Mambo and SEF URLs

NB - this applied to Mambo before the Joomla developers forked off; I've read that Mambo has since included SEF URLs, tho maybe an imperfect method (I haven't tried). 

Mambo pages are compiled on the fly - as they're requested by browsers, and their original URLs (addresses) reflect this: they're stuffed with code, numbers, characters like "&". Looking like gibberish to most humans, they can also be rather tough for search engines to follow as they try navigating through sites.

There are, however, improved URLs: the search engine friendly URLs, or SEF URLs. But these are by no means created equal; I've found that some "SEF" URLs are friendlier than others. And with latest Mambo version - and with Joomla!, can get lots of Search Engine Unfriendly URLs (due to ItemIDs). Can be bit of nightmare, without care, trying to get truly SEF URLs - with one URL per item.

Starting with Mambo - the 4.5.0 version - I quickly found that could use the basic, SEF URLs. Instead of lots of gibberish, these were based on id numbers Mambo uses for retrieving info. These URLs were pretty much just www.site.com followed by some backslashes and numbers. Easy enough for search engines to follow, but with nothing to indicate what a page was about.

There were better, more "search engine friendly" options, generating URLs that included words, such as from category names and page titles. As these could include keywords, perhaps these would be better for search engines like Google. (Though really, it appears Google isn't too bothered about words in URLs - maybe pretty far down the list of things that influence success in Google.) One option was a component on sale (SEF Advance); but there were also at least one method that was free.

SEF URLs in Mambo 4.5.0

With my budget - around zero - I looked at a free method. Found one called d51-SEF, and downloaded and tried this. It worked really well; but with section/category/item title/id number/ the URLs were longer than ideal. No matter; I used it. But used it with care.

Care, that is, to try to ensure there was just one URL per article (item). This had been easy enough in my regular html days, but things can become more complex with Mambo (and other cms).
Using Mambo, I could generate a SEF URL via, say, link from section to category to item; but needed care to ensure I didn't make other internal links to same page.

This way, I seemed to avoid several of the ways I could accidentally make "duplicate content", which at least Google doesn't like - one URL per item should be the way.
Checking Google results, I noticed the same content could also appear with URLs from Print and Email items choices. So, I turned these off too. Then, Google results looked clean; just one URL per item.

Oh, yes - I also worked at halting duplicate URLs for homepage: just site .com was what I wanted, but the Home link at top of main menu generated additional, longer link (to frontpage component, in my case). At first tough; turned out that for site's default page to be frontpage, this had to be at top of mainmenu. But, again thanks to forum post, I found that could create and publish a second "mainmenu" (using the MyMenu component, now in Mambo core), with link to home at top, then unpublish mainmenu.

SEF URLs in Mambo 4.5.2 - Itemids problem and how to solve it

I upgraded this site to Mambo 4.5.2; for which there were options for generating SEF URLs.

I soon downloaded a component that looked as if it could be just right: 404-SEF. Soon had this up and running, and looking good initially, with several choices for format of the URLs, including just /category/title alias [for category] - real nifty. But looking at resulting URLs, I noticed that could be near duplicated, with numbers from 1 upwards for copies. So, for one item, could have sefurl, sefurl1, sefurl2, sefurl3 and so on. Checked info on the help forum, and learned this resulted from Mambo behaviour. Seemed to be partly as could generate a URL for an item in different ways, eg link via section - category - item, or directly from menu to item. But that wasn't whole story; and I couldn't tame the multiplying URLs.

I posted on 404SEF forums at wh3.com about this - suggesting possible fix might be to remove the numbers at end of URLs; but reply [which I read after already switching to another product] not too helpful:
"I am tired of hearing about multiple urls.  Any additional posts dated after today (18 Jun 2005) will be deleted and YOUR ACCOUNT WILL BE BANNED.  This is a KNOWN issue that has nothing to do with 404SEF.  Get over it or use another product."
[Updating on 9 July, the wh3.com site says 404sef has been discontinued.]

Note (June 06): webmasterworld forum on Google and renamed urls by 404SEF module includes a post that says, " I solve this problem removing default nav bar in core."

