the URL’s that have words in them are better than dynamic ones. Here are a couple reasons why.

    1. Some experts say search engines rank them better if they actual have the keywords in them.
    2. More importantly: If the URL actual has words that the page is about, it will convert more traffic. Now that is what most people want.

    Same goes with the title as well.

  9. Bob

    September 17, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    Ey brah – AG comments are no follow. The comment spam doesn’t work here.

  10. Hawaii real estate company

    September 17, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    Hows it Bob? Nice pigeon. I know the comments are no follow. Just wanted to contribute to the conversation 🙂 Just like to sign as Hawaii real estate company. I am glad you have my back.

    Aloha Cuz

  11. Bob

    September 17, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    just joking.

  12. Jack Leblond

    September 18, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Hello all – Still nothing back from Matt Cutts, but the other SEOs I contacted agree that while it is definitely better to have keywords in the URL, if you site was created without them by using dynamic URLs, and you have a lot of pages – leave them alone, it’s not worth the trouble to change them.

  13. ines

    September 18, 2008 at 8:16 am

    Is there a maximum recommended number of 301 redirects? or better yet, would google penalize you for too many of them?

  14. Lenn Harley

    October 22, 2008 at 6:33 am

    I’ve had dynamic navigation on my web sites since about 2008. Google crawls almost every day. I believe that it helps to have text links and not images links.

    Lenn Harley
    Broker
    Homefinders.com

  15. Lenn Harley

    October 22, 2008 at 10:49 am

    I mispoke in my last comment.

    I’ve had dynamic navigation on my web sites since about 1998.

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Business Marketing

The rise of influencer marketing and its effect on digital marketing

(BUSINESS MARKETING) More businesses are planning to invest a larger part of their marketing budgets on more relatable, branded content and influencer marketing.

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Influencer speaking to camera for marketing segment.

The digital age has created more savvy consumers, and the barrage of advertising on top of the plenitude of content online can be a lot. Many consumers have learned to hide ads or they simply scroll past them to their content of choice. Most business owners know that digital marketing is a crucial part of any ad strategy, and branded content and influencer marketing continues to grow in the market, because consumers see that it’s different from traditional advertising.

Hardly anything stayed the same in 2020, and traditional advertising also has shifted. Advertiser Perceptions reported on the trend for 2021, based on a survey from late 2020.

“More than half of advertisers using paid branded content and influencers say doing so is more critical than it was a year ago. Throughout the second half of 2020, 32% increased spending on branded content and 25% spent more to back influencers. They’re now putting 20% of their digital budgets into the complementary practices, which is more than they put into any other digital channel (paid search is 14%, display 13%, paid social 12%, digital video 12%).”

The benefits of branded and influencer content are that you are speaking to the consumer where they already are, when you choose an influencer. The people who follow their accounts are more likely to trust that the influencer would only share something they like or use themselves. The best matches are when the influencer marketing fits nicely into the kind of content, the voice, and any specialties they already deal with.

The word “influencer” as well as the concept rubs some people the wrong way. Marketers see the value, though, as influencer marketing can be effective if done well, and the cost to hire them is often less than a traditional ad campaign. If I want to know about food in a city, I’ll follow the hashtags until I find a local food blogger or micro-influencer whose style I like. Then I’ll seek out those restaurants when I visit. Sure, some of the meals are comped, but the truth is that food bloggers and influencers like to share their food recommendations. I have been influenced this way more than once, and not only for food. I am not alone in this, either, which is why it’s an important part of a marketing strategy.

In influencer marketing, the content creator is then given free rein to create within their own style, voice, and persona. They need to connect with their audience in an authentic, familiar way without creating a dissonance for their followers between their public page(s) and the brand. The level of trust is fairly high with influencer marketing, and many influencers realize that promoting something crappy or something outside of their area of expertise or recognition hurts everyone involved.

The power of storytelling comes into play here, as with all good advertising. Branded content is specifically all about the story, often the story of the business’s philosophy or some lifestyle aspect that goes with the brand’s vibe–or is so off that it goes viral. Some branded campaigns join into or build off of conversations already happening in the wider world. The purpose is to have people engage with the brand, with the content, build awareness, encourage conversations, sharing, comments, all with the long term goal of fostering a positive image of the brand so that down the line, they will become consumers.

Think of 2004 Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, based on a study showing that around 2% of women saw themselves as beautiful. The widely studied, award-winning campaign featured women of all backgrounds and body types, without airbrushing and Photoshopping them into a narrow vision of “beauty.” While some people hated it, many loved it and applauded the brand for treading into traditionally uncharted waters. Among haters, fans, and people who weren’t sure what to think, the Dove Real Beauty branded content campaign generated conversations. The campaign also encouraged women to feel good about themselves and lift up other women. One could argue that the campaign you could argue that the Real Beauty campaign was a forerunner to the currently popular body positivity movement, which started gaining traction around 2012. Dove increased sales by at least $1.5 billion in the first ten years the branded content campaign ran.

