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Make Your Dynamic Web Site Search Engine Friendly Part 2
Making Dynamic Sites Search Engine Friendly
By Brad S. Konia
Originally Published: July, 2003
<<< Make Your Dynamic Web Site Search Engine Friendly Part 1
2.) Some engines won't index pages containing a question mark or other special symbols.
Or, they may limit how deep they will spider such sites.
How can we get around this problem? The solution differs depending on what server software your Web site runs. Ask your system administrator or hosting service if you are unsure whether your site runs on Apache, Microsoft IIS, or another server.
Dynamic URLs & Apache-based Web sites...
Most Unix and Linux sites run a server application called Apache. For these people, the solution to the dynamic site dilemma is in the Apache module called "mod-rewrite." Mod-rewrite is a powerful scripting program that will translate URLs based on the patterns that you define. In layman's terms, this will allow you to feed the search engines URLs that appear to be static, but are actually dynamic.
As an example, consider the dynamic URL: http://www.yourWeb site.com/yourscript.php?id=123.
The above URL passes the variable called "id" to a script called yourscript.php. This script builds a dynamic page based on the product ID. How can we make this more search engine friendly?
With mod-rewrite, you can get the same result using the following URL:
Notice how the "offending" question mark symbol has been removed from the URL. This second URL is much more search engine friendly. In addition, by using the mod-rewrite technique, it will function exactly the same as the first URL.
When mod-rewrite sees "productid123.htm", it knows to translate that into "yourscript.php?id=123." This translation takes place behind the scenes, so the URL in the browser's address bar will continue to display "productid123.htm" while your database program sees the URL it is expecting to see. It is important to understand that there is no re-direction taking place. It's simply a URL translation.
Rather than getting into a detailed technical description of how this all works, I'll give you step-by-step instructions on how to configure this on your Apache-based server. The main requirement is that your site be hosted on a server running the Apache web server software and that the mod-rewrite module is installed (it usually is).
Apache is by far the most popular web server for Linux, so if your site is hosted on a Linux server, chances are it's running Apache. Apache is also available for Windows, but most Windows servers use Microsoft's IIS Web Server. If your site is hosted on a Microsoft IIS server, then see the section of this article addressing Microsoft servers.
The instructions below assume that you're using PHP as your scripting language, but this could easily be adapted to any scripting language.
Below are the instructions to implement mod-rewrite. If you are not experienced in Web site development and scripting, I recommend you forward this article to someone with expertise in this area. For an experienced Web developer or programmer, these changes should not take long to implement. In many cases, your hosting service may be able to make the changes for you although they may charge a fee.
Mod-Rewrite & PHP Instructions:
If you have done something wrong in the htaccess file, your site may stop working after you rename the file. In that case, rename .htaccess back to htaccess.txt and the site should start working again. That's why it's important that your FTP program is configured to see hidden files.
Open Notepad on your Windows machine (or a comparable text editor if you're using a Macintosh). Avoid using MS Word or any type of word processor because these programs add extra formatting characters by default that will cause problems.
Copy and paste the following text into Notepad:
RewriteRule ^productid([^.]+).*$ yourscript.php?id=$1 [T=application/x-httpd-php]
Change /basedir to the name of the directory containing your dynamic pages. This will normally be just a "/" unless the pages are in a subdirectory, in which case it would be a "/" followed by the name of the subdirectory.
In the "RewriteRule" line, after the question mark, change "id" to whichever variable you're using to pass your product id in order to display the product detail page. Navigate to the link on your site that displays a product detail page from your database. Study the URL in your browser. Normally you'll only have a question mark followed by the product ID. However, if other parameters exist, you'll need to rewrite those too.
In the "RewriteRule" line, change yourscript.php to the name of your dynamic product detail page. This will be the script name seen in the URL often ending in ASP, PHP, or various other extensions. The script name will normally precede the question mark.
If your site does not use PHP, change "T=application/x-httpd-php" to the MIME type for the language that you use. If you have questions, the technical documentation for the mod-rewrite functions can be found at:
Save the file to your local computer. Name it htaccess.txt.
Upload the file to your Web site in ASCII mode.
Configure your FTP program to display hidden files. Hidden files are files that start with a dot on UNIX or Linux based operating systems. Most FTP programs have an option to display hidden files either on the preference screen or in the settings for the individual FTP site. Some FTP programs will allow you to add parameters to the list command that will display hidden files. In that case, the parameter that you would need to add to the ls command is "-al" (without the quotes).
Test your FTP program to make sure you can view hidden files. Try renaming a non-essential file on your Web site to a filename that starts with a dot. Make sure that it shows up in the directory listing. Then make sure you can rename it back to its original file name.
Rename htaccess.txt to .htaccess (starts with a dot, and no file extension). This will activate your changes.
If you set things properly, at this point your web server will automatically rewrite URLs of the format: http://www.yourWeb site.com/yourscript.php?id=123 to: http://www.yourWeb site.com/productid123.htm
The rewriting takes place behind the scenes, so the URL in the address bar will always display in the new format, without the question mark.
Dynamic URLs & Microsoft IIS Web sites...
If your Web site runs on the Microsoft IIS server, you can obtain the same basic functionality I described for Apache Web sites using a program called ISAP rewrite. In the interest of brevity, I'll simply point you to the
offering more information on this program.
Read this article regarding Apache servers and then visit the above link. In this context, you should understand how you could apply ISAP rewrite to accomplish the same goal as Apache's mod-rewrite.
Whether you're running a Microsoft or Apache server, test your changes by browsing and searching your site to see if it worked. Instead of having URLs containing question marks followed by the product ID, the product ID should become part of the page name. Ampersands and commas should also be eliminated whenever possible. Hyphens, underscores, and periods should be fine.
URL Rewrite Testing
HTTP Server Response Code Checker
to test your redirections for the correct
server response codes.
Once you have verified that the change worked as expected, you must go into your site and change the URLs that point to each of your detail/product pages so that they conform to the new format. This is critical since these are the links that the search engines will follow to find your product pages. If you leave them using the old syntax containing the troublesome symbols, then the search engines may still avoid spidering the links. (
free search engine spider map using your new URLs.
If the bulk of your dynamically generated pages are not being indexed today, then don't short-change yourself any longer. Implementing this one change on your Web server can improve your site's potential visibility by a hundred-fold or more!
Brad Konia is the CEO of Market My Site, a leading search engine optimization and online marketing firm. Market My Site offers a suite of full-service and self-service solutions designed to increase traffic to your Web site and convert that traffic into paying customers. Mr. Konia is also the author of "Search Engine Optimization with WebPosition Gold 2" and the developer of the official WebPosition Gold 2 Video Tutorial. Visit
Market My Site
on the web.
<<< Make Your Dynamic Web Site Search Engine Friendly Part 1
This article is copyrighted and has been reprinted with permission from FirstPlace Software.
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