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Why Cruftless Links Are Better for SEO

A number of customers have been contacting us recently with concerns about changing the file names for their RapidWeaver pages. The reason for this is because we have two different plugins (Mobilize and RapidSearch Pro) that require PHP, and as such, require a .php file extension to be used.

These customers are worried that by changing the file extension for their pages, that they'll lose their hard-earned ranking in search results. In this post I'm going to explain why cruftless links are better for SEO, and how by using them you'll never have to worry about the effect changing file names can have on your search ranking.

The typical RW user starts making sites and often decides to change the default file name for their pages to be more descriptive. This is a good thing! The problem is that it can also cause problems down the road. Let's look at an example with a mythical RW friend we'll call "John".

John creates a new RW page in his project and decides to use the Stacks page type for a cool image gallery. He thinks it would be a good idea to change the file name to photos.html, as that looks easier to understand than the default of index.html. He makes the site, gets great rankings whenever someone searches for bigfoot photos, and is a Happy Man.

As his site grows in popularity he decides to improve things by adding some new stacks, and one of these stacks requires PHP. John's worried that by changing the file name from photos.html to photos.php, he'll lose the great ranking he has when someone looks for bigfoot photos. Here is where cruftless links have a huge advantage.

But first, you may be wondering what a "cruftless link" is to begin with. Sounds kind of nasty, like a moldy pie or something. In fact, it's pretty awesome.

In this particular situation "cruft" refers to any extra stuff that is part of a link we don't need. And as it turns out, if your page's file name is called index.html or index.php or index.something then web browsers don't need the file name at all. They'll just load page file names that are "index" automatically for you. That's why you can visit a site like Apple just by typing in "" - there's no need to also enter the file name. Here are some examples of cruftless links:

Note how none of the links above have a file name as part of the link. Now here are some examples of links with cruft, and then with the cruft removed: *eww, crufty link* *awesome! no cruft!* *blegh, more cruft**whew, better!*

So now you're probably wondering how to make cruftless links in RapidWeaver. Fortunately, it's really easy:

  1. First, you'll need to open the Page Inspector and access the General tab.
  2. Change the folder to be descriptive and match the content of the page. In our bigfoot example above, the folder would be photos. ( Edit: this was previously Step 3, but as Markus pointed out in the comments below, a better workflow is to change the folder first, before changing the file name.)
  3. Change the filename to index.html (or index.php or whatever file extension you need, just be sure the file name is "index").
  4. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 above for each page in your site.
  5. Open the Site Setup dialog box (select "Show Site Setup" from the RW "Site" menu).
  6. Select the Advanced tab, and check the "Enable cruftless links" checkbox.
  7. Re-publish your site.

That's it!

Update: As Steve in the comments mentioned, links may appear to not work if you export your site to a local folder and preview in a browser. This is not a problem, however, as the links will work when you've uploaded the pages to your website.

Once you've done this, you won't have to worry about changing the file name of your pages and how that might affect your SEO rankings. The reason for this is that search engines will store the cruftless link to your site in their search index.

The final question we get asked at this point is, "But what if my site is already listed with search engines using a blasted crufty link? What to do?" There's a solution to that as well, that won't affect your search rankings, and will make sure site visitors see the correct page every time...and we'll cover that in our next post!