Managing URLs can become difficult when dealing with large volumes of documents spanning many versions. Add in the complexity of managing time, market groups and the management of your content channels increases dramatically.
We can see this in the case that your client uses a proprietary document with a direct link you have provided. Now, you want to make a text change in your document. Although a small change, you have to notify the client each time you make any updates. You will also have to get your client to actually use the update.
What if your client is a third party administrator (TPA) and provides that same document to their clients? I trust you can see this is already messy.
URL redirects, or masking as it is more often called, solves these problems. URL masking ensures that URL changes are consistent for your brand regardless if your documents are self-hosted or on third-party platforms..
URL masking also makes website migration incredibly simple, your users will never need to change their behaviors, their bookmarks or references. For any company, large or small, growing, or a startup with an dynamic future this can be incredibly liberating.
What is URL masking?
URL masking, or cloaking, is a simple method of loading documents from one domain into another domain to give consistent look and feel to the user. In a URL masking scheme, all of our clients, our client’s clients and anyone else would share a single URL under our complete control.
This is a very common practice and has emerged as the standard across the internet. Organizations like YouTube, Imgur, Bank of America, Facebook, etc, all use URL masking. You should be using the technique too.
How URL Masking works:
Using this structure, we could easily swap out the root document that birthdays.pdf is pointing to, we could update it to version 1.0.06, or direct the link to an entirely new domain and none of the users who have the link would need to change their behavior or be made aware of the change.
Having masked URLs also provides security
The security of URL masking for site owners is in protecting the location of your prized documents. When you control the channels on which your content is distributed, you can more easily track where your documents are and who has them, make changes, and most importantly prevent unwanted intrusion into your document servers as you effectively have layered access to your documents. Under this scheme, you can configure firewalls to allow only the web server access to the document server directly.
Having these layers, this additional security, the masks in place, does nothing to affect your users. In fact, your users will still be able to share and link back to your URLs as with any other URL. Masked URLs are actual URLs to real domains. Visitors will also be able to bookmark these URLs because they are hosted on an actual domain.
Common SEO Myths
Cloaked URLs have negative effects on a website’s search engine rankings.
Not true! Maybe this was true in the early 2000s, but search engines aren’t those same old crawlers only capable of reading flat text they used to be. Google, Microsoft and others are fully capable of rendering dynamic content, masked URLs, even the shadow DOM.
These modern crawlers are very capable. SEO rankings have not been affected by how you serve documents for years. What matters is that your document links aren’t dead and that they provide users with the content the user expects. Of course, there are still companies out there touting these myths to unknowing clients.
URL Masking causes duplicate documents.
Ha! URL masking actually solves the issues related to duplicate documents that you would find without it in place. When we don’t control the delivery channels from which our clients and users get our content, then we end up with legacy documents floating everywhere.
In the old methods of content delivery, simply killing a link is a quick way to anger your clients. Your clients have better things to do than spend their days redistributing/importing your documents, or redoing their reference links. Seamless integration is what people want in their lives.
URL masking is the standard today online and for good reason. It is used for all manners of content delivery from video, document, image, even comments and profiles. URL cloaking adds security and brand consistency, but more importantly it allows us to seamlessly provide our content to our users.
Online the most important aspect of any site is user experience. By providing a seamless content deliver platform, we improve our users experience and increase brand loyalty.
A Web Developer by trade, future data scientist.
A motorcycle enthusiast at heart.
Most days I’d rather be in the woods anywhere.