A URL is meant to answer two questions for the user:
Where am I on this website? and What is this page about?
However, proper URL structuring isn’t just beneficial for the user – it also helps webmasters and search engines understand the organization of the site. In this article, we’ll discuss how URLs affect SEO and some best practices to optimize your page URLs.
The Three Parts of a URL
A URL is typically made up of three items: the protocol, the root domain, and the path.
If you’ve ever wondered what the difference between http:// and https:// are, https:// and the small green lock icon signifies SSL encryption, which provides a safer browsing experience for the user. For more information about SSL and how to upgrade, read our tutorial..
However, for this tutorial, we’re going to be focusing exclusively on the root domain and the path.
But before that, let’s figure out the SEO implications related to URLs.
How do URLs Affect SEO?
While changing your URL doesn’t directly cause a huge boost in your ranking, it has a lot of potential to improve your chances of gaining boosts in other areas.
Clear URLs Increase Click-Through Rate on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)
While SERPs change quite often these days, traditionally, a result on a SERP has three main parts: the title, URL, and short description.
Considering that the URL is 33.3% of what the user sees about your site on a SERP, it is very important to gaining that click. Having an easy-to-understand URL with keywords in it can go a long way. More on that later in this tutorial.
Organized URLs Let Search Engine Spiders Easily Crawl and Index Your Site
Having a clear, organized URL structure makes it easier for search engine spiders to crawl and index every part of your site. That can help increase your chances of being seen on the web.
Easily Understood URLs Limit User Confusion
Not everything about SEO is super technical. Sometimes it just comes down to whether or not your site is easy to navigate for users. If any change makes your site a better experience for users, it will only help with potential SEO factors.
The fact of the matter is that if your users aren’t confused by your site, they’ll find it more useful and visit it for longer and more frequently, subsequently amping your SEO game.
Your root domain is your site’s identity and can’t be changed without switching the site completely over to a new one.
So, if you don’t have your site yet, be sure to think long and hard about what you want your root domain to be. It can be time-consuming and expensive to change it.
Host your Blog and Store on your Root Domain
First of all, you should have a blog. And while it may be tempting to host your company’s blog on a free service like Blogger or Tumblr, that will be hosted on a different root domain such as yourcompanyname.tumblr.com with tumblr.com being the root domain. Therefore, any traffic or SEO benefits that you would be getting from your blog also belong to tumblr.com.
The same goes for if you have an e-commerce site.
Whenever possible, you want the actual store to be on your root domain. That way, all of your traffic, page views, time spent on page, and other potential SEO factors are contributing to your one root domain rather than being split across two.
Always host your blog and store on your root domain. It’s worth it.
Go for a Top Level Domain (TLD)
While most .com domain names are taken by now, it’s probably in your best interest to settle for whatever .com you can get. It may be tempting to snag the name you really want with a .media or .net, but internet users are creatures of habit and .com‘s are the norm, so they’re most likely to click on them.
You should do any little thing that you can do to make users feel comfortable on your site, and people are used to .com’s, so cater to your audience whenever possible.
The path of your domain is where the real magic of optimizing URLs happens. It’s what users are going to see on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) and what they’ll use to share your articles or pages online.
And luckily for you, it’s also what you have the most control over. Here are some tips on how to structure your URL paths optimally.
Have Clear Organization
Having clear organization in your URL benefits you, search engines, and your users. They should be able to use the URL as breadcrumbs for your site. So, what does an organized URL look like?
A URL should have a clear hierarchy from broad to specific, beginning with the root domain. Here’s an example:
We’re on justincollier.com, and while we know that Justin Collier is a person, we also know that his website serves as an internet marketing service site and a spot for free tips and tools.
Now we know that we’re still on the site, but just by looking at this domain, we can tell that it’s an SEO Checklist, which must be one of the tools available.
Based on the fact that /optimize-page-urls-for-seo appears after /the-seo-checklist, we can assume that it’s a checklist item from the tool. Adding the article after /the-seo-checklist shows users that they’re still using the checklist, but on a different page. Also, if someone happened to find this article from an organic search (shout out to the googlers and bingers), then they can look at the URL and know that this article is part of something called The SEO Checklist.
Who knows, maybe they’ll even go check it out after this article. wink, wink
Now, if this was just a regular blog post and not the super special checklist article that it is, we could opt for a few different ways to structure. We could just do the classic /blog and article title or we could go crazy and include a category like /blog/on-site-seo/optimize-page-urls-for-seo. Either one works, but it doesn’t hurt to be more specific.
Include Keywords in your URL, but don’t Spam Them
Search engines take notice of keywords in URLs in a good way, but they also know when they’re being spammed.
Be sure to include the main idea of your article or page in the URL, but don’t throw it in more than once to avoid looking spammy.
An additional benefit of including keywords in your URL is the fact that they can become anchor text when someone links to you. Anchor text is the text that someone clicks on for a link and is widely accepted as a substantial SEO factor.
So, if someone just copies and pastes your URL on another site, it’s nice to have a keyword or two in the anchor text for SEO reasons.
Use Clear Language
The last thing that you want to do is mislead the user.
Use clear, conversational language in your URLs to ensure that the traffic coming to your page knows what they’re in for.
If I’m tired of getting beaten in rock paper scissors and I see these two articles, which one am I going to click on?
Use Small Stop Words Only When Necessary
It’s generally a good rule of thumb to leave out the small, stop words (and, or, but, of, etc.) to save space in your URL. But that’s not always the case.
For example, we recently wrote a blog post for a client titled Leave Roofing to the Professionals and the URL came out as /leave-roofing-professionals. Obviously, we don’t want people to leave us, so we added the small words back in for clarity.
Use Hyphens to Separate Words
Unlike most things in the SEO world, using hyphens to separate words in your URL is a hard and fast rule. It makes everything so much easier to read and is universally loved and accepted. You should always do it.
No exceptions and, please, no underscores.