The importance of file-naming convention in web publishing

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There are as many file-naming conventions in the world as there are people naming files. In the age of content management systems, collaboration and search, it is important to have a convention and use it consistently.

Why bother?

Investing the scant time it takes to develop a file naming convention will save countless hours later on. A consistent and relevant file naming convention will reduce frustration, increase accessibility, and create a better user experience.

  • Are you publishing content to your website? Finding files to retire, edit, or move becomes an easy task and not a file-by-file review nightmare.
  • Do you provide PDF or audio files for upload? A user can easily sort and find your files on her computer if your naming convention is relevant and consistent.

Here are three things to consider when developing your file-naming convention:

Name files so everyone understands

Your file names should be relevant to its content but also to the final user—your website’s visitor, your copywriter, your programmer. It should also be uniquely distinguishable from similar files including other versions of itself.

Determine important elements of a file name

File names can be made up of multiple components, each element providing increasingly granular detail. Decide what the most important pieces of information are about any file you create and put them in order of importance.

For file downloads

Examples: company name, subject, date, and file extension.

09-Nov_lowres.PDF Company-Name-Newsletter-2009-09.pdf
global innov.mp3 Company-Name-Global-Innovation.mp3

For content images

Examples: graphic type, website section or page, subject, date of creation/modification, version number, and file extension.

logo1.gif logo-banner.gif
logo2.gif logo-content-200x120.gif
IMG_3643.JPG photo-rochester-event-01.jpg
pie.jpg graph-fund-allocations.jpg

String it all together with no special characters or spaces

Long file names can sometimes be truncated depending on what kind of computer operating system or server the file resides on or is accessed by. Whenever possible, abbreviate with the goal of keeping the file name under 25 characters. Never use special characters or spaces for files hosted on a web server. Separate elements with an underscore or an hyphen. (Hyphens are typically better for usability.)

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