So - even before reading reply in the 404sef "Help" forum - I figured I'd perhaps just use the regular Mambo SEF URLs, and never mind the meaningless (except to Mambo) id numbers. But, even here, I soon found that got duplicate URLs: for instance, link from menu to section - category - item, and different to direct link from menu to item, thanks to Mambo slapping an id number at end of the link. Hmm, maybe ok if want a link to result in different behaviour (as possible with 4.5.2, though I haven't figured it fully yet), but no use at all if don't want duplicate URLs, and resultant penalties with search engines. To me, these were Search Engine Unfriendly URLs.

Then, I complained on a Mambo forum - and promptly received reply; suggestion I use Xaneon Extensions. I'd found a bit of info on these; but rather muted, and seemed the project had perhaps fizzled. What the heck, though, I tried it.

Xaneon Extensions

Xaneon Extensions impressed me from the start. Really nice in administrator (backend) - good info, plenty of choices; also some fine, informative pages on Xaneon website. Even though mentions it's a beta, so not really for live websites, looked good.

NB - since the Mambo split, Xaneon has morphed into OpenSEF (for Joomla!).

Using Xaneon Extensions, I soon found that indeed get one URL per item. There are choices for how URLs are created; I've [so far] chosen item URLs to appear as www site  com/category/title alias, adding .html - so get nice, short URLs, with .html on end (very different to raw cms URLs!).
(I first tried without adding any .html or whatever to URLs for items [articles], but for some reason didn't work.)

With Xaneon, can see - and edit - URLs that have been generated, and which have been used in attempts to access site pages. Becomes a long list, but useful to scan through I think - gives me an idea of which URLs are still around from 4.5.0 version of the site (for several of these, I've now put redirects in htaccess, which I hope will minimise people clicking on existing links elsewhere, finding they arrive not at a page, but at error message).

There are still quirks. Notably, was a glitch with akocomment, where can't add a comment: I came across forum post mentioning turning off canonical URLs choice in Xaneon could solve this - tried it, comment was posted, but page direction went skew-wiff after that.

It also seems that should have canonical URLs off in order for people to register, and edit items via frontend.

Then, I had some problems with ensuring that www.drmartinwilliams.com defaults to frontpage; using Xaneon's Manage Friendly URLs feature, I found that had to edit so that the basic URL ("/") had only one option [another solution seems to be to see if there's a list of possibilities for "/" - and edit to ensure the first of these is for frontpage, as Xaneon evidently opts to direct a URL to the first option in any list of possibilities].

Also some trouble trying to use just one word as category name; seemed at times that two words worked better - not sure if the single words conflicted somehow.

Dreaming of Mambo with URLs that are both SEF - and Cool 

Yes, there's also SEF Advance; but gotta pay for it (and me a Yorkshireman!); plus, for open source cms, should it be necessary to pay for something like decent URLs, which should be part n parcel of the software? Indeed, with 4.5.2, it means paying for something from a core developer, partly to fix problems inherent in this version of Mambo.

I've posted to mamboserver forum, inc re my wish list for URLs:

" Truly search engine friendly - ie one URL per item (no matter what link you follow to arrive there - via menu, a category listing, a sitemap...); easy for search engines to follow; with words if possible; and - also importantly - structured so that can keep the same URL even as upgrade Mambo.

Would also be more human friendly - I always feel better giving short links with words than raw cms type gibberish. Using Xaneon, URLs I have include: http://www.drmartinwilliams.com/websites/seo.html."

Added this to my post:

'Item on W3C is headed Cool URIs (URLs) don't change. Has some reasoning for this; also potential excuses - like "we just reorganized our website", "we had to move some files"... With top-notch URLs built into Mambo, wouldn't be extra excuses: "I run Mambo, and I just upgraded my Mambo version", or "I run Mambo, and just changed the way I generate URLs" '

 

Read of positive changes underway with Mambo, re URLs, but maybe not an excellent fix yet.

If you have comments, questions, tips, please post in the forum, or email me.

Martin