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One question that seldom gets asked or thought of is — “does URL structure have any effect on SEO?”
Well, not today. Today we’re going to ask this long-ignored question and find out if the URL structure of your page have any effect on its PageRank. Because the whole point of SEO is to optimize every single page element to get the maximum SEO juice out of it and get ranked as highly as possible.
We take pains to craft a website that offers engaging, original content that carefully incorporates a selection of targeted SEO keywords. Each design element is carefully analyzed for its effectiveness in acquiring and retaining visitors. Even the colors we choose are influential over the success of the website. What impact, then, does the URL structure have in boosting or hampering our search results?
URL stands for “Uniform Resource Locator”, which means it tells you the specific address of a piece of content on the web.
The URL is stored on the Domain Name System (DNS) database that connects it to a specific IP address. When you enter the URL into the navigation bar of a browser, it sends a request to the DNS server for the IP address of the URL.
URLs have particular structural rules to which they must adhere for the sake of historical IT design choices. They may not, for example, contain spaces or a few other specific characters. Forward slashes indicate directory layers, and the starting phrase of the URL informs you of the sort of content it is you are accessing.
1. Protocol: HTTP stands for ‘hypertext transfer protocol’, it’s the most commonly used application protocol.
2. Domain Name: The domain name is your address on the world wide web.
3. Subdirectories: These are the categories or subfolders that you create for your pages.
4. Specific Page Name: The specific name of your page. It is the easiest to adjust compared to domain name and directories.
Does your URL structure affect your ranking? The answer is YES, but that, of course, begs the question, “How?”. Let’s examine all the ways in which you can produce a quality URL that gets your website traction:
Lengthy URLs are a detriment to social sharing. While people are able to use shortening services such as TinyURL or Bit.ly to shrink down lengthy links to character lengths that won’t take over your tweets, most people are hesitant of clicking on links that doesn’t clearly indicate where it’s going to take them fearing it may be a malicious link or spam.
How you go about making a URL useful and short involves a host of factors. Are your folders well organized and named appropriately? Did you pick a concise page title that lines up with the content on the page? Can your potential visitor get what they need from the URL at a glance? Most of it is common sense once you start really digging into the subject.
If you still don’t think URL length is a big issue, look at these data taken from a research conducted by Quicksprout. They calculated the URL length of top 100 results of 1000 keywords and here are the results:
Based on these results, it is clear that URLs that contain 35-45 characters dominated the search pages. While this isn’t a clear indication of how Google look at length of URL, it’s definitely worth noting.
Aim for a length of around 35 to 45 characters. If you are near that, don’t sweat it. If you find most of your URLs are exceeding 80 characters or more, you should seriously consider rewriting them. You may be losing potential traffic to bad design. Try not to overuse abbreviations, since too many will result in ambiguous meanings that you might not intend.
This should be quite expected as Google has been rewarding websites that are user-friendly. So making your URL easier to read for humans is also making it better for search engines.
So how do you determine whether a URL is readable or not? Look at the illustration below to have a rough idea:
The general idea here is that your URL doesn’t need to be absolutely perfect, but it should at least be easy to understand and at the same time, look interesting enough to make people click on it.
When they encounter your link through social media, email, or a website, they’ll get a clearer picture of what your link offers. This can build enough trust and engagement that they click through.
In websites where your link is not included with anchor text, the URL itself becomes the anchor text. A readable, keyword-focused URL can drive traffic to your site by both boosting your rankings and encouraging click-throughs.
If two URLs are providing the same content, you are at risk of dividing your signal and reducing your traffic potential. It’s simple to resolve this with a 301 redirect (assuming the secondary page is of little independent value) or by using a rel=canonical (great if the second page has a use, like a printer-friendly option for the original content). This focuses all the search engine traffic to the first page and helps boost your visit potential.
Likewise, don’t fluff URLs with repetitive keywords. You are doing yourself no favors either in search result rankings and are discouraging some searchers from clicking on your link.
Let’s start with Google’s own plea for web designers to use hyphens (-) instead of underscores (_) to separate keywords. Using hyphens makes it easier for their web crawler analytics to parse relevant information and produce solid results. The less your URL resembles gibberish, the greater chance it’s going to positively impact your search engine placement.
Here’s Matt Cutts explaining how Google sees hyphens as a separator and ignores underscores:
Stop words like a, the, etc, and, or, but and others are unnecessary in a URL. They don’t necessarily hurt you, but they can make a URL unwieldy in some instances. Use your best judgment. If removing a stop word is going to confuse the subject, it’s worth leaving it in unless that will push your link to excessive length.
You might be confused now if you still remember Matt Cutts saying that having your page deep in multiple layers of subfolders do not affect SEO in this video:
While having too many subfolder in your URL doesn’t hurt your SEO, you really don’t want your URL to look something like this:
This is just plain old sensible advice if you understand that shorter URLs are better and readability is important. The more folders you add, the longer your URLs will be by necessity and the more ambiguous your content may become. Streamline your content within sensible and well-named folders for the best results.
Google does care about URL construction. Your potential visitors care even more than Google does. These tips should get you started on the way to a well-designed URL. What tips, ideas, or suggestions do you have regarding URL construction?
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Updated: 10 December 2017