Sometimes the basic parts of a website can be overlooked. However, those fundamentals can carry great weight when it comes to SEO impact. One good example is URL structure.
URL structure, like every other aspect of a website, has a set of best practices that should be adhered in order to maximize your optimization. Granted, URL structure is not something that should be at the top of your priority list, as compared with other aspects of SEO, but it is worth your extra time. Although well-formatted URLs are not going to propel or sink your search result rankings to an extensive degree, they do contribute to your overall SEO profile. And in the ongoing, hyper-competitive online world, why not do everything you can to influence the results?
There are a lot of great practices to follow when it comes to configuring your URL structure. Let’s have a look at five of the most important factors.
#1 Match URLs To Page Titles (But Not Always Exactly)
The reason for this is simple. For both the users and the search engines, we want our URLs to be excellent representations of what’s on the page. Just like with title tags, we want the listing that shows up in the search results to accurately explain that part of the website, thus meeting the expectations of the person who clicks on it and appeasing the search engines that consider this type of consistency an important factor. So if a dermatologist has a webpage on acne treatment, the URL could look something like this:
However, this does not mean that your URLs always need to be word-for-word matches to your page titles. For example, if that dermatologist had a blog called: “The Stinky Summer Origins of Athlete’s Foot Problems,” you wouldn’t want to use the whole name in the URL. That would be too long. In this case you could shorten it to something like:
Like this, your URL is still accurately representing that page of content, but it is doing it in a more digestible way.
#2 Use Keywords
Keywords are a good idea everywhere—from content to alt tags to meta descriptions. They are the heart of SEO, so when it comes to your website it’s wise to put a little heart into everything you do. In URL structure specifically, keywords matter because they tell people what to expect on that page. This is the case if:
- Someone hovers over a link to your site and the full URL comes up.
- A link doesn’t have anchor text and relies solely on the URL for its display.
- A person is unsure about your site listing in the search result pages based on the title tag and meta description, and thus may defer to your URL for more information when deciding to click on your result or not.
#3 Make Them “Human-Friendly”
While search engines and searchers scan the web for very different reasons, they often experience material in the same way. What I mean is that search engines like Google share many of the same values that users hold when judging a site. Things like accessibility, accuracy, readability, and easily understood information matter just as surely to one group as they do to the other. If your URL meets those qualifications, people are more likely to click on (engage with) your link, and search engines are more likely to attribute quality to your site as well.
#4 Simplify The Journey
When it comes to URLs, you want to make sure that you are not making your user jump through too many hoops to reach their destination. Limit the number of redirects your link leads to (no more than two). A lengthy URL redirecting string slows down browsers and users and could stifle your success with both. If the redirecting goes on too long a search engine might not even continue to follow it and, thus, may not fully count the ranking factors of the various contributing URLs. Furthermore, don’t use too many folders. They won’t harm performance necessarily, but when you have something like this:
It can overwhelm users and confuse search engines with a false representation of the site’s depth. So, while there is no official rule for how many folders you should utilize, employ your best judgment to make sure the URL doesn’t look so complex.
#5 Follow The Formatting Golden Rules
There are some very specific formatting rules that search engines favor when it comes to URL structure. Those are:
Use Hyphens, Not Underscores, As Word Separators
Follow A Clear Page Hierarchy
In the previous example, “services” came first as a menu tab and the “skin cancer treatment” page came after it.
Be Careful With Word Case Sensitivity
Incorrect use of word case in your URLs can lead to serious canonicalization issues, diluting your SEO presence.
Punctuation characters might cause problems for certain browsers and crawlers where analyzing is concerned.
If you’ve ever seen any competitive show on the Food Network, you know that judges value the content of a dish and its presentation. It doesn’t matter if you’ve made the most delicious dessert in the world; if it looks like poop, people aren’t going to experience it the same way. Applying that idea to URL structure, you want to make sure your site content is good, but you also want to ensure that the URL representing it (which serves as its face to the web as much as title tags and meta descriptions) looks good as well. So, follow these five key points of advice, and in general always try to create URLs that are clear in meaning and provide accurate depictions of your site.