URLs for SEO are an important, though often overlooked, element of optimization that can benefit your website’s rankings. Typically, when best practices for SEO are discussed, the focus is on using the most important keywords throughout your website in places like meta descriptions, title tags, the alt text of images and page copy. Given the fact that more than 3.5 billion Google searches are performed each day, visibility in search engines is critical to the success of a website and anything that can give your web pages an edge to help it top the rankings should be done.
You can get one over on your competitors by creating a strong URL structure that can help set your site up for SEO success in Google, as explained in the Google Search Console Content Guidelines.
Competition to rank as high as possible in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) is higher than ever before as digital marketing teams are heavily investing in SEO. Taking your site optimization to the next level can help you stand out from the crowd and rank higher than the competition.
To make a start, follow these steps to optimize your URLs for SEO – appealing to search engines like Google and Bing, as well as search engine users.
Match URLs to page titles
Creating consistency between what your URL reads and your page title can boost your rankings in search engines. One way to do that is to match your URL structure to your page title.
Let’s say your page title is ‘Build a Memorable Brand Experience’. If a user performs a Google search and clicks through to your site, the expectation is that the URL for that page matches the page title – and the page content matches both.
This practice helps search engines index your site, but it also builds trust and authority with your audience. Here’s what we mean in action.
Page title: Build a Memorable Brand Experience
Your SEO-friendly URL could be: https://www.domain.com/build-memorable-brand-experience
Remove unnecessary words
Your URLs should appeal to two audiences: Google and its users. If the topic of your page isn’t quickly understood by glancing at the URL, it’s not optimized for SEO. Words that don’t add meaning are considered extra and can be removed. On their knowledge base, website optimization company, Yoast, has compiled a list of stop words that are the most common words in the English language. The list includes words like “and” and “the.”
An example of a URL containing stop words would be:
The same URL optimized for SEO by removing stop words would be: https://www.domain.com/optimize-url-structure-seo
Like stop words, elements of punctuation can be considered non-necessary characters. But they deserve to be explained in their own section. With the rise of content marketing practices and companies heavily investing in the development of helpful resources to answer commons questions, your page title might be a question. Or it may include commas, parentheses, quotation marks, etc.
While punctuation is completely fine in SEO elements like title tags and meta descriptions, don’t include them in your URLs. They will only create confusion for search engines and distractions for users, which will negatively impact your search engine rankings.
Web development and design blog, Perishable Press, has a great list of safe vs. unsafe characters to reference.
Break up descriptive words within your URL to improve readability for users and search engines. A recurring debate in the SEO community has been hyphens (these-are-hyphens) vs. underscores (there_are_underscores) and which format Google prefers. Interestingly enough, Google does not treat hyphens and underscores the same when indexing URLs. Hyphens are considered word separators that improve URL readability while underscores are treated as word joiners.
Google would read https://www.domain.com/optimize-url-structure-seo as ‘optimize url structure seo’.
But it would read https://www.domain.com/optimize_url_structure_seo as ‘optimizeurlstructureseo’.
As you can see, Google’s translation of your URL with hyphens is easier to read than the jumbled one with underscores.
Cut out dynamic parameters
A dynamic URL is a “URL that results from the search of a database-driven website or the URL of a website that runs a script.” They often contain characters like ?, &, %, +, =, $, cgi-bin, .cgi and are common on e-commerce sites.
Whenever possible, avoid URLs with dynamic parameters as search engines prefer static, SEO-friendly URLs with a logical structure and descriptive keywords. If your content management system automatically creates URLs with dynamic parameters, a workaround to create URLs for SEO is to use a custom link shortening tool like Rebrandly to have more control over the parameters and unique keywords included in your URL.
For example, with a custom link shortening tool, you can transform https://www.domain/xyzproduct/i?HAPL=u#abc43567qw into nike.sneakers/running
Your URLs should be as straightforward and as short as possible. URLs often contain many subfolders and this structure can make it difficult for search engines to crawl your site. To create SEO-friendly URLs, keep them clean by limiting the use of subfolders.
