The structure of domain names as well as URLs can be considered one of the cornerstones of SEO best practice. While this won’t apply to necessarily every page that you make on your website, it will have an overall effect that should definitely be focused on.
So for example, it’s not true that Google won’t rank your site well if you don’t follow every last point on this list, but these serve as a good starting point for taking advantage of some of the best practices in structuring URLs for SEO. So let’s get started and take a look at some off these practices so that you can take advantage of all that SEO has to offer.
1) If possible, use a single domain and subdomain.
There’s plenty of evidence of people moving over their content from a subdomain to a subfolder and then seeing better results when it comes to their traffic. This is because whatever system the search engines use to figure out whether that content will gain the ranking ability of the original parent domain has some trouble passing on to subdomains.
Keep in mind of course that this doesn’t mean that you can’t make it work, only that your blog and overall site is much more likely to perform well if everything is all together on one sub domain, one root domain. This is something that you can see with companies like Links Web Design.
2) The more readable the whole thing is, the better.
It’s pretty natural to assume that the more a URL is readable overall, the better it will show up in search engines. And if you assumed this, you’d be correct. Accessibility has always been a big factor in SEO, but it’s especially crucial now that engines can actually leverage their usage data and advanced user signals to figure out what people are engaging with versus what they aren’t engaging with. Again, your URL doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect for this to help you out, but it’s at least a point to consider when building your webpage.
3) Keywords in URLs are helpful.
Using keywords that you’re targeting for rankings within your URLs is definitely a good idea. And really, there are a few reasons for this. One reason is that keywords in the URL will help people to know what they’re clicking on before they click on it, for example if they hover their mouse over the link before clicking it.
Another reason is that it’s pretty common for URLs to get copied over to pages, and when there’s no anchor text to use, the URLs themselves will serve as that anchor. And as you can imagine, if you have a URL with good keywords in it, this will increase overall traffic. The last reason for this is one that you might have already figured by now: URLs show up in search results, so having appealing keywords is definitely the way to go here.
4) If you have multiple URLs that are all serving the same content, you should canonicalize them.
If you have two separate URLs that essentially serve the same content, you should canonicalize them, using either a 301 redirect (assuming that there isn’t a reason to keep the duplicate) or use what’s known as a “rel=canonical” if you want to keep versions that are a little bit different for some visitors you might have, like if you wanted a printer-friendly version of your page.
Duplicate content doesn’t really penalize you (when you’re copying your own content) when it comes to search engines, but it can definitely split your ranking signals and eventually harm your potential for greater search traffic. So basically, if you have an initial page that has the potential for ranking ability and a second page has an overall similar quantity of ranking potential, you can canonicalize them and then give your first page a better chance to rank high in search results and earn more visits overall.
5) Get rid of dynamic parameters whenever you can.
Put simply, if you can avoid URL parameters, you should definitely do so. So if you had a URL that ended with something like “teaser&id=44,” you’d definitely want to clean that up, as it isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing of tags for you to use in your URL. Instead, you should rewrite these parameters as more static and readable text.
There are many CMS platforms out there that you can use to take advantage of this fact, things like ISAPI rewrite, MS’ URL Rewrite Module, and mod_rewrite. It’s important to note that there are some dynamic parameters that are used for tracking overall clicks on a page, and while these don’t cause a big problem, they do lead to awkward and unappealing URLs. As always, only you can decide whether the benefits of using tracking parameters will outweigh the negatives for you.
6) Shorter URLs are better than longer ones.
In general, shorter URLs are going to be preferred as opposed to longer ones. Now again, you don’t have to worry too much about this one. If your URL is between fifty and sixty characters, you’re generally fine overall. On the other hand, if your URL is greater than a hundred characters, you can probably stand to rewrite this and then gain more value.
Now this doesn’t tend to be a problem with the bigger search engines out there, like Google or Bing. That’s because these engines can process some of the longer URLs without much in the way of trouble. The real issue is when it comes to user experience and overall usability.
When you think about it, shorter URLs are easier to parse out, copy and paste, share over social media, and embed. Now while this might only be a small improvement in either sharing or amplifying your content, every little bit definitely helps in the long run. And if you pair this strategy with some of the ones that we’ve spoken about earlier or others that we’ve yet to talk about, it’ll be far more likely for you to gain a steady readership and even attract people who might not have otherwise clicked on your links.
7) Match your URLs to titles whenever it makes sense.
Again, you don’t have to do this in every single case, but matching your URL to the title will give your readership a pretty good idea of what they can expect by clicking on the link, which will be reinforced by reading the title once they do click on it and seeing that they were correct. On this note, you should also keep the page title and the visible headline that’s on the page as a pretty close match, as the title will create an expectation in the minds of your readers that the headline will then go ahead and deliver on.
8) Including stop words isn’t completely necessary.
