Blogging and Permalinks

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This is a post about my thoughts regarding permalinks and blogging. My opinions are likely different than what you’ll hear from an SEO “guru”. I’m not an SEO “guru”. I’m just a blogger that has been at this since at least July 1996.

I am now seeing a majority of blogs, especially new ones, moving to a short permalink structure that removes the date. In most cases, I think this is a bad thing. Before I explain why, I first what to cover what permalinks are and how they evolved.

Although there are still many examples of ugly links, they are gradually disappearing. Blog links have gone from ugly to descriptive to short. See the image below.

Ugly:

http://example.com/page.php?article_id=1234&title=Happy%20Blogging

Descriptive (dated): 

http://example.com/2014/06/happy-blogging/

Descriptive (shorter, not dated):

http://example.com/happy-blogging/

It is easy to see why the ugly links are going away. Not only are they harder to type and unmemorable, but they also can potentially expose your website to attack via SQL injection. The descriptive ones are much better. In most cases, I prefer the dated ones, although I acknowledge the shorter ones are better for link sharing on mobile. But with short link services, that isn’t enough of a reason in most cases. 

CriticalMAS and INeedCoffee

I use a Descriptive (dated) permalink structure for the Critical MAS blog and a Descriptive (shorter, not dated) for INeedCoffee.

I see this blog as a conversation. I’m discussing what is interesting to me at that time. Those interests may or may not change over time. My opinions may or may not change. I see this blog and 99% of most blogs as evolving. We post, we get comments, we research and we post again. It is a story of interest.

I’ve never considered INeedCoffee a blog, although I don’t fight the label. It is primarily a reference website. Because the pages are mostly being accessed by new readers, it makes less sense to use dates. Instead of having several articles on how I’ve changed my method of Chemex brewing in the last 15 years, it makes more sense to continually improve the article itself. How I evolved my brewing technique is not important to the new reader looking for guidance.

chemex650

Last month I released a brand new version of my Chemex coffee brewing tutorial. It was the third version of the article, which was originally released in 2003. Unless you are committed to maintaining older content, I think using dates in your permalinks is a better option. 

Which Permalink to Use?

As a reader and a blogger, I think unless you are using blogging software to manage a reference site, you should use dates in your permalink. It provides more information to your reader before they even click on the link. I don’t read gadget sites, but the top ones all use dates in their links. Same with financial blogs. I think they should with health sites as well.

Dateless Permalinks Will Backfire

There is an industry out there that convinces people to start blogging their way to riches. They pimp SEO services and tips which advise using these short dateless URLs. The reasons are two-fold. First, shorter URLs are currently seen to be of higher quality. The second reason is the reader wants the most updated information, so they will favor new content over old. By hiding the date, you can trick more people into clicking on the link and visiting your site. More page views!

Not so fast. What happens if you click on a link without a date in the URL only to discover the information is years old? You often hit the back button. You bounced. If Google sees a site with a high bounce rate, they often push them lower in the search rankings.

Most new blogs aren’t that good. It takes time to get things dialed in and provide useful content to your readers. If the majority of these new bloggers now using dateless permalinks, over time you will see the average quality in a dateless url drop. And the average age of a dateless permalink will get older and older. Users will become either consciously or unconsciously aware and begin seeking out dated permalinks as a signal of trust.

Free To Be Wrong

There are some bad posts on this site. Back in October 2006 in the post Cleaning Up My Diet 2, I boasted about how I was now using an egg-white mayo made from soybean oil. Thankfully I have “/2006/10/” in the url. Unlike Chris Kresser who has decided to hide the dates of his posts, I want the reader to be aware of the post date. Blogging is a journey, not a destination.

And if I change my opinion about dateless links, I can always add a new post, which if it is on this site, you can bet will have the date in the permalink.

3 thoughts on “Blogging and Permalinks

  1. Pauline

    I like dates on blogging websites, a few that don’t have dates I tend to wonder how long this information was out there and when was it last updated (i.e. is it old or new news). I agree that most sites which share information evolve like the person who created it and this is very good to know. Especially if you are sharing information about nutrition and health. I loved Chris’ site before he changed it recently. I now just wait until I get a newsletter and if its pertinent to me I will read or not. It changes your relationship with that particular blog. Its a pity because you build up a readership through a sense of continuity and community through readers who post comments and for me dates are important.

  2. @Pauline – We agree..

    Health information on the Internet without a date is less trustworthy. Chris himself has changed his opinion on BPA/plastics twice in the last year. Now maybe he is maintaining and updating older articles like I do on INeedCoffee? I don’t know. But if he was, I would still publish a “last modified” date somewhere on the post, which he doesn’t. (I do on INeedCoffee)

  3. Hi Michael:

    What you wrote in this post has helped me to understand permalinks, and how managing them can be useful in blogging. I enjoy scanning through some of your posts every so often.

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