URL Format test

What does it do?

Checks whether the format of URLs (web addresses) within the website are appropriate.

Example results

Example URL format test results

Why is it important?

Good URLs are easier to memorize and exchange between people. For example:

Good URLs

www.example.com 
www.example.com/news

Bad URLs

www.example.com/?p=home 
www.example.com/1/2/content.jsp?cid=23uolk23nlj38;o9sme;93-21-10%21%

In particular, good URLs are easier to email, memorize, advertise and guess. Shorter, clean URLs also tend to score higher in search engines than dirty URLs.

How is it measured?

Sitebeam tests URLs for a number of key criteria:

  • Is the URL ‘dirty’? Dirty URLs include a question mark, typically followed by a series of parameters. They are sometimes required, but should be the exception, not the norm (some old Content Management Systems use them for every page).
  • How long is the URL? Longer URLs score lower. URLs score perfectly if they are 30 characters or fewer; this is not expected of all URLs, only the most important ones.
  • Is a file extension used? URLs with a file extension are harder to type, remember, describe (e.g. “index.apsx”) and more readily expose the underlying technology behind the site, which may need to change in future.
  • Does the URL contain special characters? For example, the backslash, pipe or tilde. These are infrequently recognized or understood by users, many will not know how to describe them or type them.
  • Contains upper-case characters. Requiring a specific case in a URL needlessly increases the complexity of describing the URL and makes it far more likely to be incorrectly entered.
  • Contains an underscore. Hyphens should be used in preference of underscores. Hyphens are more easily described (as fewer users know what an underscore is), and can be read when underlined as many links are.
  • Complexity. Various measures determine whether a URL is sufficiently complex to be hard or impossible for a human to exchange. For example, a URL might contain a 128 character string of random characters.

Each URL is scored based on these criteria on a scale from 0 to 10.

The final overall score is calculated from an average of the individual scores assigned to each page, weighted by their respective Importance.

Potential problems

Some staging websites may have longer URLs than expected in the final website (e.g. they may be part of a subdirectory or temporary domain name). There is no workaround for this, other than to exclude this test until after the website goes live.

How to improve this score

Wherever possible, use sensible, clear URLs which will mean something to the user. See also the URL chopping test). In some cases, it may be possible to use a technique known as URL rewriting to fix older systems which use dirty URLs. Alternatively, a rewrite of existing code, or a change or upgrade of Content Management System may be required. Note that the excuse “our Content Management System requires this” is now considered very weak – virtually all established CMS’s have extensive support for clean, human readable URLs.

How to use this test effectively

This test will typically report a score which is difficult to change, unless the underlying technology or design of the website is changed. It is therefore best to use on new websites, to ensure that the platform is appropriate and that this is being considered.

Further reading

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