If your title has stop words, otherwise known as the, but, of, and, and others, it isn’t absolutely crucial that you put them in the actual URLs. You don’t have to totally leave them out either, but this can help to make a URL shorter, and thus more readable in the long run. Again, only you can decide what’s best for your page when it comes to including stop words or not in your URLs. It can’t hurt to at least look at some of these instances in your URLs to get an idea for what tends to work the best for you and what doesn’t.
9) Try to get a hold on any unwieldy punctuation characters you might have.
You want to make your URL as readable as possible, and one of the ways you’re going to do this is by limiting punctuation characters that don’t show up well in URLs. Believe it or not, not only can some of these characters lead to poor readability overall, but they can also potentially break some browsers in the process, which you can be sure will turn your readers off from the material you’re providing for them. If your customers can’t access the material the first go around with one browser, it’s highly unlikely that they’re going to bother opening up this site in another browser afterwards.
10) You’ll want to limit your redirection hops to two or less.
It’s good if your first page redirects to a second page. It’s technically okay if that second page then redirects to a third page, but it’s technically better if the first page just redirects to the third page directly. The thing you really need to look out for is if your URL redirect string goes past two hops, as this will start to get you into some trouble.
In general, search engines are going to follow that longer sort of redirect jump, but they do tend to recommend against the practice on the whole. Along with this, for URLs that are considered to be less important, they might not completely count these ranking signals. The bigger problem really, though, is users and browsers, both of which are slowed down by some of the longer redirect strings that there are. As a result, you’ll want to keep your redirects to a minimum to avoid any potential problems.
11) The less folders you use the better.
When it comes to URLs, folders generally appear as slashes. It’s best if you have less of these slashes (and folders) since these can lead to performance issues for people who are visiting your site. Use your best judgment on this one, as in all the rest of the points we’ve made so far. If you need to break your page into more folders, that’s technically okay, but keep in mind that it can have some negative repercussions in the long run.
12) Try not to use hashes in your URLs that will create unique or separate content.
Hashes have always been a good way to send your visitors to a location on a page, and they can also be used like tracking parameters as well. However, it’s a bad idea to use your URL hashes for something different like showing some unique content that’s different than what you have there on the page without the hash, or else a totally separate page.
There are of course exceptions to this, like the ones that Google enables for developers, but these actually aren’t as clean or friendly to visitors from an SEO perspective as URLS that were rewritten in a static way. Considering that behemoth sites like Twitter and Amazon have used this strategy to simplify their URLs, it’s important to realize that you can do exactly the same thing to better structure your URL.
13) Keep an eye on case sensitivity when it comes to structuring your URLs.
If you’re using either IIS or Microsoft servers, you’re generally okay when it comes to case sensitivity in your URLs. The only thing is that UNIX and Linux servers can present different cases, so even URLs that have the same letters but with slight difference in case sensitivity can lead to totally different sites. It would obviously be ideal if URLs that had the wrong case automatically redirected to the right one, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case.
To that end, there are actually entire rewrite protocols in place that will help you with this exact problem. Try taking advantage of one of these resources and see if it doesn’t help you to work out what you can do to maximize readership as well as engagement in whatever it is that you’re trying to promote.
14) Hyphens and underscores are best for separating words from each other.
Now it was the case in the past that things like underscores caused significant problems when it came to structuring URLs. This is much different now, as underscores are actually being treated in a similar way to hyphens. If you want to avoid using either hyphens of underscores, you could potentially use spaces to break up the text in your URLs, but keep in mind that this will appear as “%20” instead of as the space you wanted it to be, so that will definitely impact the overall readability of your site’s URL. Again, there isn’t one way of doing things that will work perfectly for everyone. You’ll have to use your best judgment to decide what will work in your particular case.
15) Using repetition and keyword stuffing in your URLs doesn’t have much of a point and will actually make your site seem like spam.
When a potential reader checks out your URL, as they will tend to do before clicking on it as we mentioned earlier, they’re probably going to be put off if the same words or phrases are repeated. This is because people are all too accustomed to seeing such repetition in spam posts and the like, which will definitely not be putting your best foot forward when it comes to garnering an increased readership.
Instead, try to diversify with what you’re putting into your URL, or perhaps even using sentences or phrases like we’ve talked about in the past. While it might not necessarily be the thing that drives a person over the edge to clicking on your link, it definitely can’t hurt in that regard.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, it will definitely give you a good start towards figuring out just what you need to do to really drive in some of the readership that’s out there on the web. SEO practices are constantly changing, so you’ll also have to be adaptable and ready to react to situations as they arise.
As we repeated throughout the various points used in this article, your individual circumstances are going to ultimately determine what you choose to do, and there isn’t one right decision for you to make. Whether it’s looking at things like considering your case sensitivity, limiting the number of folders that you use, or even cutting your redirect hops down to a minimum, there are plenty of ways that you can get your URLs into top shape and working for you as opposed to putting potential readers off from what you’re trying to put out into the world.
If you take a look into implementing some of these points and even considering some other ones that might be even better for you to explore, that will get you that much closer towards making the right decision for you and surmounting that barrier of readership.
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