Search engines are pretty sophisticated things these days and can handle quite a lot of technical challenges. In fact, there are some people out there who think that fussing around with your URL structure does nothing to help your SEO. I’d disagree (it’s a Domain Authority ranking factor for goodness sake), and so would a lot of other SEO professionals.
As Tom Schmitz states in SearchEngineLand.com:
“Poor URL structure is a frequent SEO issue, one that can impair rankings, keep pages out of the search engine indexes, and suck ranking authority from your other pages or even the entire websites.”
So, with the jury still out, the best practice to take is of course to play it safe and start structuring SEO-friendly URLs if you’re not doing so already – the last thing you want to do is leave this last little detail to chance once you’ve already spent the best part of your day writing the perfect post where content is still king, but your keywords, links and all the rest are right on the money for top notch SEO.
What Exactly Is an SEO-friendly URL?
An SEO-friendly URL is actually rather similar to what you would think a reader-friendly URL would be. On a very basic level, this means that your URL should:
- Contain easy-to-read keywords
- Be straightforward, with no duplicate content
And should not:
- Contain gibberish numbers and symbols.
- Contain an unsightly amount of hyphens or + signs or slashes / or underscores _
Importantly, an SEO-friendly URL should be structured for every single page on your website – not just your homepage. But, of course, that’s where it starts, and so shall we.
This is your web address. For search engines, it is much like a postal address – this is where it will post all of your letters (i.e. web traffic) according to the address on the envelope (i.e. users’ search queries). If you are lucky enough to be able to reside at a keyword rich domain – i.e. one that not only contains your business’s name, but also one or two of the top keywords that are most commonly used in connection with your business – then you’re off to a flying start.
But, if this isn’t possible for you, then no matter. It is of course of utmost importance that your company name is in your domain name – after all, that is what you will hope to be the most important keyword anyway when people are trying to locate your business on the web.
Getting Into It – Best Practices for Creating SEO-Friendly URLs
1. The More Readable the Better – And Get In Those Keywords!!
Readability is one of the most important factors when creating an SEO-friendly URL. Something like this is perfect: http://www.tabletsrus.org/tablets/apple/ipad2
So, at Tablets R Us, they sell apple iPad 2s on their website. “Tablets”, “apple” and “iPad2” are obvious keywords and they’re all there. So, provided that this link directs users to the sales page for that specific item, then that’s a pretty strong URL.
Readability also helps SEO simply because it makes users more likely to click on the link should they come across it in a blog or on Twitter or what have you – and the more click-throughs you get, the more SEO points you receive from Google overall. It also serves as great anchor text if any other blogger wanted to use it as a link.
The main point here is to avoid using relative or dynamic URLs in favour of static ones. A static URL, such as in the example above, is much easier on the eye for one thing, and contains those all-important keywords for another. A dynamic URL is generally indecipherable for your average human user, and will contain fewer keywords. A dynamic version of the one above might look something like this: http://www.tabletsrus/&p=890987
It just doesn’t look very pretty, does it? And the fact that this URL will be displayed in links and on SERPs doesn’t leave the user with a lot of confidence as to where it will lead if clicked on.
2. Keep ‘Em Short And Sweet
Google doesn’t really mind that much about long URLs, but users don’t like them. This, again, harks back to my previous point – long URLs are difficult to read, and they are also slightly more inconvenient to copy and paste, and of course if they’re really long then they won’t fit into Twitter without you having to use something like the Google URL Shortener.
3. Make Sure To Match Your URLs to Page Titles
Again, this is much better for users. People want to know where they’re going to end up if they click on a link, and so, if you can create a URL that matches your page title then so much the better.
But remember to keep it short as well. If you’re linking to a blog post that perhaps has a title and a separated subtitle, such as: “Making Milkshakes On A Monday: Why They Taste Better Than When You Make Them On A Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday” – just using the main heading is fine: http://www.mightymilkshakes.com/making-milkshakes-monday
4. Don’t Include Stop Words
As you will notice in my example above, I have omitted the “On A” part from my “Making Milkshakes On A Monday” URL title. Put simply, there’s no need for it, and removing it makes for a shorter URL, which, as discussed, is important.
5. Create an XML Sitemap
Your XML Sitemap is basically a list of all of your site’s URLs that you submit to search engines. They help search engines find your pages more easily by using them as a reference when choosing canonical URLs for your website.
Most websites will have duplicate pages here and there. However, search engines don’t like returning duplicates in their SERPs, and so just pick one out of the group to display on the results page.
So, in order to gain control over which one the search engines pick – and also to ensure, for SEO purposes, that it is the same page every time – choose your preferred page’s URL in your sitemap, and that should prioritise it over the duplicate(s).
Beware also of case sensitivity when structuring your URLs. Some servers can interpret separate cases, and others can’t, which is a bit of a bummer. So find out about your servers before you start sending your followers goodness knows where when they click on your links.
Remember also that search engines ignore the hashtag # and everything after it in a URL. So if you want to make sure that search engines are indexing every page separately, then don’t use them. Finally, use hyphens – not underscores _ to separate words. Search engines read underscores as connectors not separators.
Got any more tips for structuring SEO and User-friendly URLs? Let us know in the comments below.