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SEO URLs

Postby sooskriszta » Sat Jan 01, 2011 10:55 am

I come from an SMF world where everything is sunny & bright & easy, but there is not much of a community to speak of, and people don't understand UI.

Coming to phpBB, I've been delighted while doing the testing and have only 2 major gripes:

1. Mod system: The current mod system is scary - but I understand this is getting an overhaul in 3.1.x...hopefully it will be released soon...

2. Pretty URLs: SMF has excellent support for Pretty URLs, which I am missing in phpBB. I believe it is an important feature for a lot of small businesses and communities, and is the topic of this post.

This topic has been discussed a few times on the phpBB forums:
http://www.phpbb.com/community/viewtopi ... &t=2112951
http://www.phpbb.com/community/viewtopi ... &t=2100309

It seems that some phpBB Support members are of the opinion that SEO is overrated, that pretty URLs are worthless for SEO, and that because one can't control what users put as post titles, therefore even if pretty URLs were useful for SEO in principle, they'd be useless in practice.

I wish to submit that it is understood, and a point well taken, that people can attach too much importance to relatively superficial and low-impact SEO features such as pretty URLs. There is no debating the fact that content is the most important key for SEO.

However, ALL ELSE BEING EQUAL, since pretty URLs potentially provide additional information, therefore they'd have an edge, however slight, over non-pretty URLs. For small businesses in competitive markets, this edge may actually have a huge impact, because there are snowball effects - the higher you rank in SERP the more traffic you get, the more traffic you get the higher you rank on SERPs.

Sure phpBB community forums do just fine without pretty URLs, but that's because the popularity of the site means that Googlebot practically lives here.

Another benefit of pretty URLs is that on SERPs like those of Google, keywords in URLs are highlighted and may draw users' attention (and clicks) - AGAIN the more traffic you get the higher you rank on SERPs....meaning that even if there is not a direct technical benefit for SEO, there is actually a benefit because of the way humans behave, especially for small businesses...

Also, when pretty URLs are forwarded (in emails and such), they immediately give a sense of what the topic is about....thus are more user friendly....even if nobody ever has to type them...

As for users putting useless titles, that is a fact of life. But even if we believe that 90% post titles are trash, and only 10% are good, then if usable titles and Pretty URLs can somehow help us rank higher than COMPARABLE competitors on those 10%, then that's a big win for us small businesses.

What would be ideal would be to have a switch to turn on or off the pretty URLs so that people can use as per their tastes. This is a core feature, not a mod/extension candidate, because with mods there is always the danger that a software update will break the mod...and if this mod is broken then the board owners can say bye bye to their Google traffic.
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Re: SEO URLs

Postby /a3 » Sat Jan 01, 2011 10:21 pm

Just put in mind that potentially confidential information should not be placed in URLs. If a private forum had "SEO URLs" and an external link was given, any users that click that link could leak the URL in a referrer header. Or even worse, if remote avatars were allowed, then any 3rd party sites could easily get an idea of what sort of topics are discussed in those forums.

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Re: SEO URLs

Postby sooskriszta » Sun Jan 02, 2011 10:56 am

/a3 wrote:Just put in mind that potentially confidential information should not be placed in URLs. If a private forum had "SEO URLs" and an external link was given, any users that click that link could leak the URL in a referrer header. Or even worse, if remote avatars were allowed, then any 3rd party sites could easily get an idea of what sort of topics are discussed in those forums.


Fair point, maybe for 1% or fewer of phpBB users. But that's why I suggested a "SWITCH" that can be flicked on or off based on board owners' preferences

sooskriszta wrote:What would be ideal would be to have a switch to turn on or off the pretty URLs so that people can use as per their tastes. This is a core feature, not a mod/extension candidate, because with mods there is always the danger that a software update will break the mod...and if this mod is broken then the board owners can say bye bye to their Google traffic.
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Re: SEO URLs

Postby /a3 » Mon Jan 03, 2011 5:58 am

I don't really understand the movement behind "SEO URLs".
sooskriszta wrote:may draw users' attention (and clicks)

Just searching a forum that uses SEO URLs on Google, the title and the URL were the same, so it doesn't really help at all. A lot of the links on the internet include the title of the page or at least some type of description of what the page might be about in the anchor tag or using some text anyway, so it hardly makes a difference if any at all.

Also, a reason why I am against "SEO" URLs is because phpBB is dynamic in nature, and hence should be using dynamic URLs.

