The URL address is one of the most fundamental basics of “internetting”. It is often referred to as the web address, and it is one of the building blocks of SEO.
In fact, the URL structure and domain names play a crucial role in how well your web pages can perform, and so in this article, we’ll cover in detail what a URL is, why they are important for SEO, and some of the best SEO practices you can implement for your future URL addresses.
What Is A URL?
A URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is what specifies the location of resources – like webpages – on the internet. It replaces the numbers in your internet protocol, or IP addresses, that are used by computers to ‘communicate’ with servers. It also specifies the Protocol, which is how to retrieve that resource.
So, a URL address structure consists of a domain name, protocol, and path. This is the basic format:
protocol :// domain-name.top-level-domain/path
The standard web protocol is http:// or https:// (where the s standing for ‘secure’) and the domain name is the name of the location where a resource is located. This resource is usually a website name. For example in httpss://wiredelta.com/, ‘wiredelta’ is the domain name. The top-level domain (TLD) can be regarded as the category for a website. You have ‘.com’, ‘.gov’, and ‘.edu’ for example.
Why Are URLs Important For SEO?
There are 3 main benefits of URLs for SEO.
A well-written, good URL address can serve as its own anchor text when it’s copied and pasted in blogs, social media networks, forums, and other places online. Instead of a bunch of random numbers and letters, a coherent readable sentence as your URL address will improve the chances of someone clicking on it, instead of deterring them.
2. Improved User Experience
A URL address that is crafted well provides people and search engines with a better understanding of what the web page is about. Even if the title tag of a page would be hidden on a SERP, the well-written URL provides a clear image of what the page is about and thus improves user experience. Make it clear for everyone to know what they will find if they click your link.
There are other factors that can improve your search engine ranking more than your URL, but it is still important. It can provide weight to the authority of your overall domain, and adding a keyword in the URL will improve your chances of ranking further.
But as mentioned earlier, whilst a URL will improve your site’s search visibility, the URL itself will not have a major impact on the ability of your web page to rank. So don’t create an unreadable URL just to include a keyword in there.
12 Best SEO Practices for Your URL Address
1. Single Domain & Subdomain
A simple, concise, and relevant URL goes a long way. That’s why using a single domain and subdomain is recommended whenever it’s possible. If a subdomain is the only way you’re able to set up a blog or produce the content you need to, then do it.
But, your blog will perform far better in the rankings and help the rest of your website’s content perform better if it is all under one sub and root domain.
2. Make It Readable By Humans
Of course, the easier the URL address is for a human to read, the better it is for search engines. There’s no surprise there. Search engines now leverage data to analyze what users are and are not engaging with. The more readable your URL is, the more users will engage with it.
Readability can be quite subjective, but hopefully, this image will give you an idea.
3. Don’t Include Dynamic Parameters
This kind of nonsense is ugly, and try to avoid using URL parameters as much as possible. If you happen to have more than two URL parameters, rewriting them as readable text would be a smart move.
Dynamic parameters are used for tracking clicks, and overall they don’t cause a huge problem, but what they do is create unnecessarily long and ugly URLs which can affect click-through rate.
4. Short > Long
Less is more. Generally speaking, shorter URLs are preferred over longer ones. This is only something you should keep in mind if your URLs are longer than 50-60 characters.
Google or Bing won’t have a direct problem with processing a long URL, however, the issue lies again with user experience and usability. Shorter URLs will be easier to copy and paste, embed, and share on social media. Whilst this may only improve your sharing capabilities by a fraction, every little help.
5. Avoid Hashes in URLs
The hash, or a URL fragment identifier, has been a way to send a page visitor to a specific point on a page. For example, a blog post may use a hash to navigate you to a specific comment that is further down the page.
Hashes can also be used the same way tracking parameters are (eg. wiredelta.com/resources#src=linkedin). Using a URL hash for something other than these two things is a bad idea.
6. Awareness of Case Sensitivity
This is not as big of a problem on Windows/IIS servers as it is with Linux/UNIX, but it can have a large negative impact. Case sensitivity can separate cases, and so wiredelta.com/AbC could be a totally different piece of content to wiredelta.com/aBc, which isn’t ideal.
7. Hyphens Are Preferred Over Underscores
While the days when underscores were actually penalized in search engine results pages are gone, these little lines are still frowned upon. In fact. under the general URL guidelines from Google, it is recommended we use a hyphen (-) instead of an underscore (_).
Spaces can also work, but they don’t render well in URLs – %20 – which takes away from the readability of the page. So, avoid them if possible.
8. Match URL Address to Title Tag
It doesn’t have to be word-for-word, but a close enough match will do. Matching these two things will not only double-down on what the user can expect to find on that specific page, but it will also be visible on SERPs right under your title tag – if these two are too different, it will confuse users.
9. It’s Not Necessary to Include Stop Words
It’s not critical to put a stop word (and, or, but, of, the, a, etc) in your URL. That doesn’t mean you have to leave them out at all costs, but it may help in shortening your URL and making it more readable. Use your best judgment.
10. Control for Unwieldy Punctuation Characters
There are numerous text characters that make your URL hard to read and it’s a good practice to remove or control these.
Perishable Press has a good list of unsafe characters. It isn’t simply the poor readability of these characters, but also the potential for them to break certain crawlers, browsers, or proper parsing.
11. Limit Redirections
If a URL redirect string goes on for more than 2 hops, you could be in trouble. Limit it to at the most one, if possible.
Search engines will generally follow longer redirect hops, but they all recommend against the practice. The biggest trouble comes for users, who are slowed down and often even stymied (a problem more common on mobile browsers). This will increase the bounce rate, which in turn will lower your ranking by search engines.
12. Fewer Folders
Take this URL as an example: whiskeyshop.com/irish/jameson/12yr/special-reserve/bow-street/70cl . quite the eyesore, isn’t it? So, instead, you may want to consider structuring it like so: whiskeyshop.com/irish/jameson-special-reserve/70cl
It’s not that the folders (slashes) will harm performance, but it can create the perception of site depth for both users and engines, in combination with also making the edits to a long URL string like this more complex. There’s no set rule for this one, use your judgment.
We hope this article has given you some extra knowledge about the importance of something as basic as a URL, for SEO. Feel free to experiment and see what works for you. Best of luck with your URL creation and optimization efforts!