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Developing web applications?

Posted by Michael Bloch in web development (Monday May 1, 2006 )

If you develop web applications for a living, especially software for use on commercial sites and wonder why your sales aren’t what you hoped for, this may help you.

I’ve been searching for software for several ecommerce based projects recently and I notice many programmers and software houses making the same mistakes over and over again.

On a couple of occasions I’ve come across great software, perfect for the project – save for a couple of major common flaws. The flaws aren’t anything earth shattering and a little bit of forward planning could have avoided the issue altogether.

The first is the dreaded:


as a parameter generated in URLs created by the software.

Why is it such a problem?

Google chokes on it – but don’t just take my word for it; it’s documented in their design and technical guidelines. Also a potential problem are dynamic URL strings with too many parameters – I believe that 3 is around the maximum to aim for, 2 if possible.

Another point to bear in mind when developing your software are issues with session ID’s. Google advises allowing search engine robots to spider without session IDs or arguments as using them may result in incomplete indexing.

If you’re developing software for an ecommerce environment, you’ll drive Google-savvy customers away if they see these types of issues in your demos. This isn’t a new development, Google has been pretty clear on these points for years. It may be frustrating, but it’s just the way things are.

When I’m evaluating software, one of the the first things I do when accessing a demo is to see if any of the pages are cached in Google – if not, it’s a big mark against it and I’ll start asking the developers questions about that issue. After all, most site owners want their catalogs and content available for the big G given their huge market share – I know I would.

Go to any large forum related to search engine optimization and you’ll find hundreds of posts from software owners complaining about applications that are not Google friendly. Search engine compatibility should be considered a *very* important issue prior to the rollout of your software.

I understand if you’ve invested substantial time and cash into your application already, it may be difficult to get rid of the “&id=” or lengthy parameter strings, so consider working some sort of htaccess hack for rewriting URLs into SE friendly ones.

Your current customers will love you for it, and I’m sure you’ll gain many more new ones than you would have otherwise :).


2 comments for Developing web applications?
  1. good article, does the &id= mean don’t use that particular phrase in your dynamic URL, but it is OK to use &p= ? or are they saying don’t use any dynamic urls? because i have seen sites indexed in google with dynamic urls. of course url rewrites are better, but microsoft will not be releasing IIS 6 soon enough…

    Comment by steve — May 1, 2006 @ 9:15 pm

  2. Hi Steve, thanks for the feedback. From my experience, it’s just the &id= that’s the killer, or if there’s too many parameters in a string. I remember hitting the problem on an established project a couple of years ago – we just changed the parameter to &cat= or &item= and Google was fine with that.

    Comment by Michael Bloch — May 1, 2006 @ 9:26 pm

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