Making sure your website has a clear and straightforward URL structure is a great way to make your website easier for humans and search engines to navigate.
In this article, we will break down URL structure, explain why it matters for your website and its SEO, and share some best practices for structuring URLs.
- What is a URL?
- What is URL Structure?
- Why Does URL Structure Matter for SEO?
- Best Practices for URL Structure
What is a URL?
The term URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator, also commonly referred to as the website address. They specify the location of a resource (such as a web page on your site) on the internet.
For those not familiar with the term, URLs are the web addresses that we enter into a browser’s search bar in order to access a web page, and they usually start with “www” or “HTTP”. They were designed to replace the numbers (IP Addresses) that computers use to communicate with servers. URLs also work to identify the file structure on a given website.
What is URL Structure?
As the name suggests, URL structure is the anatomy of what a URL looks like.
For the sake of this article, we will use https://www.inmotionhosting.com/support/website/seo/title-tags/ as our example URL.
URL structure can be broken down into a few basic parts:
- Protocol/scheme: The scheme lets web servers know which protocol to use when they access a page on a website. Common protocols include “www” and/or “https”
- Second-level domain/domain name: The second-level domain (SLD) is the name of a website. This part of the URL tells people which brand owns the site they are visiting. For the example above, “inmotionhosting” is the SLD.
- Subdomain: The subdomain of a URL tells users which page of a website web browsers should serve up. In the above example, the subdomain is “support” as the URL is sending users to the InMotion Hosting Support Center.
- Top-level domain: The top-level domain (TLD) tells humans and search engines what type of entity an organization is registered as on the internet. Common TLDs include “.com”, “.org” or “.edu”.
- Subdirectory: The final part of a URL is known as a subdirectory or a subfolder. This helps both search engines and humans understand where exactly on a webpage they are. For our URL above, “website” and “seo” are both subdirectories letting users know are in the SEO section of our website category.
Why Does URL Structure Matter for SEO?
If you are wondering why URL structure is important, the short answer is that it can have a big impact on your on-site SEO.
In fact, Backlinko tells us that URLs are a significant ranking factor in Google’s eyes.
How important? Let’s take a look:
- URL length is #46 in Google’s top 200 ranking factors
- URL path is #47
- Using your keyword in the URL is #51
- URL string is #52
With that knowledge in mind, your website’s URL structure should be as simple as possible so that it is clear and easy to understand. Google recommends organizing the content on your website so that your URLs are constructed logically and in a manner that is most intelligible to humans.
When you follow Google’s recommendations, URLs can benefit your website’s SEO in two primary ways:
Improved User Experience
URLs that are designed well provide both humans and search engines with something that is a clear indicator of what the destination page will be about.
User experience is a huge factor when it comes to SEO, and using a logical URL structure can only improve your website’s user experience because doing so makes your website easier for humans to navigate.
The goal of your URL should be to lets users know what they can expect to see if they click on your link.
We already know that URLs are a minor ranking factor for search engines when it comes to determining a page’s relevance to a search query, but using the right keywords in a URL can also serve as a ranking factor.
That is because while Google does not place that much emphasis on keywords in a URL, it does place a big emphasis on click-through rate (CTR).
The proper use of keywords in URLs can help users understand what your page is about and in turn, improve click-through rates wherever your URLs are shared.
Best Practices for URL Structure
Now that we know why URL structure matters and how it can affect SEO, we will teach you some basic rules to help you write good URLs with proper structure.
Stick to Your URL Structure
The first rule of writing URLs should be to stick to your chosen URL structure. There is no set rule for the perfect URL structure, and structures can differ from site to site depending on the purpose of a site.
However, once you have settled on a chosen URL structure, it’s important to keep things consistent.
Your goal should be to make your URL structure intuitive so that both humans and search engines can quickly understand your URL and how it fits in with the different pages on your website.
Keep URLs Short and Simple
A good rule of thumb for URLs is to keep them short and to the point.
To correctly render in all browsers, URLs must be shorter than 2,083 characters, but you should aim to keep them much shorter than that.
Why? Because visitors may be intimidated by extremely long and cryptic URLs that contain few recognizable words. You want URLs to be easy for humans to read and understand. That means it is best to avoid URLs that contain ID numbers or codes.
Google is skilled at crawling all types of URL structures, even complex ones, but spending the time to make your URLs as simple as possible gives them a better chance at being understood by humans and search engines alike.
Use Your Primary Keyword(s)
All the content on your website should be created with a specific keyword in mind that you want that page to rank for. The same goes for your URLs.
As we discussed above, using your keyword in the URL is #51 on Google’s list of 200 ranking factors.
Once you have created your content around your primary keyword(s), be sure to use it in your URL to help visitors understand what that page is about.
If you need help with keywords, check out How to Choose Valuable Keywords.
Separate Keywords With Hyphens
URLs do not allow you to include spaces between words. Because of this, many URL creators resort to using hyphens (-) and underscores (_) to separate words in their URLs.
However, you should stick to using only hyphens when you need to separate keywords.
Google frowns on underscores, but when you use hyphens in your URLs, that tells Google exactly where the breaks between words are, and makes things easier for your visitors to understand.
HTTPS is the safer version of the HTTP protocol that works with a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)to encrypt the communications between a website and a browser.
Google recommends that all websites use HTTPS when possible because it makes your website more credible and lets your users know they can trust your website.
This is especially important for eCommerce websites that want to make their customers feel more secure about making purchases attached to their valuable information such as addresses and credit card info.
All Lowercase/No Caps
Another good rule of thumb for URLs is to stick to using only lowercase letters in links.
That is because URLs are case-sensitive for everything that comes after the domain name, and most people will not take the time to pay attention to capitalization when visiting your site or URL.
Using only lowercase letters for URLs is considered the preferred SEO-friendly way method for URLs.
Avoid Stop Words and Special Characters
Much like underscores, Google does not like when URLs use stop words or special characters.
Why? Because stop words and special characters do not add anything of value to a URL and do nothing to make them easier to understand for either humans or search engines.
That means you need to avoid using stop words (such as the, and, for, or, a, an, to, etc), as well as special characters (!, @, #, %, etc.)
Leaving out these unnecessary words and characters makes a URL easier for everyone to read and understand.
Redirect Old URLs
Websites change, and sometimes with it, so does a site’s URL structure.
When this happens, it’s important to implement permanent redirects to ensure there are no broken links on your website.
So if you decide to change or edit a URL on your website, you need to set up a 301 redirect to inform search engines and other online services that an old link has been replaced by a new one.
Doing this will stop search engines and humans from running into dead ends on your website.
Your URLs are the building blocks of your website and its content, and when you optimize them for SEO, you can help both humans and search engines better understand your site, which can help improve your traffic.
It can take some time to establish a good, consistent URL structure, but once you do, choosing the right URL for each page on your site can be one of the easiest parts of on-page SEO.
Looking for more SEO tips? Check out Keyword Density: Does it Matter for SEO?