URL Optimization and SEO

Contents

For some people, the URL is just a unique fingerprint that carries a unique web page position on the Internet. The SEO expert and search engines believe that it is more than the location of a web page. 

It provides insightful signals that help search engines comprehend a page's content, meaning, and target market.

Below are the ten most significant signals that major search engines interpret from URLs when assessing a page's content, who the target market is, and how high the page ranks in search results.   

What's a URL?

The URL (Uniform Resource Locator) referred to as the "web address," describes the location of a resource (such as a web page) on the Internet. The URL also outlines how to retrieve this resource, regarded as the "protocol," such as HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, etc. 

A URL is a human-readable text that has been configured to replace the numbers (IP addresses) that allow computers to communicate with servers. They also describe the structure of the file on the website. 

The URL is a protocol, domain name, and path (which includes a special subfolder structure where a webpage is located) and has the following basic format:

protocol:/domain-name.top-level-domain/path

The protocol illustrates how the browser can extract information about a resource. The web standard is http://or https:// ('s' stands for 'secure'), but it can also include items like mailto: (to access your default mail client) or ftp: (to handle file transfers).

The domain name (also known as hostname) is the human-readable name of a particular location where a resource (mostly a website) is located.

Think of the top-level domain (TLD) as a category for websites. Although you're probably familiar with.com, there are also .edu for educational sites, .gov for government sites, and many, many more.

URLs also include individual folders and subfolders on a given website, any parameters (such as click tracking or session IDs) that could be stored in the URL, and links that enable visitors to jump to a precise point in the resource.

What is URL optimization?

It is a process/technique in which we refine the URL structure of the website/blog page to make the web page more easily accessible to users and search engine crawlers. URL Optimization, one of the key steps in the web page search engine optimization process, lets search engine crawlers understand the web page subject. This increases the likelihood that a web page with an optimized URL will find the related searches in search engines.  

Why do URLs matter for SEO?

There are three major advantages of the URLs:

1. Enhanced user experience

A well-crafted URL presents both search engines and humans with an easy-to-understand hint of what the destination page will be about.  

Google has gradually replaced the URL in the search result snippet area with the name of the site and the breadcrumb path. This is most often seen in mobile searches.

For instance, our Text to HTML URL below is what we term the "semantically correct" URL (describes its destination accurately): 

url example

Even if the title tag on this page were obscured, the human-readable, semantically correct URL would still give a clear idea of what the destination page is all about and would provide visitors with enhanced user experience by making clear what they would see if they click the link. 

2. Rankings

URLs are a trivial ranking factor search engine used to assess a particular page or resource's importance to a search query. Although giving weight to the overall domain authority itself, keywords in the URL may also serve as a ranking factor. 

Although using a URL that includes keywords may increase your site's search visibility, URLs themselves usually do not significantly impact the page's ability to rank. So, while it's worth thinking about, don't generate otherwise useless URLs to have a keyword in them.  

Creating a URL with high-value keywords is extremely simple, and anyone can do it with little effort, so it makes sense not to rely too heavily on it for ranking results. So if you're scratching your head and wondering why your competitor with an ugly URL ranking higher because they contain a plethora of other strong signals such as relevant content, links, and so on.

3. Links

Well-written URLs may act as their page title when copied and pasted as links in blogs, forums, social media networks, or other online locations. 

Some websites (such as Facebook) can leave shared links completely unformatted:

facebook post showing URL

Unoptimized, semantically incorrect URLs might look unwieldy, and instead of amassing clicks, they might discourage them. Human-readable URLs give users a better understanding of what they're going to get when they click the link.

SEO best practices for URLs

URLs have to be 100% readable

If you cannot read every word in your URL, you can't search engines, either. This is a big problem because search engines know that many people read URLs before clicking on them to grasp the webpage content. Search engines cannot undo irrational, randomly generated URLs, nor can they even attempt to do so. 

Rather, they just read the words in URLs as if they're reading the content on your webpage. This makes them understand your content better so that they can connect you to your target market. 

