How to Correctly Structure Your URLS

  • What is URL structure?
  • Organising and optimising your URLs
  • Hide the www prefix in your URL
  • Avoid using dates in web addresses

 

There is often conflicting and confusing information and guides on how you should be structuring your URLs, primarily down to there being several theories and concepts on what can be a reasonably complex element.

What is a URL?

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator and is essentially the web address we use to access a website, for example, https://soaronline.co.uk/.

Web addresses take on many names, including URL, permalink or simply links. So does it matter how your URL is structured? Absolutely! We’re going to cover the importance of correctly structuring your URL, including common pitfalls to avoid.

Examining the URL

What is URL structure?

A URL consists of three elements:

  • A protocol, which refers to the HTTP or HTTPS standard to mediate communication and data transfer
  • A domain name, which is the unique web address that users type into the browser
  • The path, which is the exact location of a page, post or other assets

Note that you can also create subdomains, which is the part that becomes before the “root” domain, such as store.websitename.com. Subdomains can help web administrators organise the content on their site; however, you should use these sparingly as you don’t want too many.

It’s also important to note that URL structure isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of your SEO strategy, it won’t net you a huge ranking boost on its own, but it is still an essential piece of your website architecture that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Your URLs organise the content on your website and serve as the connection between pages and users. Using a logical URL structure with page hierarchies makes it easier for bots to crawl your website and enhances the user experience by facilitating site navigation.

If robots and people can find content on your website easily, this will also improve your performance in search engine result pages and you’ll find that more of your pages are being indexed.

Still, don’t put all your eggs in one basket and solely focus on URL structure without considering your overall SEO campaign.

With that in mind, let’s look at how we can structure URLs in an SEO friendly manner, which will create a good user experience whilst also promoting PageRank.

1 – Consistency and Simplicity is Key

Whilst search engines’ technology continues to grow in extraordinary ways; they are still machines that prefer steadiness, consistency and readability in your content. They don’t react well to change, and they certainly don’t enjoy surprises!

Taking the above into account, let’s discuss the two types of URL classifications: Static and Dynamic.

Dynamic URLs refer to those that include parameters and therefore change their appearance. Static URLs, however, stay consistent unless changes are made within the HTML.

Therefore static URLs are far more preferable when it comes to SEO.

Another tactic to ensure your URLs remain simplistic is to monitor their length. A shorter URL tends to rank higher on Google as they also contribute to a good user experience and are optimised for sharing. There is a generous recommended length of 2,083 characters as a maximum, but in reality, you wouldn’t want your URL length to be even close to this number.

In short (pun intended), keep your URLs simple, logical and memorable for the best results.

2 – Be Organised

It is best practice to keep your URL structure organised whilst sticking to the most widely accepted format.

Avoid subdomains if possible, as these split authority and are treated as their own entity by search engines.

Instead, the use of categories, directories and subfolders is an effective and accepted way to achieve organisation in your URLs and creates a natural ‘breadcrumb’ trail within your URL, which is not only visually pleasing but is optimised for user experience and search engines.

3 – Keyword Optimisation

Of course, proper keyword research should be your starting point when looking at the structure of your URLs. Try not to go overboard, but at the same time, you can quite comfortably include 1 – 2 of your keywords in your URL at the most. A keyword domain can be pretty beneficial, but at the same time, you can have a very successful SEO campaign without one – in fact, branding takes precedence here. Avoid exact-match domains, as a 2012 Google update devalued these.

Keyword research

Also, contrary to popular belief, the actual position of your keyword(s) within your URL is pretty irrelevant, so don’t stress out over this. Instead, put your efforts into the quality of your content relevant to your URL structure.

4 – Be Trustworthy

Google treats user experience as the most crucial factor, and trust is a massive part of this. Several factors contribute to the trustworthiness of your website, including the length of time it has been live since its first index, your content and the security of your site.

Your URLs are related to this in several ways, such as using HTTPS for security and a trustworthy TLD (top-level domain, such as .com or .co.uk).

Whilst TLDs don’t directly affect your ranking, it does have a way of influencing it by inducing traffic, which has a significant impact on your rankings.

HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP. The “S” refers to the added layer of security that encrypts the communication between browser and user so that hackers cannot gain access to sensitive data.

Google perceives websites with SSL certificates to be more credible and trustworthy than HTTP sites. Search users are also more likely to feel confident in making purchases and providing contact information on your website.

However, recent data shows that only 69% of websites are currently HTTPS. If you’re one of those sites, we advise obtaining an SSL certificate as you could be losing out on potential business.

5 – Hide the www Prefix In Your Domains URL

A domain without the “www” is referred to as a naked domain.

Having the www on show in your URL can make it look outdated, so you might want to consider removing it, especially as it’s not a requirement. However, even if you don’t think including www is old fashioned, it takes up more space in the address bar and takes longer for search users to type, which could impact UX.

Some browsers such as Google Chrome automatically hide the www and HTTPS status as that information isn’t crucial to the user. What’s more important is the lock icon which features first in the web address bar, which informs users that their sensitive data is protected.

If you want a cleaner look, hide the www prefix and opt for a naked domain.

6 – Use Hyphens To Separate Words

As you cannot use spaces in URLs, marketers need to separate words with special characters.

While you could use underscores as word separators, we strongly advise against this as search engines, such as Google, prefer hyphens, noting that they make it easier for web crawlers to commute the information.

Google also doesn’t like when words in the URL are joined together, as it makes it difficult for crawlers to identify concepts in the web address and makes for a bad experience.

Here are two examples of a URL without hyphens:

  • soaronline.co.uk/lead_generation/conversion_rate_optimisation.html
  • soaronline.co.uk/leadgeneration/conversionrateoptimisation.html

A good URL structure would look something like this: soaronline.co.uk/lead-generation/conversion-rate-optimisation.html

7 – Use Lowercase Letters

There are long-running debates about whether using uppercase letters in URLs matters. 

While Google doesn’t consider letter case an SEO issue, you should maintain consistency across all your individual URLs as Google considers web addresses case-sensitive.

That said, it’s very rare to see title cases or uppercase in URLs, and most search users type in lowercase letters by default, so using any other format could negatively impact your site. 

So, while case sensitivity only becomes an issue when you’re using multiple versions of your URLs, use lowercase letters if you want to make your pages more memorable and stylistic.

8 – Remove Dates From URLs

What’s relevant today might not be relevant tomorrow, a month from now or year, so including dates in your URL will ultimately hurt the performance of that page or post.

Removing dates from the URL will allow the content on the page to be repurposed and refreshed to stay relevant for searchers. Remember, searchers are always looking for the most up-to-date information, so URLs without dates can help content on a page rank for years, which increases PageRank and clickthrough opportunities.

Unless the page or post is for a specific one-off event, there’s no need to format your URLs with dates as people will feel less inclined to read or browse the post once the event has passed.

If you have dates in your URLs, it’s best to remove them and set up a 301 redirect to the new URL. That way, you can keep updating the content on the page without having to create a unique URL each time and lose any page authority you developed!

Not only that, but URLs without dates make for a good UX, as short and simple URLs are easier to type out. Shorter URLs also tend to rank better in SERPs as they engender greater trust.

To summarise;

Take user experience into account at all costs. Keep your URLs accurate, relevant and logical, with an excellent organised structure. Avoid the use of stop words like ‘the’ and ‘a’ in your URLs, special characters like exclamation marks, ampersands and question marks, and as mentioned, aim for static URLs as opposed to dynamic.

Taking all of the above into account, you will be well placed to optimise your URLs and improve your PageRank – good luck!

 

 

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