SEF URL Tip: Once Indexed, an Alias is Forever (or, It Should Be!)

Joomla makes it so easy to edit its alias fields, that you might forget they're directly attached to your URLs!

Yes, Joomla's alias field would be simpler if it was a direct URL-edit field. Getting back to the present reality, however...I get it. Not everyone has an editor's instincts. As a Joomla user, however, you need them driven into you, for this one data entry field, for the sake of your search ranking.

If you use SEF URLs, never publish without thinking very hard about all your Alias fields - both in articles, and elsewhere. The alias is also used in categories, contacts, and elsewhere, including in third-party extensions; it is the traditional way for users to control Joomla's SEF URL system.

Just as menus are king of page-construction context, the alias is king in SEF URLs. Whether URLs are generated with, or without, the URL Rewriting option, aliases are still being chained together to form each URL. In light of this, consider the fact that category aliases alone could be considered a top reason to take your time planning your site before launch.

If you ever want to change a URL after it has been indexed, you have a dilemma. There's extra work involved in doing this with zero confusion involved for the index -- this is true whether you have extensions involved, or not, and I've seen popular SEF URL extensions which added steps to this workflow. The dilemma is, extra work, vs wishing you had thought harder about that Alias field before letting search engines find that URL.

Indexing occurs anywhere from a matter of seconds, to a matter of weeks, after you publish a new piece of content. The length of this window depends on several variables; a few of the most noteworthy, are your XML sitemap (or lack thereof), your update frequency track record, and whether the new piece is linked-to elsewhere online (especially on a major site; especially on a Google-owned site).

If you post a link publicly on a major social network, on any page with at least a few followers, expect it to be indexed within minutes; don't be surprised if it's indexed instantly.

If you absolutely must change that URL, the fastest way to tidy up after yourself is actually the way your server guru would do it -- manually. If you use zero extensions for SEF URLs (meaning, if Joomla handles it natively via the SEF URL part of Global Configuration), using this method is fully compatible. (Some extensions will also read this method into themselves cleanly, but I can't recommend it outside the vanilla environment.)

To notify search engines, and users with bookmarks, that a URL has change, you'd add a permanent redirect for the old URL. If you're using the Apache web server and are allowed to configure redirects with a local config file (I'm sorry if this just got so technical your brain hurts -- if that's you, then pretend this sentence, up til now, has consisted of only the words "On most paid hosting, and most free hosting"), you can add a redirect by putting the following at the bottom of the file .htaccess in Joomla's main folder on your site:

Redirect 301 /old-url.html

There's no major harm getting it wrong on the first try; users hitting the old URL will get a confusing error until you remove or repair the broken directive. Take note, in your Global Configuration, of whether you're actually using .html suffixes. Don't forget to clear your cache after you make front-facing changes.

© 2018 Nathan Hawks

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