Are your URLs search engine friendly? If not, you need to make some changes moving forward. Before you create another page on your website, here’s what you need to know about writing SEO-friendly URLs.
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Pay attention to Google’s SEO advice
Once in a while, Google hosts hangout sessions where a top employee will answer questions about search engine optimization. In the past, these sessions were hosted by Matt Cutts. Today, they’re hosted by Google’s Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller.
Use discernment with Google employee responses
It’s important to pay attention to what Google employees say about SEO. However, use your own discernment before acting on their advice. Although Google’s employees are a wealth of information and advice, they often provide limited answers to important questions.
Note that Mueller’s answer wasn’t derived from factual assertions about Google’s algorithm. He stated a belief about the ranking power of using keywords in URLs. It’s possible that sharing a definite answer would give away Google’s secret algorithm. However, it’s equally possible that he doesn’t know the answer and is giving his educated opinion.
It’s not that Google’s employees are intentionally being vague. They’ve all signed non-disclosure agreements and have strict parameters regarding how much information they can provide when answering even the most basic questions.
Regardless, one thing is clear: nobody – not even Google’s employees – can publicly verify or deny with absolute certainty how much power keywords have in a URL. Although, that doesn’t mean you should avoid using keywords in. your URLs.
Should you use keywords in your URLs? Yes and no
Using keywords in your URLs is helpful for visitors regardless of their SEO power. Even though search engines and mobile browsers don’t generally display full URLs anymore, users might want to find a webpage in their browser’s history and will search by keyword.
The best approach is to use between one and three targeted keywords related to your page content. However, format your URLs for your visitors first. When you do that, you won’t need to know how much ranking power exists to get whatever ranking benefits might be available for your keywords.
3 General URL Structuring tips
It’s important to structure your URLs within certain technical parameters to get full SEO benefits. Here are three basic URL structuring tips.
1. Avoid dynamic URLs
Dynamic URLs are fun for programmers, but not for search engines. You want to use static URLs for the best results. If you’re not sure what a dynamic vs. URL is, here’s an example:
Dynamic URLs are stored in your website’s database so they can be generated in multiple configurations on command.
How and why search engines dismiss dynamic URLs
Because of their structure and the way search engines read URLs, search engines see dynamic URLs as duplicate URLs rather than unique. When a search engine comes across a dynamic URL with a question mark, for example, it will truncate the URL at the question mark.
Since dynamic URLs store category and unique page data at the end of the URL, the truncating process removes all the information that makes each URL unique.
The search engine will then truncate all other URLs for the domain name, which makes all URLs appear the same and prevents them from being indexed because they appear to be duplicates.
With a static URL, search engines look at the entire URL and know it’s unique.
There’s only one reason you’d have to worry about using dynamic URLs and that is if your content management system (CMS) generates dynamic URLs.
Thankfully, most modern content management systems use static URLs. This includes WordPress, Joomla, Magento, and more. If you’re using a legacy CMS that uses dynamic URLs, like Subdreamer, switch to a new platform.
Search engines, especially Google, use every bit of information possible to determine the context of all content. Your URL may play a significant role in that process.
Use your URL structure to describe page content. However, you don’t need to use complete sentences or make your URL match the title of your articles. Here are some examples of article titles and a strong, relevant URL:
Notice that sometimes the URLs don’t mimic the title. The idea is to make your URLs as short as possible. You can use synonyms and shorten ideas to get your point across in just a few words.
Create your URL structure for your visitors to satisfy search engines
Again, search engines use URL structure to determine the context and relevance of page content. Even if the words used in your URL have no direct influence on ranking, they will influence ranking by informing search engines about your page content.
URLs are for users. Although Google stopped automatically showing the URL in search results, your URLs still serve an important function to users if you’ve got a content marketing campaign.
Create your URL structure for your visitors to satisfy search engines
Think about how your webpages will be linked across the web. Users will probably hover over your link to see where it leads before clicking. If you want to get clicks from content marketing, it’s critical to ensure your URLs accurately represent page content.
3. Make info page URLS shorter than blog URLs
Informative pages should have shorter URLs than your blogs. For example:
Blog page URL: https://www.yoursite.com/how-to-perform-seo/
Blog URLs should be as short as possible, but will naturally need to be more descriptive than informative pages.
5 tips for technical URL structure formatting
The technical structure of your URLs matter. Here are 5 tips to optimize the technical aspect of your URLs.
1. Avoid using capital letters
Capital letters should be avoided in URLs and directory names with few exceptions. Unlike domain names, URLs are case sensitive. There is a host of potential problems that can occur if you use capital letters in your URLs.
If you create a second identical URL using lowercase letters, search engines might consider it a duplicate URL.
Some people memorize short URLs. If a user types your URL into a new browser and doesn’t capitalize the right letters, they’ll get a 404 error and think your page has been deleted.