The goal of branded content is to raise awareness of the brand, but the path from point A (creating the content) to point B (brand awareness, ultimately leading to better sales) is not a straight line. Brands are paying attention to grabbing attention, aka building brand awareness via more upper funnel marketing than lower funnel.

One thing that marketers are looking for now, however, is almost eliminating the funnel. With the mind-boggling increase in e-commerce since the beginning of the pandemic, clickable sales capability becomes important in any kind of marketing, including influencer and branded content. It pays to listen to customers, to find an influencer who meshes with your brand’s purpose, and to create thoughtful branded content that isn’t out of line with your core product or service.

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Business News

Are Gen Z more fickle in their shopping, or do brands just need to keep up?

(BUSINESS NEWS) As the world keep changing, brands and businesses have to change along with it. Some say Gen Z is fickle, but others say it is the nature of change.

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Gen Z woman shopping outside on a laptop.

We all know that if you stop adapting to the world around you, you’re going to be left behind. A recently published article decided to point out that the “fickle” Gen Z generation are liable to leave a poor digitally run site and never return. Now of course we’ve got some statistics here… They did do some kind of due diligence.

This generation, whose life has been online from almost day one, puts high stakes on their experiences online. It is how they interact with the world. It’s keyed into their self-worth and their livelihoods, for some. You want to sell online, get your shit together.

They have little to no tolerance for anything untoward. 80% of Gen Zers reported that they are willing to try new brands since the pandemic. Brand loyalty, based on in-person interaction, is almost a thing of the past. When brands are moved from around the world at the touch of your fingertips there’s nothing to stop you. If a company screws up an order, or doesn’t get back to you? Why should you stick with them? When it comes to these issues, 38% of Gen Zers say they only give a brand 1 second chance to fix things. Three-quarters of the surveyed responded saying that they’ll gladly find another retailer if the store is just out of stock.

This study goes even further though and discusses not just those interactions but also the platforms themselves. If a website isn’t easy to navigate, why should I use it? Why should I spend my time when I can flit to another and get exactly what I need instead of getting frustrated? There isn’t a single company in the world that shouldn’t take their webpage development seriously. It’s the new face of their company and brand. How they show that face is what will determine if they are a Rembrandt or a toddlers noodle art.

The new age of online shopping has been blasted into the atmosphere by the pandemic. Online shopping has boosted far and above expected numbers for obvious reasons. When the majority of your populace is told to stay home. What else are they going to do? Brands that have been around for decades have gone out of business because they didn’t change to an online format either. Keep moving forward.

Now as a side note here, as someone who falls only just outside the Gen Z zone the articles description of fickle is pompous. The stories I’ve heard of baby boomers getting waiters fired, or boycotting stores because of a certain shopkeeper are just as fickle and pointed. Nothing has changed in the people, just how they interact with the world. Trying to single out a single generation based on how the world has changed is a shallow view of the world.

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Tech News

Google is giving back some privacy control? (You read that right)

(TECH NEWS) In a bizarre twist, Google is giving you the option to opt out of data collection – for real this time.

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Open laptop on desk, open to map privacy options

It’s strange to hear “Google” and “privacy” in the same sentence without “concerns” following along, yet here we are. In a twist that’s definitely not related to various controversies involving the tech company, Google is giving back some control over data sharing—even if it isn’t much.

Starting soon, you will be able to opt out of Google’s data-reliant “smart” features (Smart Compose and Smart Reply) across the G-Suite of pertinent products: Gmail, Chat, and Meet. Opting out would, in this case, prevent Google from using your data to formulate responses based on your previous activity; it would also turn off the “smart” features.

One might observe that users have had the option to turn off “smart” features before, but doing so didn’t disable Google’s data collection—just the features themselves. For Google to include the option to opt out of data collection completely is relatively unprecedented—and perhaps exactly what people have been clamoring for on the heels of recent lawsuits against the tech giant.

In addition to being able to close off “smart” features, Google will also allow you to opt out of data collection for things like the Google Assistant, Google Maps, and other Google-related services that lean into your Gmail Inbox, Meet, and Chat activity. Since Google knowing what your favorite restaurant is or when to recommend tickets to you can be unnerving, this is a welcome change of pace.

Keep in mind that opting out of data collection for “smart” features will automatically disable other “smart” options from Google, including those Assistant reminders and customized Maps. At the time of this writing, Google has made it clear that you can’t opt out of one and keep the other—while you can go back and toggle on data collection again, you won’t be able to use these features without Google analyzing your Meet, Chat, and Gmail contents and behavior.

It will be interesting to see what the short-term ramifications of this decision are. If Google stops collecting data for a small period of time at your request and then you turn back on the “smart” features that use said data, will the predictive text and suggestions suffer? Only time will tell. For now, keep an eye out for this updated privacy option—it should be rolling out in the next few weeks.

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