I recently switched this weblog over to WordPress blogging software. Since then, all sorts of interesting things keep popping up related to the switch that I have to learn and/or handle.
Case in point: URL formatting a surprisingly important issue for both my e-mail alerts and for search engines. Let me explain the issue, and then I’ll tell you about a really cool tool called TinyUrl that’s helping me leverage changing circumstances…
My old blogging software, Movable Type, created a URL for each new blog entry that included a unique numerical string. The advantage of this was that the URLs were always a manageable length to include “as is” in the e-mail alerts I send out announcing fresh content. That is, they’d always fit neatly onto a single line, without breaking across lines. This meant that the links would not be broken (and therefore possibly unusable) when e-mail subscribers would view and click on them. That was nice.
WordPress handles URL formatting differently. By default, it generates a URL for each blog item that includes the words used in the title of that entry. This is desireable from the perspective of search engine optimization, since pages with URLs that includes words which reflect the content of the page tend to be deemed more relevant by the major search engines. Thus, word-based URLs can improve how a page ends up getting ranked in search engines. (It’s not the be-all-and-end-all for search engine optimization, but it does help.) However, this strategy does have a potential drawback: unwieldy URLs
For instance, back on June 25 I wrote an article entitled “Get Human! Monolithic Voices Aren’t Credible, Especially Online.” I was still using Movable Type at the time, so the original URL for that article was: http://blog.contentious.com/archives/000241.html 48 characters long, just under the 50-character limit I prefer for URLs which appear in my e-mail alerts.
After I converted to WordPress, the URL for that article changed to this unwieldy beast: http://blog.contentious.com/archives/2004/06/25/get-human-monolithic-voices-arent-credible-especially-online 108 characters altogether. (Don’t worry, the original numerical URL still works thanks to a script that my husband/sysadmin wrote for my blog.)
You can see how the lengthier URLs posed a problem for my e-mail alerts. Many, if not most, of them would break across lines and frustrate my thousands of e-mail subscribers.
TINYURL TO THE RESCUE!
TinyURL is an excellent, simple, and free service provided by Kevin Gilbertson. Got a URL that’s so long and ugly it hurts to look at it? No problem. Simply enter your long URL into TinyURL via the site’s simple web-based form, and it will immediately generate a redirect to that page with a much shorter URL. There is no time limit on this redirect; it’ll live forever (as far as I understand it).
What’s a “redirect?” A redirect is a handy little HTML trick. By using particular HTML code in a Web page, you can redirect visitors seamlessly from the original page to another Web page.
This neat little tool is what allowed me, in my current e-mail alert, to replace the URL http://blog.contentious.com/archives/2004/08/26/feedless-hall-of-shame-most-of-the-fortune-100
(94 characters long – ugh!) with the succinct redirect http://tinyurl.com/5wc7c (only 24 characters yay!).
So for the foreseeable future, my e-mail alerts will include TinyURL redirect addresses for my articles, not contentious.com URLs. But from the user’s perspective this shouldn’t make any difference, the redirect links should work just the same when you click on them.
The TinyURL redirects will appear only in my e-mail alerts so don’t look for them on the blog itself. If you happen to have a TinyURL redirect to one of my articles and want to create a link, feel free to use either the longer original URL as your link’s destination, or the TinyURL redirect. It shouldn’t make a difference.