Search Friendly Links in Miva

There’s been some animated discussion over the last several days on the Miva 5 User Group Forum about the use of Search Friendly Links, with some thought-provoking input from some of the “heavy hitters” in the Miva and ecommerce marketing communities. Just exactly what is this hype all about, though?

Well, let’s start by taking a look at what we mean by a Search Friendly Link.

A regular Miva Merchant link to a product page for a product named widget that has a product sku of SQK-233 looks like this:
<a href=”http://www.domain.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=StoreName&Product_Code=SQK-233″>

Kinda long and klunky, isn’t it? The items after the question mark in the standard Miva link (Screen=PROD, for example) are called parameters. Parameters are common in links for dynamic websites where data is stored in a database; parameters determine what content will be pulled from the database to be displayed on the page. There’s lots of debate in the SEO community about parameters in URLs, and what effect, if any, they have on indexing and ranking of pages

There are numerous ways to write Search Friendly Links, and Pete McNamara (an internet marketing and Miva Merchant specialist for whom I have a great deal of respect) has written an excellent tutorial on creating Search Friendly links for Miva 5. Following Pete’s tutorial, one version of a Search Friendly link for our widget might be:
<a href=”http://www.domain.com/p/widget.html”>

Ahhhh….short and sweet!

Putting aside the seo debate of whether or not search engines can or do easily index links containing multiple parameters, the fact is that so-called “search friendly” links are also people friendly. A short link like the one in the second example above is easier to type, easier to remember, and easier to copy and paste into an email without the link breaking.

Some schools of thought in the SEO community hold that search engines take the presence of kewyords in the URL into account when ranking pages, while others claim it makes no difference. (In case you haven’t noticed, the SEO community loves to argue!) But, regardless of whether search engines give weight to the use of keywords in URLs, the fact is that in many search queries those keywords will appear bolded in the search results. This helps those links to visually stand out, and people may be more likely to notice and click those links because of the highlighted keywords. And nobody would argue that an increase in targeted website traffic is a bad thing.

All of which adds up to Search Friendly Links being better for people. Better for people means better for your customers, and the more you do to make you website accessible and friendly to your customers, the more likely it is that your site will bring you those precious sales.

So, if Search Friendly Links are also more user friendly, shouldn’t everyone use them? Not necessarily. If you have a new site, by all means you should embrace search friendly links. On the other hand, if your site is already indexed by the search engines, and ranking well, it’s not a good idea to just up and change the links to your pages. You need to think long and hard about your reasons for wanting to change your links, and what you hope to gain by doing do. Then weigh those gains carefully against the risks of losing your search positioning, even temporarily.

If you decide that the risks are worth it, be certain that you implement proper 301 redirects for any pages for which the URL has changed. (A 301 redirect is a server-level directive to search engines and browsers that basically says, “Hey, the stuff you’re looking for has moved permanently to this new place over here.”) 301 redirects aren’t guaranteed to protect your rankings, but they will definitely help to minimize any damage done.

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