Which URL would you click on? 

Incorrect URL example: : http://yourwebsiteurl.com/index.php?=product=129

Correct URL example: http://yourwebsiteurl.com/clear-blue-iphone-12-case

Use a hyphen, not an underscore

If you want to isolate words in your URL, use dashes or hyphens rather than underscores. Google has been quite explicit on that. Their algorithm was developed to read hyphens, not underscores. If you want to be ranked high in the world's largest search engines, you have to follow their guidelines. 

Incorrect URL example: http://yourwebsiteurl.com/best_seo_audit_tool

Correct URL example: http://yourwebsiteurl.com/best-seo-audit-tool 

Top content in the top folders

Search engines also consider web pages in your root folder to be top-level content and potentially better content. So, be very cautious and strategic about how you organize your URLs. The structure of the URL may indicate the importance of a page on your site. 

Incorrect URL example: https://yourwebsiteurl.com/seo-acamedy/keyword-research/target-audience

Correct URL example: https://yourwebsiteurl.com/target-audience

No capital letters

You'd better have a major reason to use capital letters in a URL. Capital letters only confuse everyone, including people and search engines. Adding capital letters, in some way, encrypts your URL by making it exponentially difficult to remember. 

The home page is expected to have one URL

Your home page is typically the most important page on your site. It's likely to be the most influential page on your blog since most website homepages have more inbound links than others. 

Sadly, many websites have several different home page URLs. 

Examples include: 

yourwebsiteurl.com/home.html

yourwebsiteurl.com/home 

yourwebsiteurl.com/page/Home/0,,1234,00.html 

yourwebsiteurl.com/index.html   

Fix the issue with the following actions:

  • Choose the canonical URL of your home page (make it the most simple possible).
  • Never link to a different version.
  • Incorporate 301 redirects from duplicate to the canonical if your site software insists on generating 'duplicate URLs' (or has done in the past).
  • If 301s is not feasible, add rel=canonical tags instead.

Block bad URLs with robots.txt

Avoid getting penalized for duplicate content by restricting search engines from indexing numerous URLs to the same content and other troublesome URLs. For instance, having a search bar on your site can create dynamic and duplicate URLs to the same content based on the user's filtered search. Block unnecessary dynamic URLs that point to the canonical URL.  

Stop words

This is a topic that has undergone a considerable amount of discussion. Can you use stop words, or do you not use stop words? That's the question. With that said, what exactly are the words stop? They are words like:

  • or
  • but
  • a
  • an

These are essential "filler" words that link the important words that are the core of your URL. For a long time, many SEOs have seen stop words as an unforgivable sin that literally cannot be forgiven. But then, you know what? It isn't that big of a deal. It is unlikely that you will be penalized for using them. 

But they're not going to do any favors to you either. Stop words are essentially overlooked by search engines and do not hold any real weight as a ranking factor. So here's what I recommend when you come across stop words. Do not use them if you can do without them. 

If your URL structure is still relevant and understandable, adding stop words would only make your URL lengthy and more complex. But if you feel like you need to add a stop word to make your URL more meaningful and understandable, then go ahead and include it.  

Add mobile URLs to your sitemap

Inform major search engines such as Google which web pages on your site are mobile-friendly on a sitemap. Web-friendly pages appear to rank higher in the results of mobile searches. Some people suggest that if your site is responsive, you don't need to indicate mobile-friendly web pages. Although, to be safe, many still incorporate responsive mobile URLs in the sitemap.  

Keep it trustworthy

It all comes down to trustworthiness. Google always places its users and the user experience front and center. As such, the website will be ranked on a wide range of things, including the amount of time it has been live after it was first indexed, the type of content you publish, and the security features you use. Some essential security and trustworthiness factors that you should bear in mind when setting up your URLs are listed below. 

Everyone will help you build a site reputation, which will help you boost your rankings. HTTP vs. HTTPS This one is easy and straightforward. The "s" in HTTPS stands for safe, and it just means that. All communications between your browser and the particular website are encrypted and secure. This is the norm for all websites where financial information is shared, such as online banking and e-commerce.  