Having some sort of switch would mean extra clutter and complexity to the ACP as well as unnecessary code, and phpBB is designed to be as simple and lightweight as possible.

Last of all, URLs are only a very minor aspect of SEO. There are a large number of factors, including whether the content is unique on the internet, how old the domain is, backlinks and quality of, speed of the website (recently introduced by Google), markup, site structure, etc.

A quote from Google:
Google's SEO Starter Guide wrote:Lastly, remember that the URL to a document is displayed as part of a search result in Google, below the document's title and snippet. Like the title and snippet, words in the URL on the search result appear in bold if they appear in the user's query (3). To the right is another example showing a URL on our domain for a page containing an article about the rarest baseball cards. The words in the URL might appeal to a search user more than an ID number like "www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/article/102125/" would.


Google is good at crawling all types of URL structures, even if they're quite complex, but spending the time to make your URLs as simple as possible for both users and search engines can help. Some webmasters try to achieve this by rewriting their dynamic URLs to static ones; while Google is fine with this, we'd like to note that this is an advanced procedure and if done incorrectly, could cause crawling issues with your site. To learn even more about good URL structure, we recommend this Webmaster Help Center page on creating Google-friendly URLs.

So, even though Google does say that having words in URLs can be beneficial to users, having SEO URLs also have a downside. If topics are renamed, then duplicate topics are created. Also, additional queries have to be made in viewforum.php to fetch the text part of each topic's URL.

Please keep in mind that my post doesn't reflect the entire phpBB community - just my opinion. :)

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Re: SEO URLs

Postby Erik Frèrejean » Mon Jan 03, 2011 4:20 pm

/a3 wrote:If topics are renamed, then duplicate topics are created. Also, additional queries have to be made in viewforum.php to fetch the text part of each topic's URL.

Which is exactly my issue with "static", "pretty", "SEO", (call it what you want) URLs for bulletin boards. BB's are dynamic by nature hence URLs going to be dynamic no matter what. You'll always have to store an forum_id/topic_id/post_id (just to start with) in the URL otherwise you'll never be able to fetch the correct data. Whether you do that the phpBB way

Code: Select all

http://area51.phpbb.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?f=105&t=35616

or the so called pretty way

Code: Select all

http://area51.phpbb.com/phpBB/viewtopic/[3.2/Arsia]_Discussion-f105/SEO_URLs-t35616

(just one example thats been used for phpBB)
its still an dynamic URL as the IDs change if the topic is moved/splitted/etc. Besides that you'll still get duplicate URLs if the topic title is changed, for example I rename this topic to "SEO URLs discussion" you'll get the following:

Code: Select all

http://area51.phpbb.com/phpBB/viewtopic/[3.2/Arsia]_Discussion-f105/SEO_URLs_discussion-t35616

which is a different URL that points towards the same topic. Incase of the dynamic URLs you don't have this problem. Yah you can get around that by messing with headers but that means that you'll have to track those changes in order to correctly apply them, which in turn can result in quite a lot of useless data floating around in the database.

Yes phpBB can do with more uniform URLs (parameters always in the same order), and some redundant information could be removed from the URLs. But going full blown 'funky_seo_all_keyword_urls_which_wont_really_help_here' URLs seems way overkill for the phpBB core product.

sooskriszta wrote:
/a3 wrote:Just put in mind that potentially confidential information should not be placed in URLs. If a private forum had "SEO URLs" and an external link was given, any users that click that link could leak the URL in a referrer header. Or even worse, if remote avatars were allowed, then any 3rd party sites could easily get an idea of what sort of topics are discussed in those forums.


Fair point, maybe for 1% or fewer of phpBB users.

1%? (where did you get that number?)

It seems to me that if you've got forums that aren't publicly visible (most boards will have some sort of staff forum), you don't want any data from that forum to be leaked. Cause topic titles will always (at least I hope) describe the topic, so leaking those titles through referrers is IMHO a bad thing. Turning it off for those forums and thus mixing the types of URIs isn't a solution at all.
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Re: SEO URLs

Postby Oleg » Mon Jan 03, 2011 10:20 pm

The anti-user sentiments in this topic are disappointing, even if hardly surprising.

Last of all, URLs are only a very minor aspect of SEO.