A URL with subfolders could be:
While a URL for SEO would have subfolders removed like this:
Keeping URL redirects to a minimum will put you in a favorable light with search engines. For users, redirects slow down their experience with your site and negatively impact usability. That information is shared with search engines and included in the algorithm used to rank your site.
For search engines, the redirects might not be followed correctly (or at all). That means those ranking signals might not be counted.
Avoid the risk and limit redirects when possible and, if completely necessary, use a 301 redirect for a permanent redirect, which passes between 90-99% of link juice (ranking power) to the redirected page.
Use a descriptive domain
Domains are made up of three parts:
- Top-level domain (TLD)
- Domain name
- Optional subdomain
Using a descriptive domain that’s relevant to your business and incorporates your most important keywords will improve readability for users.
According to Moz, “Because of search engine’s growing reliance on accessibility and usability as a ranking factor, the easier a domain, or URL, is to read for humans, the better it is for search engines.”
So, a rule of thumb when creating URLs for SEO would be to use a descriptive, memorable domain that’s easily read by users and search engines alike.
Shorter is better
A key element of an optimized URL is readability. The goal is to structure a URL in a way that can be easily indexed by search engines and, by default, improve search engine rankings. Long-winded, complex URLs should be avoided.
Instead, develop a URL structure for your website that follows a shorter is better philosophy.
Avoid URLs like this:
Instead, rewrite the above link into an SEO-friendly URL like this:
Use lowercase letters and standard characters
SEO-friendly URLs support Google’s guidelines for readability. That’s why creating URLs that use lowercase letters and standard characters is a best practice for improving search engine rankings.
Capitalized letters mixed with lowercase letters can make a URL messy. This structure also confuses search engines and users, so avoid them at all costs.
Common non-standard characters in URLs are ones we see in dynamic URLs like %, &, #, @. Some content management systems will also add non-standard characters to document files like PDFs, so be sure to check the structure before sharing your links.
Avoid URLs like this:
Instead, rewrite the above URL like this:
Buy short domains which feature keywords
Domains matter when it comes to SEO, though it isn’t as important as it used to be so don’t go ditching your domain. This tip worth keeping in mind for future websites you may set up.
Domains that are short and feature an important keyword to your business will rank better. People will often link to your website by hyperlinking its name – if you have a keyword in your domain name, this will help you rank for it.
Another SEO factor that Google will look at when competitors are neck and neck is brand queries. If your website’s name is a commonly searched keywords, this will benefit your position.
Using custom URLs for SEO
It’s not always possible to follow all of these best practices with normal links. Sometimes URL structure can be out of your control, whether its because you had no say in picking the domain name in the first place or you don’t have control over your website’s subfolders. But luckily, branded links match all of the criteria for an SEO-friendly URL structure.
Even if you have a lengthy link loaded down with UTM parameters, by creating a custom short link it’s possible to get the benefit of having these parameters to track your visitors, as well as an easy to read, SEO-optimized link that will please Google and users who see it.
Branded short links include a custom domain and a custom slash tag. So instead of having an unintelligible string of characters like short.ly/X7dl8F, you can create meaningful links like Giannis.Pizza/Menu. The slash tag is where you include your keyword, and if you want to optimize your page for secondary keywords, you can create extra branded links with your secondary keywords in the slash tag to share across your marketing networks too.
Branded links are memorable and because they give readers an indication of the content you’re sharing, search engines like them and so do internet browsers – branded links can increase CTRs by up to 39%.
Implementing the best URL structure for SEO can make an impact on your site’s visibility in search engines and can help you climb up the ranks of SERPs ahead of your competitors. Following the best practices outlined here can also positively impact conversion rates by appealing to users with URLs that are simple, easy to read, memorable and trustworthy.
- The ultimate guide to image SEO
- How a vanity URL can help your website’s SEO
- Link trust and the psychology behind why people click on links
- How to index your custom short links for Google search
This Article is About:
- URLs for SEO
- URL structure for search engines
- SEO-friendly URLs
- URL optimization
- Branded links for SEO
Originally Posted: 5th of September 2019
Last Updated: 19th of March 2021