SEO Practices for Structuring URLs

Written by: Jason Bayless | April 29, 2016

Structure of domain names and URLs is often overlooked, but this is a basic step in good SEO. Failure to master it won’t doom your pages to oblivion, and over-doing it may do more harm than good, but sound practices and a little effort can make our URLs friendly to users and search engines, and that’s exactly what we need to boost traffic.

Make it Readable

The more readable your URL is to humans, the more recognizable it is to search engines. It doesn’t have to be a perfect phrase, only memorable. It seems like all the best domain names are taken, but keep trying until you have something that works.

Do include keywords, because keywords quickly let the users and crawlers know what your site is all about, without having to read through a description. They are more likely to click without over-thinking if that URL reflects what they typed in the search. Also, URLs get copied and pasted all the time, and you want yours to have meaning on its own. Bear in mind that people do still type URLs on occasion, and you don’t want yours to be a chore.

Use a Single Domain

Subdomains have their uses, and if its better for you and your site content, so be it. But there’s no arguing that moving valuable content to a subfolder or subdomain makes it that much harder for the search engines to index. While Google and Bing keep improving, subdomains do not automatically inherit the ranking of the parent or root domain. In fact, the less complicated your structure is, the better. Your site is more apt to rank high and perform well if all of your content is easily accessible from your home page with a few clicks.

Avoid Parameters

Compared to a concise and meaningful name, parameters are ugly and confusing. They can look like gibberish, or overly-complicated, and users are less likely to click even if these URLs do make it to a top spot in the rankings. It’s true with even one parameter, and if you’re using more than that, consider redesigning your site or using a static hierarchy to help visitors get to a specific page.

Avoid Redirectors

One hop won’t slow things too much, but if a user or crawler looking for a page has to wait for two or three hops, it could cost you. Search engines generally advise against it. Even though their robots won’t be overly bothered, the redirecting URLs could actually hurt overall rankings. But the real problem is users; a page load that’s slowed by multiple redirects is liable to try a human’s patience, especially on slower devices like cell phones.

Shorter is Better

Shorter URLs are almost always preferable. You don’t need to make it so short that it lacks meaning, but if it’s more than 30 characters users will probably pass. It just takes too long to read, even a precious second, when there are other applicable listings that stand out at a glance. It does matter to the search engines, as the more words you use, the less important each one is. Truncate a URL as much as possible while still keeping it readable. That split second it takes to read a longer URL is important to users, so it should be important to you. Avoid filler words like “and, or, but, with” and so forth. Always think readability vs length: what will hook visitors with the least amount of characters?

Absolutely consider your URL a marketing tool; this may be all the user has to go by.