SEO

What Is a URL?

URLs are the unique addresses of each web page online. You can see the URL for this blog post in the address bar at the top of the page.

url-structure

The HTTP/HTTPS protocol was recently announced as a small ranking factor by Google. Keyword heavy domain names used to be a major ranking factor, but in recent years, this has seemingly become less of an issue in Google’s ranking algorithm.

Sub-domains are used to segment websites and are best used for international website structures, or to separate private areas from public areas of a website.

URLs can be edited with the use of subdirectories and file names, which come after the domain name. In the image above, the page path is “/2015/developing-website-taxonomy-benefit-seo/“.

 

Creating SEO Friendly URLs

Amongst other things, search engines look at the keywords contained within URLs to assess what each page on your site is about. The more relevant each page is to the user’s search query, the higher search engines will rank it within organic results.

Whilst URLs aren’t the biggest ranking factor used by search engines, optimised URLs can only help your rankings.

To create the most SEO friendly URL, you need to be as descriptive as possible about the web page’s content. It’s also very important to separate words with hyphens, as opposed to underscores, as underscores are used to bind two words together.

SEO Friendly URL Examples:

  • http://www.example.com/about-us.html
  • http://www.example.com/blog/top-ten-jokes-2015
  • http://www.example.com/lamps/table-lamps
  • http://www.example.com/news/2014/
  • http://www.example.com/forum/where-can-i-find-good-cheeses.php

Just by looking at the URL examples above, you can tell what type of web page to expect without even clicking through. You can eliminate small words like “i”, “and”, “the”, etc. to shorten the URL without losing the main descriptive keywords.

File extensions such as “.html”, “.php”, etc. can be included or excluded for web pages without any impact on SEO, but you may wish to remove them to shorten the URL and make things look a little neater.

Non-SEO Friendly URL examples:

  • http://www.example.com/page?id=876
  • http://www.example.com/blog/03-mar-2015
  • http://www.example.com/products/SKU32543
  • http://www.example.com/n/2014/
  • http://www.example.com/forum/showthread.php=4343_434

Non-friendly URLs may contain parameters or ID numbers that make no sense to anyone, least of all search engines. Content management systems usually have an option to change URLs from this structure to a more readable one.

 

Creating URLs for Usability

The URL structure is important for usability in a few different ways:

Using the URL to see your Current Website Position

The URL gives the visitor a clear idea of where they are currently positioned within a website’s taxonomy:

  • This is a main web page, as it’s not contained within a subdirectory – http://www.example.com/about-us.html
  • This is a post within a blog – http://www.example.com/blog/top-ten-jokes-2015
  • This is a sub-category page within a main category – http://www.example.com/lamps/table-lamps
  • This is news articles from 2014 – http://www.example.com/news/2014/
  • This is a forum topic thread – http://www.example.com/forum/where-can-i-find-good-cheeses.php

The visitor may edit the URL in the address bar to skip to a higher level URL. For example, a visitor on the web page “http://www.example.com/lamps/table-lamps” may decide to skip back to “http://www.example.com/lamps/”. They can easily achieve this through deleting part of the URL.

Using Parameter URLs to Narrow Down Results

On many ecommerce websites, filters can be used to narrow down results, resulting in parameter URLs. These may sort products by price, colour, size, rating, or sub-category. In any case, they can prove very useful for online shoppers to find exactly what they want.

When the user views the URL in the address bar, the parameters can be used to clearly describe what has been sorted or filtered out:

  • This is a parameter to filter out red dresses – http://www.example.com/dresses.html?filter=red
  • This is a parameter to sort used cars by descending price – http://www.example.com/used-cars?sort=descending
  • This is a parameter to filter outdoor tents with free delivery – http://www.example.com/tents/outdoor-tents?delivery=free

Adding Category Structures Within Search Engine Rich Snippets

If search engines recognise the category structure of a website, then they may show a much more useful version of the URL within their rich snippet results. This gives the searcher a very clear idea of where the page lies within a structure of a website. On Bing, they can directly jump to a higher level category page straight from the results:

Bing shows a clickable category structure within their results

Bing shows a clickable category structure within their results

Google shows a non-clickable category structure within their results currently

Google shows a non-clickable category structure within their results currently

URLs without a recognisable category structure are shown as normal

URLs without a recognisable category structure are shown as normal

Creating URLs to Increase Click Through Rates

The internet is a scary place for many people, with horror stories about privacy, security, and online scams regularly appearing in the news. URLs can put people off from clicking simply through featuring certain words associated with spam.

Spammy or Malicious Looking URL Examples:

  • http://www.example.com/make-money-online
  • http://www.example.com/run_me.exe
  • http://www.example.com/download?file=38348
  • http://www.example.com/xxx
  • http://www.example.com/SYSTEM-ERROR-404

To make URLs appear less spammy and more user friendly, it’s also best to avoid capital letters, uncommon file extensions, underscores, and any other special characters.

The length of the URL can also be an issue, especially when the URL is shared on forums, emails, and social media channels. Longer URLs tend to be trusted less, and may also become an issue when character space is limited. When it comes to social media, you may want to use a quirky URL, or perhaps use a free or custom URL shortener to make your link more appealing.

Spaces within URLs can cause major issues when shared on websites that turn text into links automatically. The automatic link generation process will miss out the spaces and chop the link’s URL off at the first space used, rendering the link useless. So unless the spaces are swapped with the “%20” character code, avoid using spaces in your URLs.

 

Conclusion

Whether they appear in search results or as links, URLs can act as a user’s first impression of a website. Get it wrong, and you might be deterring visitors before they’ve even had a chance to read your content. On top of that, the correct URL structure can help with SEO, CTR, and usability – so even if they’re only a minor ranking factor, it’s vital that you get them right.

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