I am going to guess that most of the people who want keywords in urls are business owners or non-business owners in competitive environments (say, a gaming community). I am also going to guess that people who are against keywords in urls are neither. What bugs me about the opponents is that instead of just saying "I really don't care what my urls look like" they try to argue that "keywords in urls are a Bad Thing(tm)".

Let's look at this issue from the perspective of the admins who will benefit from the change. Let's say you are a business owner and I told you you could increase your traffic from search engines by X% with one mouse click for free. Would you do it? Is there a minimum value of X below which you would say "you know, I really don't want to get 5% of traffic for free"? How about 1%?

Clearly there are people who think the effort is worth the benefits. Some of them probably see enough benefit that they would implement the functionality. If you don't want to do it, just don't post.

Last of all, URLs are only a very minor aspect of SEO.


I wonder if you have ever done any seo. Urls are one thing that a site admin may actually affect, unlike things like how many years the domain has existed, how unique the content is on the internet or the quality of the back links. Unlike backlinks, keywords in urls are either a one-time cost (if you have to write the implementation) or free. I'm pretty sure keywords in urls would be ranked higher by google than markup or site structure.

So, even though Google does say that having words in URLs can be beneficial to users, having SEO URLs also have a downside.

You would have to venture pretty far into black hat territory for keywords in urls to become a negative. Google says that to cover their ass, and you are clinging to straws.

I actually downloaded the pdf you linked to and structure of urls is listed in position #3, after page titles and meta descriptions. In fact, if you look at that pdf again, url structure is covered before quality content and services.

Which is exactly my issue with "static", "pretty", "SEO", (call it what you want) URLs for bulletin boards. BB's are dynamic by nature hence URLs going to be dynamic no matter what.

Also, a reason why I am against "SEO" URLs is because phpBB is dynamic in nature, and hence should be using dynamic URLs.

Every environment other than php by now probably offers urls that are good-looking and meaningful while still being "dynamic" out of the box. Even php applications are moving in that direction due to competitive pressure.

I would guess that php's execution model is what hampers widespread adoption of routing in php land, but for something as simple as a bulletin board the cost of a couple of regexes is likely to be quite negligible.

You'll always have to store an forum_id/topic_id/post_id (just to start with) in the URL otherwise you'll never be able to fetch the correct data.

No, no you don't. Vbulletin only used one id per url for navigation 10 years ago. If you are willing to trade an integer lookup for a string lookup you don't need to have any ids in a url at all. See here.

Now you may argue that these things don't come for free in terms of execution time, and I agree with that. But the claim that it is best for every board admin to save cpu cycles staying with inferior urls is patently not true.

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Re: SEO URLs

Postby /a3 » Mon Jan 03, 2011 11:25 pm

nn- wrote:
Last of all, URLs are only a very minor aspect of SEO.

I wonder if you have ever done any seo. Urls are one thing that a site admin may actually affect, unlike things like how many years the domain has existed, how unique the content is on the internet or the quality of the back links. Unlike backlinks, keywords in urls are either a one-time cost (if you have to write the implementation) or free. I'm pretty sure keywords in urls would be ranked higher by google than markup or site structure.

URLs are a single aspect of SEO. You make it sound like URLs change whether your site will fail or not. The fact is, I haven't found any studies that prove whether static URLs will do better than dynamic URLs.

Also, keep in mind that most topic pages are dynamic in nature, often unlike the main content in blog posts. Sure, there are comments, but most of the time the comments are made soon after the blog post was posted. Is there any reason why phpBB should use static URLs for pages that are dynamic?

nn- wrote:I actually downloaded the pdf you linked to and structure of urls is listed in position #3, after page titles and meta descriptions. In fact, if you look at that pdf again, url structure is covered before quality content and services.

So wait, if I'm going to read a page in Google, then the URL is more important than what I'm reading? Google put it at the top because this is probably what webmasters ask about the most. Nobody wants to hear about creating unique content - they want to hear about what tips and tricks they can use to magically make their site rank better.

nn- wrote:No, no you don't. Vbulletin only used one id per url for navigation 10 years ago. If you are willing to trade an integer lookup for a string lookup you don't need to have any ids in a url at all. See here.

Now you may argue that these things don't come for free in terms of execution time, and I agree with that. But the claim that it is best for every board admin to save cpu cycles staying with inferior urls is patently not true.

But then what's the point? If the string has already been used, then phpBB will have to add a number to the end anyway. So it wouldn't really be any different to adding an ID to the end, at least from an SEO perspective.

