Does your site have SEO friendly URL structure?

Why do URLs matter for SEO?

Improved user experience – When you have clean URLs users will get a glimpse of what that particular URL entails.

For example, when you see a URL like

www.example.com/kids-apparel/girls/red-shoes

you can make out that this particular URL will display a list of red girl shoes.

When the same appears on search engine results page people will quickly grasp what the page is about and might end up clicking it. This leads to high CTR and improves your site’s ranking further.

The same holds true when the URL is shared via other platforms like social media, forums or messaging apps. Clean and descriptive URLs get clicks while messy URLs are faced with mistrust.

Improves Ranking – Search engines realize the importance of clean URL for user experience. They also know that the URLs can decode what exactly a particular page is about. URLs affect search engine ranking in more than one way. You can improve your SEO ranking of a page by either

  • Shortening the length of the URL
  • Adding a keyword in the URL
  • Cleaning up messy URLs
    We will see how to improve each of these aspects of this article.

Acquires More Optimized Links – Keyword rich URLs can serve as their own anchor text when copied and paste as links in forums, blogs, and social media networks. Links which are clean and user-friendly are trusted and linked more frequently than messy URLs.

In our example suppose a user enters the URL www.example.com/kids-apparel/girls/shoes in a forum without a specific anchor text then the keywords “Kids apparel, Girl Shoes” are being transferred to the URL in spite of no anchor text is mentioned.

Link Clean Up Hassles – Once you have a URL structure which is not SEO friendly you might have trouble attracting traffic. If you decide to change the URL structure to a more user-friendly version later then changing URLs structures could make it messy. This could mean numerous broken links, loss of SEO traffic, unexpected pages and bad user experience. At the business level, this would mean a lot of resource investment and loss of revenue.

So it is of utmost importance to pay attention to your URLs. If you have already picked your URL structure and is not SEO friendly I have discussed few actions you can take to fix it.

What is an SEO friendly URL structure?

Now that we know why having SEO friendly URLs are important it is time to understand what constitutes an SEO friendly URL. Building an SEO friendly URL structure is not rocket science. We need to know the best practices and see how the CMS we are using help us achieve the same.

URL Structure – There are 2 types of URL structures. One is the folder type structure like the one below

www.example.com/kids-apparel/girls/red-shoes

The other is a file name type URL structure.

www.example.com/red-shoes

Google recommends short URLs. There is no such thing as ideal URL structure in the eyes of Google. If you are using a folder URL structure make sure you stick to 1 or 2 folders deep. This should be enough for Google to understand what the particular page entails.

Eliminate stop words from URLs – You want only the most critical words about the page in the URL. Words like ‘the’, ‘on’, ‘a’, ‘to’ in the URL don’t offer any keyword relevancy value to the page in concern. By using these words you are needlessly increasing the length of the URL.

Here is a list of stop words to omit from URLs

Case sensitivity – Case sensitivity is a common URL problem and is usually ignored by webmasters. Certain CMS can create duplicate content because of capitalization of URLs.

In the example of Girl Shoes, your CMS can create multiple URLs like the one below see that

www.example.com/KIDS-APPAREL/GIRLS/SHOES

www.example.com/Kids-Apparel/Girls/Shoes

www.example.com/kids-apparel/girls/shoes

…………………………………………………………………

…………………………………………………………………

You want only one URL among these to exist and in most cases, it is the lowercase you must prefer.

Minimize dynamic URL strings – You might have come across URL with many strings and parameters attached to it.

www.example.com?search=elastic&price=1000&sort=top

These URLs usually occur for your internal site search pages, filter, and sort pages. Although such URLs are fine to occur when your top money pages have such URLs you are bound to lose some SEO traffic.

You should make sure that all your top money pages are static and all dynamic URLs should not have a long string of unreadable tedious parameters.

Keep URLs short – Google appends URLs beyond 512 pixels in its results page. It is best to keep your URL under this threshold for best results.

Even if you cannot keep your URLs under this number a short URL will always have a ranking benefit over a longer URL.

Use your primary keyword in the URL – Your URL should have the most important keyword you want to rank for in the URL. For this article which you are reading currently I want to rank for “SEO Friendly URL Structure” and hence the URL

http://www.ecommerceyogi.com/user-friendly-url-structure/

The URL name you pick should be short but descriptive enough to communicate the topic of the page.

Safe vs unsafe characters – URLs have a standard protocol which needs to be followed as set by Internet Engineering Task Force. There are few characters which are not appropriate to use in a URL while it is okay to use a few others. Make sure your URLs don’t have unsafe characters in them.

Unsafe Characters: “{”, “}”, “|”, “\”, “^”, “~”, “[”, “]”, and “`”.
Safe Characters: “&”, “$”, “+”, “,”, “/”, “:”, “;”, “=”, “?”, “@”, “#”

Keyword repetition will backfire – Few webmasters have a tendency to mention a keyword more than once in the URL. This might have worked until 2010 but such URLs are frowned upon by search engines as a spammy tactic. Stick to natural language instead of repetition.

Comprehensive – If you are still deciding on your URL structure then you are in a good place. Before you decide your URL structure you should have a clear idea of all the pages you could be added in far away future. This will help you predict all the folders and the subfolders which might be added to the URLs.

My site has unclean URLs now what?

Switch to a better URL structure – Most CMS comes with various permalink URL structure to choose from. If you are currently running on a URL which is not user-friendly then you should switch to a more user-friendly structure.

This must be done with caution as it might lead to complications for both search engines and SEO. You will have to write multiple rewrites and redirect URLs depending on how large your website is.

This guide by Google should help you do this with minimal hassles.

Configure URL parameters in webmaster tools

If for any reason you are not able to redirect you can use Google Search Console feature parameter handling feature to tell Google how it’s crawler should behave in various conditions. Google then considers these instructions but not necessarily follow it all the time.

Keep Learning

SEO and URLs

15 SEO Best Practices for Structuring URLs

Infographic: The ultimate guide to SEO-friendly URLs

After working 7+ years as a digital marketer for startups and large enterprises I quit my job to start EcommerceYogi. Here I share the exact same tactics which I have used to drive millions of users per month to e-commerce stores. Follow me on Linkedin and Twitter to stay connected.