The short shelf life of complex URLs

29Sep11

Common sense dictates that short and simple URLs are better than long and complex ones. A web address is worthless unless people can get to it, and short and simple URLs are easier to remember, easier to type, and probably more likely to remain the same over time. In contrast, longer and more complex URLs are often generated by content management systems, and even a small configuration error or software upgrade can wreak havoc on those types of web addresses over time.

The takeaways for web developers are fairly obvious: all else equal, create short and simple URLs and only choose content management software that’s consistent with this goal. But there’s a whole other group of people who should keep URL length and complexity in mind: bloggers, researchers, writers and anyone else who frequently links to or cites third-party websites in their work.

As a rule of thumb, the longer and more complicated a URL is, the uglier it’s going to look when written out, and the shorter a shelf life it’s going to have. This means that your readers are more likely to type it wrong or run into a broken link in the future. This might not be a big deal in the fluid environment of the web, but it’s definitely a problem when the URL is going to appear in a book or other permanent resource. Whenever you have the choice, going with the shortest and simplest URL from a given source will make things easier for your readers — both now and in the future.



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