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Re: SEO URLs

Postby DavidIQ » Tue Jan 04, 2011 2:26 am

I've dealt with a client that wanted to maintain their "pretty" URLs on their forum. It was basically a matter of preference and not necessarily functionallity. I tried talking him out of it but, in the end, he prevailed (customer is always right?) and I installed phpBB SEO. He's happy with it...and that's basically what it's going to come down to. If users feel that they're going to increase their ranking chances by using SEO then so be it. Will it really hurt anything? Well WordPress blogs, vBulletin, et. al. say otherwise.

Really the only problem I see here is with having different server environments. While IIS7 has a nice URLRewriting module that's pretty darned close to Apache's and you can even import .htaccess files into it, IIS6 doesn't have such a module that's as easily usable and configurable...in fact the URL Rewriting modules for pre-IIS7 are kind of nasty (and yes this is something that we need to consider).
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Re: SEO URLs

Postby sooskriszta » Tue Jan 04, 2011 10:19 am

/a3 wrote:I don't really understand the movement behind "SEO URLs".
Please keep in mind that my post doesn't reflect the entire phpBB community - just my opinion. :)

I respect your opinion but can not agree with it.

/a3 wrote:
sooskriszta wrote:may draw users' attention (and clicks)

Just searching a forum that uses SEO URLs on Google, the title and the URL were the same, so it doesn't really help at all. A lot of the links on the internet include the title of the page or at least some type of description of what the page might be about in the anchor tag or using some text anyway, so it hardly makes a difference if any at all.


Buddy, I'm sorry but doesn't seem like you read my post - not even the part that you quoted.

The point I made in the quoted portion was that even if there is ZERO technical SEO advantage to pretty URLs, there is actually an SEO advantage to them - because keywords are hihlighted in URLs on Google results page, so there is a higher likelihood for the URLs with keywords to be clicked.

Yes, the title is the same as URL, so it SHOULD NOT make a difference - but that is a gross misunderstanding of human psychology. Whether it is logical or not, that's how people behave.

Also, as you said
A lot of the links on the internet include the title of the page or at least some type of description
Inherent in this fact is that a lot of links do not include the title and description. And what of forwarded links?

/a3 wrote:Also, a reason why I am against "SEO" URLs is because phpBB is dynamic in nature, and hence should be using dynamic URLs.

Frankly, that makes no sense whatsoever. I'm not even gonna try to respond to this one.

/a3 wrote:URLs are only a very minor aspect of SEO. There are a large number of factors, including whether the content is unique on the internet, how old the domain is, backlinks and quality of, speed of the website (recently introduced by Google), markup, site structure, etc.

Yes, yes, and yes. That being said, they ARE an aspect of SEO. While many people may ignore more important things to their peril, that is not a fair rationale for their software not enabling them to take care of what can be taken care of.



/a3 wrote:
A quote from Google:
Google's SEO Starter Guide wrote:Lastly, remember that the URL to a document is displayed as part of a search result in Google, below the document's title and snippet. Like the title and snippet, words in the URL on the search result appear in bold if they appear in the user's query (3). To the right is another example showing a URL on our domain for a page containing an article about the rarest baseball cards. The words in the URL might appeal to a search user more than an ID number like "www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/article/102125/" would.

Google is good at crawling all types of URL structures, even if they're quite complex, but spending the time to make your URLs as simple as possible for both users and search engines can help. Some webmasters try to achieve this by rewriting their dynamic URLs to static ones; while Google is fine with this, we'd like to note that this is an advanced procedure and if done incorrectly, could cause crawling issues with your site. To learn even more about good URL structure, we recommend this Webmaster Help Center page on creating Google-friendly URLs.

So, even though Google does say that having words in URLs can be beneficial to users, having SEO URLs also have a downside. If topics are renamed, then duplicate topics are created. Also, additional queries have to be made in viewforum.php to fetch the text part of each topic's URL.


Boy! I guess we all see what we want to see, read what we want to read, our minds are made up and we can't be convinced otherwise.

Because here's what I read in what you quoted:
Google wrote:Like the title and snippet, words in the URL on the search result appear in bold if they appear in the user's query. The words in the URL might appeal to a search user more than an ID number


That does sound suspiciously like what I said in my original post.

Google wrote:Google is good at crawling all types of URL structures, even if they're quite complex, but spending the time to make your URLs as simple as possible for both users and search engines can help.


