Everything matters when it comes to search engine optimization.
Unfortunately, most people focus on other things such as having a functional website, good content and healthy link profile.
Although all of these elements are crucial you should never neglect small details like having a nice, clean URL.
Why are URLs important?
- Google can easily find your pages by using less resources when crawling the website
- It makes your pages look credible increasing click-through rate
- It helps users find just the thing they want
As you can see, optimized URLs are important not only for Google but also for user engagement metrics.
These 14 tips will definitely help you do it.
URL has to be readable
This is the basic principle you have to adhere to when creating URLs.
Whether you need a URL for visitors or Google, the same principles apply: they need to be clean and easy to read.
Image taken from Moz.com
As I said, a clean URL instills confidence and trust in your potential readers increasing your click-through rate.
There is also another thing to be considered.
Google’s algorithms are becoming more and more user-oriented. In that regard, if something’s good for user, it will also be good for Google.
Everything should be on one domain and sub domain
Basically you need to place all your pages on one root domain or sub domain.
This categorization helps Google crawl the pages as they are seemingly connected.
Naturally, this will also be reflected on your URLs.
By using more than one sub domain or domain Google will think that you have multiple websites.
Use article title in URL
Here’s another no-brainer.
Sometimes while page is loading, internet user may notice a fishy URL.
This URL will not have any words from the title nor will it resemble the title in anyway.
Seeing this as a red flag, user may close the page before it loads never giving it the opportunity.
This is completely normal behavior as there are many scams on the Internet.
We are constantly bombarded with spam and meaningless articles.
That being said, why in God’s name would you ever want to open such a page?
By including the title in your URL, you are giving it some extra credibility.
This will have positive impact on your click-through rate as well.
Optimize URLs for your main keyword
This is very similar to using your title in the URL.
First of all, it helps potential readers establish what your article is all about by hovering over a link.
In the bottom left corner they will see full URL with the title and main keyword telling them that this is really the thing they were searching for.
Also, such type of URL can easily replace anchor text as both are practically describing the same thing.
Lastly, keywords from your URL will appear in search results increasing your visibility and thus your organic CTRs.
Image taken from Moz.com
Having in mind that keywords within the title are a crucial SEO practice, tips 3 and 4 practically refer to the same thing.
Nevertheless, if the title doesn’t have your main keyword this is definitely something to be considered.
Main keyword should be at the beggining of the URL
Like with everything else when it comes to Google, it is always much better to have your keywords at the start of a line or paragraph.
The same goes for URLs. This trick is mainly for search engines.
Words at the start of the URL always have more weight and are more likely to come up when searching for something.
It’s a good practice to even have a short URL which just includes your main targeted keyword.
I do this NikSto.com everyday.
Be wary of duplicate content
If you have an e-commerce website you should know how troublesome duplicate content can be.
Sometimes, you will have to create similar pages or to copy a page.
When that happens, duplicate content is created. Even if you use different URLs you will still have a problem.
In this case, you will need to use canonical in order to tell Google which one of these two or more pages is the original.
This way, your important content will have higher chances of ranking instead of diluting itself together with other pages.
Give advantage to short URLs
Although it may seem that Google is struggling with long URLs, this is actually incorrect.
Search engine is more than capable of processing them regardless of their length (in most of the cases).
The main issue is with the users.
By having a shorter URL, it is much easier for people to read it.
They are more reliable, trustworthy and ultimately, people are more willing to link to them because it is easier to copy paste them.
Use only small letters in your URLs
What do I mean by this?
Here, I refer to having all URLs written in small case all the time.
Why is this important?
If you’re using Linux/UNIX, there is a good chance that system will recognize URLs with different sized letters as different.
Image taken from Moz.com
This will inadvertently lead to creation of duplicate content.
If that happens, you will have to use canonicals.
But, much more hazardous situation is not recognizing all these issues and having a website with lots of duplicate content.
Needless to say this can affect your rankings in a negative way.
Use hyphens and underscores
When trying to separate words make sure to use hyphens and underscores.
Previously, hyphens were a much better option as Google had issues with underscores.
This is now resolved and you can use both.
Nevertheless, if you already started using one approach, it is much better to stick with it as you wouldn’t like to have different formats of URLs on your website.
Underscores will definitely help you look apart as one a handful of websites use them.
Then again, this precise reason can make them look suspicious.
I’d suggest you stick to hyphens in your URLs.
Rethink stop words
Nowadays, you can either add or avoid stop words (a, the, or, but…).
It is entirely up to you.
Both approaches are acceptable but removing them will definitely make URLs shorter and cleaner.
In some cases though, you should keep them as URL may look convoluted without or may even leave a wrong impression.
Avoid using numerous folders
Again, this is something common for e-commerce sites with lots of products.
If you have a lot of different categories of products you will have to categorize them within sub folders that have their own sub folders…
This can go infinitely.
But, when creating a URL, it is much better to remove most of them and focus on one or two.
Besides the fact that numerous folders make for a messy URL, they also hinder Google while crawling.
Consolidate www and non-www versions
More and more websites are opting to go for a non-www version.
This means that these websites may have issues with their URLs when switching.
Depending on your personal preferences you might either go for one or another.
Obviously, non-www is shorter and cleaner giving it a clear advantage over www version.
Whatever you decide to go for, make sure to consolidate them by using 301 permanent redirects.
Otherwise, Google may see this as two identical websites with identical pages.
Careful with the number of redirects
Redirects are crucial for preventing confusion. But that doesn’t mean you should overdo it.
You should use up to two redirects for a page. Ideally, it shouldn’t be more than one.
There are two main reasons why you should do so.
Some of the ranking signals will not be used if there are too many redirects.
Also, longer redirect strings may affect loading speed.
You need to avoid certain characters
When it comes to URLs there are certain characters that are regarded as unsafe and can create quite a mess.
In fact, these characters should always be avoided.
Here is a list to point them out:
Image taken from Perishablepress.com
Simply put, Google has issues “reading” these characters so you’re better off without them.
Search engine optimization revolves around numerous small pieces and processes.
Only when you’re able to master all of them and group them together, you are able to run a successful website.
URLs are definitely one of these minor elements that are seemingly unimportant.
Do not be fooled. Everything is important for Google.
Rules of the game become even stricter when it comes to potential readers. If a person feels uncomfortable visiting your page, you can have the best content in the world and it will do you no good.
Next time you create a URL think about all the negatives that sloppy optimization can bring. Then, get back to this article and read the tips that will help you solve them.
What was your biggest issue with optimizing your URLs? Let me know in the comment section below!