Due to the complexity and demands of websites, it easy to forget to take advantage of some of the most valuable SEO opportunities. Creating a top of the line website interface, posting the highest quality images, and creating content can cause you to neglect critical aspects of your web presence. For example, many webmasters fail to create fully optimized URLs. You should take time out of your busy day to follow these best URL practices and make the following considerations when you are creating your website’s URL structure.
Your Domain Name
First and foremost, you need to find the most effective domain name for your market. In the past, finding an exact match domain name that matched your keywords was a critical success factor. It used to be that having an exact match domain would drastically help strengthen your ranking signals for the Google search algorithm. These days, it isn’t quite so important. Though we do not have access to the intricacies of the Google algorithm, studies have been performed that show this metric is not as heavily weighted as it once was.
You also want to make sure that your domain name isn’t misleading or unintentionally misspelled. Your domain name is going to be at the front of every web page’s URL and forms the base of your URL structure.
Finding a Domain with a Solid Extension
There are many subdomains within the DNS structure, and in the not so distant future many new domains are going to be created. For now, at least, .com is still the king of extensions. While choosing a .net extension over a .com extension doesn’t affect your ranking signals one way or the other, there is still a credibility factor. People tend to trust and favor websites that have a .com extension. Some websites that use the .biz or .info domains appear low quality, spammy, or malicious at first glance (regardless of the site’s actual content).
Also, because .com is the most popular extension, people will have an easier time remembering the URL of your website when you choose a .com domain. Simply put, it is preferable to have a .com extension.
A well-known and respected engineer at Google, Matt Cutts, recommends using hyphens in your URLs instead of omitting them or substituting them with underscores. Consider the following three examples:
Of these three URLs, the last one is the most favorable. This is because relative to the Google algorithm, hyphens signify the separation of words. On the other hand, underscores don’t serve a function. To the search engine, it reads red_leather_boots as redleatherboots. However, the search engine will see red-leather-boots as red leather boots, which is more favorable for increasing your ranking signals.
Again, it is hard to determine how heavily this metric is weighted and depends on a variety of factors. Which keywords you target, how many of them appear in your URLs, and many other factors influence this technique’s effectiveness. However, it is such a simple change to make that everyone needs to follow the advice of Matt Cutts.
The Length of Your URL
For larger websites, it can be challenging keeping your URLs short and concise. The shorter a URL is, the easier it is for humans to interact with it. It makes it easier for humans to remember where your information is if your URL is brief. Also, it is easier to copy and paste and far easier to ascertain what content is behind a link to your site on social media.
People used to say that word of mouth is the most effective form of advertising. Regardless of whether or not that it still true, you need to remember that one-on-one human interaction is still essential for sharing information. Despite advancements in social media, people still hear about websites by common speech. It is much easier for humans to communicate URLs that use words. For example, consider the following two URLs:
- http://huntersworld.com/fly-fishing-rods (a good URL structure is human readable and concise)
- http://huntersworld.com/hunting/fishing/fly-fishing/fishing-rods/7548 (a bad URL structure is long and redundant)
Accurate Page Descriptions in Your URL
It is better to name your pages using words rather than dynamic URLs that are generated by numbers. This is important for two reasons:
- Another opportunity to increase ranking signals by placing your keywords in the URL
- Increases Human Readability and Usability
If a human sees that the URL for your webpage is an unintelligible jumble of numbers, letters, and special characters, they may be dissuaded from visiting your site. After all, how the heck do they know what content they will reach if they follow your link? Search engines react similarly, which is why it is a good idea to place keywords in your URLs where applicable.
Placing Keywords in Your URLs
Putting your keywords in your URLs helps improve your ranking signals. It is hard to quantify exactly how much good it will do you, but know this: It certainly doesn’t hinder your rankings. Part of a solid SEO strategy is doing everything in your power to boost your ranking signals, no matter how small. You need to take full advantage of every opportunity that presents itself to outperform your competition.
Using canonical URLs is extremely important for a variety of reasons. Some types of websites, like ecommerce websites for example, have site structures that allow pages to be reached from a variety of links. Unfortunately, due to the way the URLs are generated, the same page may have different URLs depending on how that page was reached. This can make it difficult to track performance on a per page basis. Additionally, pages that contain a lot of seemingly random numbers and letters in the URL is disadvantageous. Instead, you should use canonical URLs so that a specific page maintains consistency with regards to its URL. This is also another opportunity to place relevant keywords into your URL structure.