BrightHaus Digital Marketing Agency

The # In Your URL: What It Means & Why You Should Care

December 26, 2016

You have probably seen it in hundreds or thousands of URL’s but never considered its significance. That little # actually does quite a lot on a web page. It can have a huge impact on the way content is displayed and it can also have a huge impact on the site’s footprint in the search results page.

The URL Fragment Identifier

Commonly known as the URL Fragment Identifier, the # was originally used like a bookmark for a specific element on a webpage. When triggered in the URL, the page would load on the specific content associated with the #.

It has a number of different uses today but it is commonly used with AJAX-based pages & sites with a parallax design to display different content to a user quickly as it doesn’t require a full page reload to display the content associated with the fragment identifier (For Example: BOFI Bank Checking Page, notice the “Basic Business”, “Business Interest” & “Analyzed Business” tabs). Its use in displaying & organizing content can result in a fantastic user experience. Content can be organized in a simple & intuitive manner all accessible from subpages or tabs within one navigation bar. A user can scroll through each tab full of information instantly without having to reload the entire page. The hash (Fragment identifier) can also be used to trigger certain functionality within a site. In conjunction with javascript, it can trigger pop up windows for certain visitors visiting from links you have created and placed on other websites.

An Important Note About The #

As you can see, the # definitely has valuable applications in web design however historically Googlebot has had a lot of trouble indexing content that is loaded on a web page via AJAX with the use of fragment identifiers. Google has made a number of improvements to its bot in the past year that have significantly improved its ability to appropriately crawl and index content triggered by AJAX. So much so that in October 2015 they “deprecated” (no longer deem necessary) its set of practices/guidelines for making ajax applications crawlable. Google claims as long as you are not blocking their bot from crawling your Javascript or CSS files, it will “generally be able to render and understand your web pages like modern browsers”. The key word in that statement from Google is “generally” as at the time this blog post was written (Jan. 2016), there are still webmasters reporting instances where AJAX based content is not being crawled.

If you or your web developers are considering creating some or all of your website using AJAX, it would be wise to consult with an SEO professional to discuss your goals for the website and how your team plans to use AJAX on your website. Its use could have serious impact on the site’s ability to rank for desired keywords.