First impressions count.
And when it comes to your website, your URLs are often the first thing Google and customers will see. They are also the building blocks of an effective site hierarchy, passing equity through your domain and directing users to their desired destinations.
They can be tricky to correct if you don’t plan ahead, as you can end up with endless redirect loops. Neither Google nor your site visitors will appreciate those.
So they are worth getting right. But getting URL structure right involves a complex blend of usability and accessibility factors, along with some good old-fashioned SEO.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach, there are some rules we can all follow to get the most out of our URLs and set our sites up for future SEO success.
#1. Use Your Keywords
Every time you launch a page on your domain, it should have a purpose. Whether transactional, informational, or administrative, its reason for existence should be clear at the outset.
You’ll want this page to be discovered by the right people (and crawlers), so you will incorporate some keyword research and include the relevant terms. The most descriptive of these — the term that gets to the nub of what this page is about — should be included in the URL, close to the root domain.
We’ll deal with multiple pages that broadly tackle the same topic later, but for now, let’s assume the simple example of a page that clearly handles one topic. Let’s go for whiskey.
#2: Whenever possible, use a single domain & subdomain
It’s hard to argue this given the preponderance of evidence and examples of folks moving their content from a subdomain to subfolder and seeing improved results (or, worse, moving content to a subdomain and losing traffic). Whatever heuristics the engines use to judge whether content should inherit the ranking ability of its parent domain seem to have trouble consistently passing to subdomains.
That’s not to say it can’t work, and if a subdomain is the only way you can set up a blog or produce the content you need, then it’s better than nothing. But your blog is far more likely to perform well in the rankings and to help the rest of your site’s content perform well if it’s all together in one sub and root domain.
#3: Making It Short, Sweet, and Simple
Short URL vs. Long URL.
It has always been a matter of debate. Let’s clear this issue once and for all.
Search engines do not particularly have any problem with processing longer URLs. So, in other words, the length of a post’s URL doesn’t directly affect its search engine rankings. However, the problem is about user-experience and usability.
Shorter URLs are usually preferred by users as they are easier to parse, copy, paste, or remember. Moreover, because of the limitations social media websites like Twitter has, shorter URLs are a lot easier to share across the social media networks.
Generally speaking, if the URL of your blog post is under 50 characters, you do not have to worry about it. However, if it is exceeding, says, 100 characters, then you might want to rewrite it and make it more user-friendly.
Note: The URLs of articles ranked on Google’s #1 page contain an average of 37 characters.
Apart from that, there is also an issue of including categories and subcategories in the URL structure. Most of you might know this as including “folders” in the URL of a post.
It looks something like that.
#4.Minimize Dynamic URL Strings
This one can be harder than it sounds, depending on the content management system you use. Some e-commerce platforms will automatically spit out character strings that leave you with URLs like:
These are a bit unsightly and they also go against the rules we’ve been outlining above. We want static URLs that include a logical folder structure and descriptive keywords.
Although search engines have no problem crawling or indexing either variant, for SEO-based reasons it’s better to use static URLs rather than dynamic ones. The thing is, static URLs contain your keywords and are more user-friendly since one can figure out what the page is about just by looking at the static URL’s name.
So how do we get around this? You can use rewrite rules if your web server runs Apache and some tools like this one from Generate It is helpful. There are different fixes for different platforms (some more complex than others).
Some web developers make use of relative URLs, too. The problem with relative URLs for SEO is that they are dependent on the context in which they occur. Once the context changes, the URL may not work. For SEO, it’s better to use absolute URLs instead of relative ones, since the former is what search engines prefer.
Now, sometimes different parameters can be added to the URL for analytics tracking or other reasons (such as sid, utm, etc.) To make sure that these parameters don’t make the number of URLs with duplicate content grow over the top, you can do either of the following:
- Ask Google to disregard certain URL parameters in Google Webmaster Tools in Configuration > URL Parameters.
- See if your content management system allows you to solidify URLs with additional parameters with their shorter counterparts.
#5: Including stop, words isn’t necessary
If your title/headline includes stopping words (and, or, but, of, the, a, etc.), it’s not critical to putting them in the URL. You don’t have to leave them out, either, but it can sometimes help to make a URL shorter and more readable in some sharing contexts. Use your best judgment on whether to include or not based on the readability vs. length.
You can see in the URL of this particular post you’re now reading, for example, that I’ve chosen to leave in “for” because I think it’s easier to read with the stop word than without, and it doesn’t extend the URL length too far.
#6.Create an XML Sitemap
Once you’ve ticked off all of the above, you’ll want to make sure search engines know what’s going on with your website. That’s where sitemaps come in handy — particularly XML sitemaps.
An XML Sitemap is not to be confused with the HTML sitemap. The former is for the search engines, while the latter is mostly designed for human users (although it has other uses t00).
So what is an XML Sitemap? In plain words, it’s a list of your site’s URLs that you submit to the search engines. This serves two purposes:
- This helps search engines find your site’s pages more easily.
- Search engines can use the sitemap as a reference when choosing canonical URLs on your site.
Picking a preferred (canonical) URL becomes necessary when search engines see duplicate pages on your site, as we saw above.
So, as they don’t want any duplicates in the search results, search engines use a special algorithm to identify duplicate pages and pick just one URL to represent the group in the search results. Other web pages just get filtered out.
Now, back to sitemaps. One of the criteria search engines may use to pick a canonical URL for the group of web pages is whether this URL is mentioned on the website’s sitemap.
So, what web pages should be included in your sitemap? For purely SEO reasons, it’s recommended to include only the web pages you’d like to show up in the search. You should include a more comprehensive account of your site’s URLs within the HTML sitemap.
While many factors should be considered, here are eight best practices for creating SEO-friendly URLs.
Describe your Content. …
Include Keywords in URLs. …
Use Hyphens to Separate Words. …
Use Lowercase Letters in URLs. …
Keep URLs Short. …
Use Static URLs. …
Be Careful with Subdomains. …
Limit Folders in URL Structure.