What’s In a Name? A Lot Actually

whatsinanameI may or may not have just come across a logo for a department on campus with the filename “picture2.jpg.” In any case, I am thinking about the importance of file naming conventions on the web.

How you organize files on your pc is your business. If you can find what you need on a daily basis, then whatever works works. But when uploading files to a web server, whether .html, .pdf. or .jpg, your file naming conventions (or lack thereof) are no longer a private affair.

Two Compelling Reasons to Care About Your File Names

1. People see your filenames. And they can be as telling as your sock drawer. 

2. Search engines see your filenames. Or they don’t. And that is bad.

Be Specific and Use Keywords

Give your files names that are as unique as they are because one day in the future, you will be looking at hundreds of web files on a server, and you will not recall what picture2.jpg is a picture of or what the announcement was in facultyannouncement.pdf.

And please, think of the children and those that will come after you. Someone will have to pick up on your website where you have left off. I speak from personal experience. Have some mercy.

In fact, don’t just be specific, use relevant keywords, especially in image names, because Google includes image file names as part of their algorithm in returning search results. MBA-Students-Studying-Statistical-Analysis.jpg will actually impact search results while picture2.jpg will not.

Don’t worry about the length of a file name within reason. It is better to embed relevant data in the file name than to lose it. Keep this in mind especially when photographing and posting images from recurring events. You’ll want to include the date in the file name as well as any important personages pictured. Believe me, Google is going to love Denzel-Washington-Addresses-2012-Fordham-Theatre-Grads.jpg as will the future you and your descendants.

Don’t Use Spaces Between Words

Note in the above examples that I am not using spaces between the words.

Have you ever seen a %20 in a URL such as in http://www.fordham.edu/final%20conference%20brochure.pdf? This is a result of spaces being used in the file name. Browsers do not like spaces and therefore insert the ASCII encoded value for a space which is %20.

To be honest, it’s not the worst thing in the world but it doesn’t look pretty and it can cause problems in cutting and pasting URLs.

Hyphens v. Underscores

Note also in the above examples that I am not using underscores.

I have only recently learned that Google does not recognize underscores as spaces. The horror! The horror! It would seem that because underscores are used in coding for various things, Google does not parse the underscore as a space in file names. Thus, file names using underscores are not supporting SEO at all because Google reads the file name with underscores as one big nonsensical word.

Hyphen for the win (as I wallow in a regretful pit of missed SEO opportunities).

(Ironically, Google is smart enough to parse the separate words of your filename without hyphens, just all mashed up together, so that’s an option too).

Lowercase v. Uppercase

Yes, it matters. Windows servers don’t care about case, but Linux servers do. If your site is hosted on a Linux server and you have named your file About.html, a user typing in fordham.edu/about.html will get a 404 Page Not Found error.

Also, there’s an SEO implication. Even if on a Windows server, you can type in either About.html or about.html and get to the same page, Google will treat the two URLs separately and will divide traffic between them which will affect page rank negatively because Google is not registering total traffic for the one page.

To be safe, always use lowercase.

In Conclusion

Be specific. Include keywords. Use hyphens between words. Keep it lowercase. 

And check your spelling. You should always check your spelling.

Leave a Reply