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21 March 2022 • SEO

URL obfuscation in SEO: Definition, advantages, and WiziShop feature

URL obfuscation in SEO: Definition, advantages, and WiziShop feature

Internal linking is one of the pillars of an effective SEO strategy. It’s based on the creation of links between your different pages in order to optimize the distribution of juice within your site.

In ecommerce, the problems related to internal linking are even more frequent.

Between the customer account pages, the shopping cart, the filters, and the mega-menus, the exploration and analysis of your store by search engines can become very complex and tedious.

It’s therefore necessary to pay particular attention to internal linking when you have an online sales site.

While search engine robots today are evolving and are more rational about the importance of links according to their placement in the page, it can be beneficial to implement advanced SEO techniques to facilitate their task.

The ultimate solution: obfuscation. This method allows you to ensure a good distribution of the juice within your site by hiding certain links from the crawlers.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to URL (or link) obfuscation and its different uses.

Finally, I’ll present to you in detail the new features of the WiziShop ecommerce solution related to obfuscation. We’re the only SaaS ecommerce solution in the world to offer these features natively in your administration area!

What is URL obfuscation?

Definition

This advanced SEO technique consists of hiding a link from search engine robots, while leaving it accessible to internet users.

url obfuscation

Operation and example

The operation is quite simple. There are several obfuscation techniques, but one of the most popular is the use of javascript with base64 encoding.

To make it simple, this one consists of encoding the URL in base 64, then, with a javascript function, decoding the link and opening it when the user clicks. The search engine cannot detect the link on its end.

For example, for this article, if I encode the URL https://www.wizishop.fr/blog/obfuscation-lien in base64, here’s the result: 

aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cud2l6aXNob3AuZnIvYmxvZy9vYmZ1c2NhdGlvbi1saWVu

You aren’t able to read it, and that’s the point! In the source code of the page, here’s an example of an obfuscated link:

<span data-htap="aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cud2l6aXNob3AuZnIvYmxvZy9vYmZ1c2NhdGlvbi1saWVucw==">link obfuscated</span>

URL obfuscation in base64 and JS: black hat technique?

URL obfuscation is a controversial technique, which can be perceived as “black hat” by white hat SEO experts. According to some of them, it doesn’t respect Google’s guidelines.

First of all, we shouldn’t confuse obfuscation and cloaking. Cloaking is often used to deceive the user and the crawlers.

Cloaking will, for example, make it possible to display a page to the user, which will be completely different for the search engine.

cloaking

Unlike cloaking, obfuscation doesn’t seek to deceive robots or internet users at any time.

The objective is to optimize the time spent by search engine bots on your site, by presenting them only with pages that are of real value to the user. This technique is therefore advantageous for the bots since it guides them to relevant and beneficial pages.

SEO experts have actually discussed this topic with various people at Google. The answers were quite clear. As long as the main function isn’t to mislead the user and the bots, it’s not penalized.

It’s also important to specify that the majority of large ecommerce sites around the world use obfuscation techniques to optimize their internal linking. I don’t think that Google will decide to penalize these major players in online sales.

Why use URL obfuscation in SEO?

Do PageRank Sculpting

Link obfuscation is an advanced SEO technique that is used to optimize your internal linking.

It allows you to do “PageRank Sculpting.”

PageRank represents the popularity of a page on the web. Depending on the number of internal and external links that point to this page, the PageRank will be more or less important. PageRank is more commonly called “link juice.”

PageRank sculpting consists of “sculpting” the link juice that’s distributed on your site in an optimal way. The objective is that the important pages receive as much PageRank as possible, to the detriment of pages that aren’t beneficial for SEO.

On a static site, it’s possible to achieve an optimized structure, without using advanced techniques such as obfuscation. However, on an ecommerce site, the sorting filters, the faceted filters, the shopping cart, or the customer account pages are all links that Google will eventually find and visit.

This is when link obfuscation becomes appropriate to concentrate the distribution of the SEO juice within your internal linking toward the high-potential pages.

Alternative to the nofollow tag and the robots.txt file

As I mentioned in a previous article on nofollow tags, you should avoid using this tag on your site. It doesn’t optimize your internal linking. On the contrary, it causes a loss of PageRank.

The robots.txt file can also be used to prevent the exploration of certain URLs, but here again, if your various internal links pointing to these blocked URLs are placed in your internal linking, you will cause PageRank losses.

