Predictable URL design

Being-predictable-allows-others-to-control-youAs we move to more and more web based applications it is going to be more and more important for developers to really think about how users access their web applications. Individual pages or search options may be more important than the simple landing pages. Particularly if you are wanting to get customers and users to be continually coming back to your site. Often the home page is very much a preamble that is likely to be skipped as quickly as possible so maybe if you have a single purpose site you want to have the search right up at the front on that landing page – alternatively if you have multiple applications essentially combined as part of a domain each search page needs to have a lot of care and attention to allow the user to get to his required information as quickly as possible.

In many cases it is particularly useful to have URLs to which can be passed parameters – I have already talked about my use of Google Maps in this respect but the list of sites that have predictable URLs that can be manipulated objectively with outside non-key referenced attributes reads as a list of the A to Z of some of the best companies on the web.

Examples as follows.

AMAZON
Linlithgow can be swapped out for anything and you can go straight to a list of the books you are interested in. Here’s an example of three different search strings Linlithgow, Quantum Mechanics and Programming.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=Linlithgow

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=Quantum_Mechanics

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=Programming

EBAY
The structure can change which is fine, as long as it is predictable and regular, here swapping two locations of the parameter “television” returns items for sale.
http://www.ebay.co.uk/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=p2050601.m570.l1313.TR0.TRC0.H0.Xtelevision&_nkw=television&_sacat=0

S1 jobs
Some sites will require links that have some knowledge of the parameters before hand. S1 jobs usually build the search string from a dynamic drop down list.
http://www.s1jobs.com/jobs/aberdeen-aberdeenshire/find?a_or_e=employer&a_or_e=agency&publicsector=publicsector&onlyshowme=datesmart

http://www.s1jobs.com/jobs/edinburgh-and-lothians/find?a_or_e=employer&a_or_e=agency&publicsector=publicsector&onlyshowme=datesmart

In such circumstances a developer will be able to directly link by noting the parameters and making the same parameters available within their application that builds the link url. (example parameters include fife / edinburgh-and-lothians/ inverness /glasgow-dunbartonshire )

Train Line
Most search filters are time specific a good design default is to assume that the user is looking for current information.

http://www.thetrainline.com/live/departures/edinburgh-to-london-kings-cross

http://www.thetrainline.com/live/departures/london-kings-cross-to-edinburgh

Sky Scanner
Certain applications actively require dates – no problem.
http://www.skyscanner.net/transport/flights/edi/mosc/150101/150102/airfares-from-edinburgh-to-moscow-in-january-2015.html?rtn=1

http://www.skyscanner.net/transport/flights/mosc/edi/150101/140102/airfares-from-moscow-to-edinburgh-in-january-2015.html?rtn=1

Air B n B
Has a really nice implementation that is really easy to manipulate – Brevity in a URL is extremely nice thing to have.
https://www.airbnb.co.uk/s/Edinburgh–United-Kingdom?source=bb

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/s/St-Petersburg–Russia?source=bb

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/s/St-Petersburg–America?source=bb

Compare this with something like www.jobs.co.uk – a nice site which will not accept parameters from outside of it.
www.jobs.co.uk

Unfortunately within the UK public bodies just have not reached this level of complication possibly because they often have a much wider remit. I did a brief search and was unable to find an example although I expect there to be some out there.

About Mark

Mark Brooks a forty something individual working and living in and around Edinburgh
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