Matt Gemmell

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Permalinks

Blog 2 min read

Can we talk, briefly, about the URLs on your blog?

If you’re like most people, your permalinks (the permanent links to individual posts) probably look like this:

yourdomain.com/2015/02/24/title-of-post

We’re all familiar with those URLs. The date of the post is explicit, so you need never wonder when it was written, or how recent it is.

Here’s the thing, though: they’re horrible.

Let me give you a few reasons:

  1. They’re visually ugly. Strings of numbers aren’t nice to look at. They look like they’re made for machines.

  2. They’re unnecessarily lengthy. They’re exactly eleven characters too long, in fact.

  3. They push the post’s title off to the right, maybe partially obscuring it in the address bar of the visitor’s browser (or their bookmarks menu, or history list).

  4. The page itself has the date of the post on it anyway. In the few cases where it doesn’t, that’s a deliberate design choice, and you’re not meant to be focusing on it.

  5. In most cases, you don’t care about the date. Right now, a tiny subset of humans (technical people, who think of code examples or software tutorials when they read the phrase “blog post”) are going to argue that the date does matter. They are wrong. Any article with time-sensitive information will either mention its vintage explicitly, or is by definition poorly constructed.

But there’s another reason, and it’s more compelling than any of the above. Date-encumbered URLs dilute your article’s standing.

Here’s what each style says to me:

  • macro-gurber.co/2014/02/14/about-smartwatches: This is what Macro thought about smartwatches on Valentine’s Day last year. Which raises some other questions, admittedly.

  • macro-gurber.co/about-smartwatches: This is Macro’s definitive goddamned opinion on smartwatches.

That’s the distinction. Have a think about it for a moment. The latter, shorter style is what you want.

Let me pre-empt a couple of possible objections:

But that won’t work if I have duplicate titles!

Like the doctor said: so don’t do that. Challenge yourself to create brief, unique, effective titles. I have over 1,100 posts on this site, and there aren’t any duplicate titles.

(While you’re at it, shorten your titles, too. Make every word earn its place. You’re going for a timeless, headline-like quality - not the waffly, run-on title of a scientific paper.)

That’s what URL rewriting is for. Your web server supports it; ask the person who administers it for you.

If you’re using Apache, for example, you’d put something like this in the .htaccess file in your site’s root directory:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteRule ^\d{4,}/\d{2,}/\d{2,}(/.*)$ $1 [R=301,L]

It’ll redirect any incoming links for the date-encumbered style of URLs to the equivalent date-free ones.

I’d like to invite you to shorten your URLs, and get rid of the date cruft. By all means show the date of each article on the page, but get it out of your permalinks.

The shorter form adds weight and elegance, without losing anything of value to your reader.

For me, that’s an easy decision.