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Wednesday
Dec162009

SEO Friendly Stocking Stuffer

After announcing our updated blog importer back in September, we got a lot of positive comments about how we seamlessly (301) redirect requests for existing URLs of imported content to their new home on Squarespace.  This ensured that all the Google link juice users have gathered over time was transferred over in a SEO friendly way.  This feature mainly lived in the deep recesses of our backend routing code, but starting today, we're bringing this feature out of the dark and letting our users create SEO friendly shortcuts.

 

Until today, users were only allowed to create URL shortcuts to their site's content via a simple URL rewriting method.  It allowed users to create shorter, perhaps even more user-friendly URLs than the ones Squarespace generates. Requests for the friendly, shortcut URL loaded the contents of the existing URL while preserving the requested URL in the browser navigation bar.  Unfortunately, when search engines crawl other sites that link to either of these URLs, this technique ends up splitting the page rank and other measures of link value between the two URLs.  Not very good for SEO.  One way to alleviate this problem would be to use the "canonical link rel" element to tell search engines to focus on indexing a new page for the content it encounters.  Originally intended for duplicate content within the same domain, Google is now supporting its use for cross-domain content duplication. It is only seen as a hint and not an absolute directive, though.  It is intended to supplement and not replace a 301 redirect.  Yahoo and MSN have yet to follow suit, though there have been grumblings that they have agreed to support it.

In addition to the URL rewriting method, we have added the ability for a user to choose between on-domain 301 and 302 redirects.  A 301 redirect will signal to a search engine that the requested URL has moved permanently to a new URL.  All three major search engines handle the 301 redirect directive the same way. They ignore the original URL and instead index the destination URL.  The link value of any keywords contained in the original URL will be transferred over to the new URL.

A 302 redirect is treated differently depending on the search engine.  It essentially tells a search engine that the move is only temporary, and that the content at the original URL might still be valid in the future. When Google encounters a 302 redirect it maintains all link value with the original URL.  MSN/Bing, on the other hand, treats 302 redirects exactly how it treats 301 redirects, it will always ignore the original URL and instead indexes the destination URL.  With the current Yahoo-Microsoft search deal, it follows that Yahoo's indexing behavior will soon be the same as Microsoft's.

So how do you decide between our default URL rewrite method, our on-domain 301 redirect or the often misunderstood on-domain 302 direct?  If you don't care about SEO, then the default URL rewrite method will probably be a good, no-hassle choice.  It loads content the fastest among our three shortcut navigation methods.  Also, it is the only method that preserves the shortcut URL on the browser address bar.  The 301 redirect is the best all around option if you want consistent results across all search engines.  If you're not sure what to do, pick the 301 redirect.  The real question is when to use the 302 redirect.  The on-domain 302 redirect should be used if you want a URL to recycle among different posts/pages.  For example, a news blog following Tiger Woods' growing harem collection might use a 302 redirect to funnel readers to the latest news by creating a shortcut from

"http://www.tigersden.com/ladies-of-tiger-woods"

to

"http://www.tigersden.com/news/2009/12/10/tiger-woods-bones-waitress.html"

on one day and then update the url with some new content scribed at

"http://www.tigersden.com/news/2009/12/14/tiger-woods-bones-call-girl.html" 

a few days later.   A 302 redirect will allow a reader to google for "tiger woods ladies" and land on the page with Tiger's most recent conquest.  A contrived example, yes. But illustrative nonetheless. Anyway, Santa doesn't have any more feature enhancements in store for 2009. More fun features will be coming in the new year. Happy Holidays!

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