Structuring URLs correctly can help improve the search engine rankings for your website; and when you rank higher, you end up attracting more visitors, building more authority in your industry, and increasing sales.
For two decades our web design and SEO experts have been crafting beautiful, SEO-friendly websites. As such, we’ve picked up some SEO best practices along the way to help websites rank better.
In this article, we’ll be looking at one of the lesser-known SEO secrets: URL structure for SEO. Below, we’ll cover what URL structure is, why it matters, and how to improve your URLs for better SEO.
What Is URL Structure for SEO?
A URL (or uniform resource locator) is simply an address on the internet.
Typically, we make up website URLs as follows: Protocol + Domain Name + Top-level Domain + Slug.
For example, our blog post URL structure is: https://parachutedesign.ca/blog/post-name/
In this case, the protocol is HTTPS. This protocol states how your internet browser gets the information from a website. The “S” stands for secure version, but more on that later.
The domain name is “Parachute Design”. This is the root domain, and it can even have several subdomains if necessary.
Our top-level domain is “.ca” You’ll find that there are plenty of different top-level domains available and choosing the correct one for your business and geographic location will also play a significant role in optimizing your URL structure for better search engine ranking.
Most often, the top-level domain indicates what type of website it is. For instance, the familiar “.com” refers to a company website. In contrast, “.org” indicates an organization, while a “.gov” means a government website.
Sometimes, the top-level domain can also indicate a country or location. Our top-level domain, .ca, is short for Canada as we are a Canadian web design company.
The final part of the URL structure is the slug or path. This part will change according to where you are on a website and what specific page you’re viewing.
In our example, the slug is “blog”. This slug gives visitors an idea of where they are on our website. It also helps web admins to organize their website content logically.
Now, why does URL format matter? And how can URL structure improve search rankings?
Why Do URLs Matter For Search Engine Optimization?
Besides keeping your website organized, proper URL structure significantly impacts where you end up on search engine results pages (SERPs). In fact, there are two significant ways that a web address affects your website:
Improve User Experience
A fantastic user experience is a significant ranking factor according to Google’s Page Experience algorythm. As such, it should be a very important part of your SEO efforts.
A well-organized URL string can keep content across your website organized and easier to navigate. When you make it easy for people to navigate your website, you improve the user experience. In turn, you will end up higher on the search results pages.
For instance, if you have a page about site audits, an organized URL like https://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/site-audits/ is much better than a complex one like http://en.siteaudits.net/index.php?id=wca-4708&clcp25sap.
The simpler URL tells a user exactly what to expect to find on a web page. Consequently, simple URLs are often similar to a page title.
Improve Google PageRank
A good default URL structure improves a visitor’s experience with your website and it’s also an essential ranking factor in Google. A well-structured URL tells Google what the different pages on your website are and what each page is about.
Savvy web admins also use internal links (links to other pages within your site) to help Google’s crawlers index every page on your website from the home page to the most obscure content level pages.
So, an optimized URL will improve your Google PageRank (PR).
PageRank is an indication of a web page and its relevance to a search query. The higher the PageRank is, the higher your web page will appear in the SERPs.
If you want to improve your website and rank higher, you need to structure your URLs properly for SEO by performing keyword research and following best practices to create easily readable URLs.
12 Tips For Structuring URLs For SEO
Luckily, tweaking and optimizing your URL parameters isn’t a complicated process. Some minor improvements can dramatically impact how well your page ranks in search engines.
1. Create A Logical URL Structure
Descriptive URLs that use semantic structure to provide an intuitive path that users and search engines can easily understand are paramount. SEO-friendly URLs are logical, memorable URLs.
A well-crafted URL is also a shorter URL that provides the right ranking signals to search engines. Once you’ve logically structured your URLs, it’s easier to include high-value keywords to improve your page rankings.
2. Add Meaningful Keywords
The next step in creating a canonical URL structure is to add 1 or 2 target keywords in the URL. A target keyword is a word or phrase that tells Google what the page is about and where the page should show up in a search result.
Use one keyword or one long-tail keyword in your URL only. This keyword or keyphrase should also be used in the title of the page as it should indicate the topic of the page content to send clear signals to search engines to determine their ranking.
Avoid stuffing your URLs with multiple keywords. Doing so can come across as spam and Google may penalize you for it. This can also cause something known as keyword cannibalization where the keywords compete against one another on the same page.
3. Use Hyphens To Separate Words
Unfortunately, a URL can’t have spaces. So, to add spaces between keywords and words, you should use hyphens. Never use an underscore. Most people find underscores challenging to spot, leading to a poor user experience with fewer people getting to the desired pages where you want them to be.
Adding hyphens to your URL is also one of the best SEO practices since it tells Google and other search engine bots where the breaks are between words.
For example, look at how hyphens can improve the user experience in the following URL:
The second one is much easier to read, right?
