URL as a Litmus Test

I’m often asked, “how can I tell if a web developer is any good?” This is a loaded question. Define good. They can write the most elegant code in the world, but be a pain to work with. Or they could be super nice, but never fulfill on their promises. Unfortunately, short of working with someone there is often no reliable way to determine the personality traits that can make one a good or bad developer to work with.

I have, however, come up with a quick and easy litmus test:  semantic URLs.  (If you aren’t familiar with the structure of a URL, click here for a quick primer.)  The last part of a URL, the resource ID, can tell you a lot about a developer’s knowledge, experience, attention to detail, and thoroughness.

A semantic URL is something where the resource ID is something a human can read; for instance “bookkeeping-services.php.”  A  non-semantic URL is where it is gibberish, like “index.php?pageid=76”

Why does this matter?  Two reasons:

  1. If you can’t read it, neither can search engines. Google has NO idea what “index.php?pageid=76” means, but “bookkeeping-services.php” is a clue that the page is about bookkeeping services.
  2. Say it out-loud. Imagine you are on the phone and suggesting a friend go to a specific page on a website.  Would you tell them “go to edit.com/index.php?pageid=76?” Doesn’t exactly roll-off the tongue now does it?

So clearly semantic URLs are better, but why are they a litmus test for quality?  Today it is easier than ever to create websites with Content Management Systems in place.  In fact, for some people creating a site wouldn’t be possible without WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc.  Not all CMSes were created equal.  WordPress, for instance is very search-friendly.  Not all CMSes allows for semantic URLs out of the box.  The choice of CMS is an indicator of thoughtfulness.

If one does use a non-search-friendly CMS but does not change URLs to be semantic, it shows they either don’t know the benefits (scary thought), or they forgot (more scary to me), or they just don’t care (even more scary).

So there you have it.  Want a quick indicator of quality? Look at the URL.

What are the litmus tests you use to judge developer quality?

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