I recently led an effort at work to make our URL structure more logical. The purpose was to allow our URLs to offer more information about the linked page before users clicked and also to reflect the site structure through the URLs. In usability testing months ago I noticed that some users would click on the logo to return to the homepage—a common enough behavior—but were unsure this actually returned them to the homepage. The uncertainty was due, understandably, to the fact that the homepage URL wasn’t a simple protocol and domain (http://domain.com), but instead had a lot of unnecessary key-value gobbledygook that followed. Even typing in the simple homepage URL would redirect to this unfriendly URL. This was clearly broken, and there was no evidence as strong as watching this same uncertainty occur again and again in each users’ own idiosyncratic way.
In an effort to practice what I preach, last night I did some housecleaning on Contact Sheet. First, I changed the permalink filenames into meaningful, readable slugs. Rather than using an arbitraty number such as 0000117.html, the filename should reveal easy-to-associate clues about the content, like friendly_urls_site_maintenance.html. This is done in Movable Type by using the “dirify” option which loosely turns the entry title into the file name.
Next, I organized the article directory structure by date to make it easier to browse down a level and view entries by day or month. I’m guessing I’m not the only one that edits URLs in the address bar as a shortcut to navigation. MT doesn’t easily allow you to view by year and that’s fairly useless anyway, so it bumps you down to the complete archives if you try to view by year. Including the date in the directory structure or slug also tells the user how timely a piece of content is without having to click.
These changes likely duplicated my complete set of RSS entries in most RSS readers since it changed all entries’ permalinks. The old URLs will still work, they just won’t be updated with comments that are added after the changes were made last night. Had I known how to set these features up from the beginning I would have—changing URLs of content is never a good thing. If this were a professional revenue-generating site, I would insist on redirects. It is not, and I offer my sympathy.
What does any of this have to do with design? Well, it has little do to with graphic design and everything to do with information design. If users know any incremental information about a link, especially when obscurely referenced in an embedded fashion like so, they’ll be that much more likely to find some relevance and click. (Notice the hypocricsy in the last Jakob Neilsen link, even though he talks about domain names and not complete URLs as claimed.) In my case, users will know the date and approximate title of the linked entry in Contact Sheet.
To configure Movable Type like I’ve described above, you can manipulate the directory structure by choosing Weblog Config, then Archiving, and make sure the boxes are checked next to Individual, Daily & Monthly. Then fill in the Archive File Template field like so:
Individual: <$MTArchiveDate format="%Y/%m/%d/"$><$MTEntryTitle dirify="1"$>.html
Daily: <$MTArchiveDate format="%Y/%m/%d/index.html"$>
Monthly: <$MTArchiveDate format="%Y/%m/index.html"$>
by Dave S. » Jul 25, 2003 11:36 AM
by Scott Steffens » Jul 25, 2003 11:55 AM
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by Hale Scott » Dec 20, 2003 3:29 PM