Oh, and if you refer to the Google guide whose link you kindly provided, here's the things you should do:
Google wrote:Create unique, accurate page titles
Make use of the "description" meta tag
Improve the structure of your URLs
Make your site easier to navigate
Offer quality content and services
Write better anchor text
Optimize your use of images
Use heading tags appropriately
Make effective use of robots.txt
Be aware of rel="nofollow" for links

Well, what do you know? URL structure is at #3

/a3 wrote:A quote from Google:
Google's SEO Starter Guide wrote:To learn even more about good URL structure, we recommend this Webmaster Help Center page on creating Google-friendly URLs.


I looked it up
http://www.google.com/support/webmaster ... swer=76329
Google wrote:Consider organizing your content so that URLs are constructed logically and in a manner that is most intelligible to humans (when possible, readable words rather than long ID numbers). For example, if you're searching for information about aviation, a URL like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aviation will help you decide whether to click that link. A URL like http://www.example.com/index.php?id_sez ... f849f730f1, is much less appealing to users.

Consider using punctuation in your URLs. The URL http://www.example.com/green-dress.html is much more useful to us than http://www.example.com/greendress.html. We recommend that you use hyphens (-) instead of underscores (_) in your URLs.

How much clearer do you want them to be?

Erik Frèrejean wrote:
sooskriszta wrote:
/a3 wrote:Just put in mind that potentially confidential information should not be placed in URLs. If a private forum had "SEO URLs" and an external link was given, any users that click that link could leak the URL in a referrer header. Or even worse, if remote avatars were allowed, then any 3rd party sites could easily get an idea of what sort of topics are discussed in those forums.


Fair point, maybe for 1% or fewer of phpBB users.

1%? (where did you get that number?)

I pulled the number out of my hat. But the number is not the point - the point was that a small fraction of phpbb users would benefit from that.

Erik Frèrejean wrote:It seems to me that if you've got forums that aren't publicly visible (most boards will have some sort of staff forum), you don't want any data from that forum to be leaked. Cause topic titles will always (at least I hope) describe the topic, so leaking those titles through referrers is IMHO a bad thing. Turning it off for those forums and thus mixing the types of URIs isn't a solution at all.

Is that the purpose of phpBB? To allow people to have *secret forums*? Obviously if you have secret forums, you don't want them SEO'd - doesn't take a genius to figure that out.

@most boards will have some sort of staff forum: Where did you get the "most" from ;-)
But seriously, why would mixing types of URLs not be a solution? Even in case of pretty URLs, you can always access the webpage by using the *dynamic* URL...it's just that a rewrite is done to create pretty URLs to make them seem nice to users and Search Engines

DavidIQ wrote: He's happy with it...and that's basically what it's going to come down to. If users feel that they're going to increase their ranking chances by using SEO then so be it. Will it really hurt anything? Well WordPress blogs, vBulletin, et. al. say otherwise.

Hear hear!

Erik Frèrejean wrote:
/a3 wrote:If topics are renamed, then duplicate topics are created. Also, additional queries have to be made in viewforum.php to fetch the text part of each topic's URL.

Which is exactly my issue with "static", "pretty", "SEO", (call it what you want) URLs for bulletin boards.

Okay, so we are done arguing about whether; now we are haggling about HOW :D Because these statements betray a misunderstanding of how pretty URLs work...
1. A good to do it is the SMF way where URL doesn't change, once created - irrespective of whether the topic changes or not.
2. Google doesn't care about duplicate content.
3. If Google did care about duplicate content, phpBB's current URL nomenclature would mean that phpBB boards would be neck deep in sh*t...

Something along the lines of how breadcrums are would be perfect...
Domain/Forum/Board/Subboard/Topic/Message-ID

Really, this *problem* of duplicate URLs is only in your minds. Just have a look at how a hundred other scripts achieve this...

/a3 wrote:Having some sort of switch would mean extra clutter and complexity to the ACP as well as unnecessary code, and phpBB is designed to be as simple and lightweight as possible.

Truthfully, I don't even think you yourself believe that :-)
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Re: SEO URLs

Postby MichaelC » Wed Jan 05, 2011 1:58 am

And nobody has thought what happens when you change a forum/topic name?

If it was made so that it stays with the original:
If Someone made a ridiculous spammy topic title then it would normally be edited but the topic link would remain the same, looking very odd and spammy.

If it was made to change too:
If a link had been bookmarked/posted elsewhere that link would no longer be the topic's link.
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