4. Eliminate Stop Words
For the best URL structure, you should avoid using stop words. Stop words are:
- the, and, or, of, a, an, to, for, etc.
Stop words don’t add any value to your URL. They will make it more difficult to remember and increase URL length and making it more complicated.
5. Avoid All Caps
Plenty of web developers think that making your URL all caps is acceptable. However, URLs are all case-sensitive.
URL structure best practice requires the use of lowercase letters as most people type in lowercase when searching for information online.
6. Use Words, Not Numbers
Many small business owners with retail-based websites, or even content-heavy blogs, use URLs with numbers. To improve your SEO and better structure your URLs, use labels and words to tell search engines what the page is about.
For instance, instead of domain.com/12/cat345/, you can use domain.com/brand/product-name. It reads better and creates logical navigation that users and search engines can quickly understand and remember. It also helps group similar content into a relevant category page that can help with user experience and site indexing at the same time.
7. Remove Dates
If you’re using a content management system (CMS), such as WordPress, you may have noticed that in some post types the CMS includes archival dates in the URL structure.
Unless you’re running a media outlet, it’s best to modify the permalink settings in the CMS to remove the dates from the URL structure. Not only do dates in the URL make it long and complicated, but they age your content and make it become outdated.
In other words, if a search engine sees that your article was written in 2002, it will rank it lower than a more recent article.
8. Hide The “www” Prefix
Nowadays, you don’t need to include the “www” prefix. Years ago, it simply meant that you were browsing an online website and not a site located on an internal network.
If you do include the “www” prefix, your site will often appear outdated, and the URL will be longer and more complicated than it needs to be.
Recently, Google’s popular Chrome browser started hiding the “www” and even the “https://” sections in its address bar. Since this information isn’t critical, it cleans the address bar to display a better-looking, more memorable URL.
So, hide that www prefix to simplify your URL structure and present a cleaner and better-optimized URL structure. The www version of your site should be redirected to the primary domain to avoid any duplicate content issues as Google and other search engines see the www and non-www version as two separate websites.
Removing the www will also help you build short URLs and reserve as much space as possible for high value keywords.
9. Use HTTPS
There are two protocols available online. The first is called HTTP and the second option is a secure version known as HTTPS.
HTTPS is superior because it offers an additional layer of security that encrypts any communication between an internet browser and a website. So, even if hackers manage to intercept that communication, they won’t be able to read it.
Today, HTTPS makes your website more credible. Users trust HTTPS sites and feel more secure using them for online shopping or simply storing their valuable data.
Google looks at your URL and will rank your site higher if it finds that it uses HTTPS and not HTTP.
Remember how Google’s Chrome browser hides the HTTPS protocol? It replaces it with a padlock icon in the URL bar. If this icon is visible, it means that there’s a secure connection between the browser and the webpage.
10. Be Consistent
The best web designers are consistent and conventional. They will use the same naming conventions and logic to structure all of the URLs on a website from the home page to the site map.
By being consistent, they ensure that users can easily navigate through content. It also makes a URL easier to understand and a website future-proof.
11. Check CMS Settings
Most CMS protocols, such as the one found in WordPress, can often create additional folders. You may have seen it with the words “categories” or “products” in the URL.
Since neither carries any value nor really indicates to a visitor what to expect from a web page, it’s a lost opportunity to improve the user experience and your website’s PageRank score.
It’s best practice is to avoid these default CMS settings and create logical categories, post types, and folders that have value for users and search engines to build strong URLs off the root domain and maximize each page’s ranking factor.
12. Test Your URLs
If you want to avoid hurting your SEO score, it’s essential to check and test every URL on your site with a spider tool or even a plugin within your CMS. Broken or dead URLs can negatively affect your web pages, making you lose essential PageRank points on all affected URLs.
Try to update or redirect any dead links to the destination page. A neat and tidy redirect strategy can work wonders for improving your site’s technical SEO score.
How To Create SEO-friendly URL Structures?
Now that we’ve worked through some of the best practices to improve your URL structure, here is a quick checklist to help improve your website’s URLs.
Every SEO-friendly URL should:
- be short and concise
- use lowercase letters only and avoid keyword stuffing
- accurately convey the web page’s content with relevant keywords
- be easy to remember
- use a maximum of two keywords
- be logical and make navigation easy
- use your best judgment to choose the right URL.
Ultimately, a poorly structured URL is an indication of lazy web development. By following our advice and taking the URL structure matter seriously, you’ll be on the path to achieving SEO success while your pages begin to rank higher on the SERPs!
URL structure matters. Good URL structure is an important SEO practice that is often overlooked. However, it can significantly affect your website rankings across all search engines and is fundamental to your online success.
Following a good URL structure for SEO can improve your website’s visibility and help attract more visitors to your site. Remember, you want to create shorter URLs using the best keywords that clearly indicate the subject matter of your pages.