The best solution to avoid using nofollow or robots.txt when you want to link to pages that are not beneficial for SEO is therefore obfuscation. With this technique, there’s no risk of losing PageRank!

Reduce links in the internal linkage of pages that aren’t beneficial for SEO

All pages related to legal information, terms and conditions, order tracking, customer accounts, or the shopping cart are integral parts of an ecommerce site but are often of no interest for SEO.

These links in your internal linking monopolize part of your PageRank to the benefit of your business pages.

URL obfuscation will allow you to hide these links for search engines, while leaving them visible for internet users.

Optimize crawl budget

Search engines like Google allocate a certain amount of time to each website. This is called the crawl budget.

During this crawl time, it’s important to show robots the relevant pages of your site so that they focus on them.

When visiting an ecommerce site with a large catalog with many faceted filters, the number of URLs that aren’t relevant to crawl can become very large. If all these URLs are accessible to the bots, you can end up with a majority of crawls on pages with very little added value.

The use of URL obfuscation allows you to optimize your crawl budget to the maximum in order to direct the bots towards interesting pages and resources.

Information on the crawl budget: This is a concept that concerns large websites with several tens of thousands of URLs. To learn more: Crawl budget management.

Improve your topic clusters and silo structures

Obfuscation can also be used to make your topic clusters or silo structures more efficient.

The principle of these structures is based on a relevant linking between the different pages of the same theme. However, it can happen that some navigation links or outgoing links make these parts of the site less hermetic.

Obfuscation can therefore be added to these pages to reduce the number of navigational links as much as possible and reinforce the linking.

The end result of these different use cases is that your internal linking will be considerably reinforced.

By reducing the links to the pages that aren’t beneficial for SEO as much as possible  and by guiding the robots on the pages with high potential, you’ll increase your chances to be better positioned on search engines.

This improvement in ranking will logically translate into an increase in your traffic and your revenue!

URL obfuscation on WiziShop

As you might expect, I’m talking about URL obfuscation because we just unveiled new features for our e-merchants!

We are the first SaaS ecommerce solution to offer these features, natively.

Our obfuscation features use the traditional method of javascript and base64 encoding.

Feature #1: Link obfuscation

Within our SEO dashboard, you can find the “link obfuscation” feature:

Here’s a presentation of the different options available to you:

admin link obfuscation
  • Visibility of links to the shopping cart and customer account

This option allows you to hide all links to the shopping cart and customer account on all pages of your site.

On our stores, these links are present in the header and in the customer account login popup.

shopping cart account links
account links
  • Visibility of links to social networks

This option allows you to hide all the links in the footer that point to your social networks.

social network links

We’ve also added an additional option to make these links available only on the homepage. The goal is that you can still show Google that you have social networks.

  • Visibility of the link to the “reviews” page

On WiziShop, when you get ratings and reviews on your online store, a link is automatically added in the footer of your store, to the reviews page.

This option allows you to hide the link on all pages or on all pages except the homepage.

store reviews link
  • Visibility of links in column 2 of the footer

Finally, one of the most appreciated options is the possibility to hide the links present in column 2 of the footer.

As for the other options, we also give you the possibility to make the pages visible only on the home page. The interest is that the search engine can still identify your different links to your mandatory pages.

column 2 footer links

You can therefore hide the different links that point to your general terms and conditions, legal notice, contact us, etc. You can define the pages that are displayed in column 2 of the footer directly in your page creation interface.

column 2 choice

Be careful when activating this option: if you have important links in your column 2, they’ll no longer be visible to the robots. So take the time to check that your column 2 only contains links that you want to hide.

If you’re wondering why there’s no option to hide faceted filters, I remind you that by default they are managed via a <button onclick> tag. So search engines cannot read these links.

You can find more details in our complete article that presents our SEO optimizations for ecommerce SEO.

Please note: Obfuscation isn’t compatible with the AMP format. If your store has activated AMP, you won’t be able to hide your links. You’ll have to disable this format to use these new features.

Feature #2: WiziBlock obfuscation

The second feature related to obfuscation allows you to hide the links you add, directly within the WiziBlocks with a text area.

As a reminder, our WiziBlocks are drag-and-drop layout elements that allow you to create pages with a unique design.

We’ve therefore added, within the text editor, a function to obfuscate the links of your choice, present in your content.

wiziblock link obfuscation

These different features show once again our willingness to offer you advanced SEO tools. Just like for log analysis, we’re the only SaaS ecommerce solution in the world today to integrate these features natively.

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