Use Canonical URLs

Dynamic pages can often unintentionally generate duplicate content, and you don't want to be penalized for something you haven't deliberately done so that you can use canonical URLs. 

Here are several important ways to use canonical URLs:

Redirect preferred domain 

Avoid the propensity of Google and other search engines to assume you have duplicate content. www.yourdomain.com and Yourdomain.com are regarded as two separate websites for search engines. To resolve this, set your chosen domain redirect to either your.com domain or www.yourdomain.com domain. This will redirect your non-preferred domain to your preferred domain.   

Dynamic content 

If you want https://yourwebsiteurl.com/blue-iphone-12-case to be the preferred URL, even if other URLs have access to the same content, add the rel="canonical" link attribute to the header of any of those pages with the same content. 

This will tell search engines to index https://yourwebsiteurl.com/blue-iphone-12-case 

Example of the rel=”canonical” link element: <link rel="canonical" href="https://yourwebsiteurl.com/blue-iphone-12-case"/>"   

Canonicalize your IP 

This is another way of preventing being penalized for duplicate content. Only redirect your IP address to your desired domain. Otherwise, search engines might assume that your IP address and your website are two separate websites with the exact content. 

Demonstrate how to handle complex parameters 

Inform Google and other search engines if you want to ignore any parameters attached to your URLs, such as pagination or a session ID. 

By doing this, you tell Google that https://yourwebsiteurl.com/board?sessionid=58 has the same content as https://yourwebsiteurl.com/board. 

In Google Webmaster Tools, try using the URL Parameters tool.   

301 redirect broken URL

If you need to change the URL for any reason, remember that you're removing a webpage that Google has possibly indexed and linked to. You don't want search engines to discard a high-ranking web page from your search results because they can't seem to find your content on your old URL. Just notify search engines by incorporating a 301 redirect from your old URL to your new URL.  

Incorporate the exact target keyword

If necessary, add your exact target keyword or phrase in your URL. This is usually hard to do on your home page, but it should be straightforward on your service pages or blog posts. 

Avoid repetition of the keyword

Here's the last little detail. Never repeat keywords (or words for that matter) in a URL. Here's the reason. Repetition is counterproductive because Google will in no way compensate you for using a keyword that surfaces more than once.   

In reality, this may theoretically be seen as a type of manipulation, which is not a positive thing. Moving past that, it's probably going to make your content appear spammy, or at least reduce your reputation in the eyes of search engine users. 

Here's an example:

https://yourwebsiteurl.com/phone-accessories/phone-case-iphone

Future proof of your URLs

Just because a date is in the post title, that doesn't mean it's in the URL. If you wish to create a "Top xxx for 20xx" kind of post, it is usually best to use the same URL year after year. 

So instead of the following: 

https://yourwebsiteurl.com/black-friday-2020 

Try to exclude the year and go along with: 

https://yourwebsiteurl.com/black-friday

The advantage of updating the contents and the title year after year and maintaining the same URL is that all the links to the previous year's contents remain in place. Anybody who follows the old links will find the new content. It's also possible to create a database of previous years. It's up to you.  

Conclusion

Although it can seem clear enough on paper, the URL optimization technique can be tricky. Multiple variables need to be considered when structuring URLs to suit both human users and search engines. It begins with more technical aspects such as choosing a top-level domain and having an SSL certificate, so users know that your website is secure. 

You can then work your way down to find the optimum number of words and characters to ensure that your URL is "human-readable." There's also the aspect of proper formatting, so there's no problem with browsers. And besides, you want to make sure that you're targeting your keywords right without being stuck on the edge of a black hat. So, well, it's a bit complicated. 

However, when you break things down bit by bit, URL optimization can become much more manageable. And when you examine it, the method comes down to many common-sense concepts that can be encompassed into three keywords. Short, simple, and readable. If you want to build URLs with these goals in mind, you should be good as gold.