Keep your URLs simple by using all lowercase letters. This applies to your directories as well.
2. Use hyphens where appropriate
Hyphens are the preferred method for separating words in a URL. Underscores can be used, but they don’t look as professional. With a bare link (when the anchor text is the full URL), the fact that the link is underlined makes the underscores blend in with the underline. This makes users misinterpret the full URL of the bare link, which can prevent clicks.
Although hyphens are better than underscores, they should be used sparingly. If you keep your URLs short with as few words as possible, you won’t need to worry about overusing hyphens.
3. Limit directory and avoid subdomain use in URLs
Subdomains are treated as separate domain names by most search engines. Technically, that’s the purpose subdomains are intended to serve. To avoid having to run a separate SEO campaign for a subdomain, don’t use subdomains if you don’t absolutely need them.
Directories, on the other hand, are okay to use in URLs, but should be used sparingly for a few reasons.
Search engine spiders are only allotted a certain amount of “energy” to crawl a website. The fewer directories you have, the more of your site a spider can crawl and index.
If you have multiple directories, those directories may not get crawled, which means the pages won’t get indexed.
Updating files inside of directories is cumbersome.
Directories make your URLs longer than necessary.
If you’re using directories just to create an organized URL structure, use a CMS with categories instead. Both will make a URL appear organized, however, categories don’t create subfolders that require maintenance and security.
4. Use the .html extension for pages rather than .htm
Technically, it doesn’t matter if you use .html or .htm as your page extensions. Google doesn’t care about page extensions. However, using .htm can create several problems.
If you use .htm for your web pages and you end up switching to a CMS that produces pages with the .html extension, you’ll have to create 301 redirects for all of your .htm pages. If you don’t create redirects, your pages will be 404 errors and will eventually be de-indexed from the search engines.
Since .html is the current standard, it’s best to start with .html to avoid any problems in the future.
5. If your site uses PHP and HTML pages, make all of your pages use .php
If you have a website that uses PHP, you might have some pages that are pure HTML. Even though those pages are pure HTML, it’s a good idea to use the .php extension uniformly throughout your site.
Visitor might notice some of your links are .html and some are .php and while they may not have a conscious reaction, they might subconsciously feel the incongruity.
The main reason you should use .php extensions throughout your entire site is to avoid future 404 errors that can tank your SEO efforts and ranking.
Right now, if you have pure HTML pages, those pages are indexed and ranked in the search engines in their .html form. The second you change the extension to .php, search engines see the URL as an entirely different page.
If you want to add PHP to your HTML pages later on, you’ll need to change the extension to .php. If you set up your pages as .php from the beginning, you won’t have to change the extension, which means you won’t need to create 301 redirects to fix 404 errors.
4 tips for formatting URL structures in WordPress
If you use WordPress, there are several ways to format your URLs within the WordPress CMS. Here are 4 tips for managing your WordPress URLs.
1. Use the /%category%/%postname%/ format
This format is the closest you’ll get to a proper, standard URL. It’s simple, descriptive, and will provide search engines and users with all the necessary information.
There are other combinations you can use, and you might have a good reason to use a different format. However, if you don’t have a specific reason to use another format, use the /category/postname structure.
2. Keep your category slugs short
Short URLs are good URLs. In WordPress, keeping your category slugs short helps keep your URLs short. Category slugs are displayed as part of each page URL. The shorter, the better.
3. Don’t add a subcategory to your URLs
It’s possible to add subcategories to your URLs, but that may not be a good idea. All this does is make your URL longer. However, you might have a specific reason to use two categories in your URLs. In that case, you may want to pass your idea by an SEO specialist to make sure your reasoning is sound.
4. Don’t use the automatically-generated WordPress URL
WordPress is great for SEO, but you’ll need to make some changes to leverage this power. The system automatically generates a URL that matches the title of your post or page. If your title is long, your automatically-generated URL will also be long.
Instead of using the automatically-generated URL, create your own. You can use the generated URL as a starting point and delete all the words that are unnecessary, however, it’s faster and easier to just type in a shorter version of the title.
Search engine friendly URLs are a foundation for good SEO
Like many other components of SEO, having SEO-friendly URLs creates a strong foundation for a successful SEO campaign.
Now that you know how to write SEO-friendly URLs, are you looking for more powerful ways to gain rank in the search engines? If so, we can help. Our team of SEO experts want to partner with you to take your site to the top of the SERPs where your pages will be visible to your potential clients, customers, and readers.
If you’ve already invested time and money into SEO, we can perform an in-depth site audit to help you pinpoint exactly where you can improve your SEO efforts. If you’re not sure about a full site audit, start with a free SEO site audit to get a general overview.
If you’re ready to move ahead with an SEO campaign that gets results, contact us directly – we want to help you get the rankings and visibility you deserve.
In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International.
He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building. Connect with Sam on Linkedin.
In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International. He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building. Connect with Sam on Linkedin.