11 SEO Best Practices for Structuring URLs

Wondering the best URL structure for SEO to increase your search engine rankings? Check out these 11 tips!

SEO URL Structure

I’m often asked many questions on website domains and SEO URL structure for Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. Most of the time, people are concerned that they don’t have enough keywords in their URLs. However, quality SEO and higher search engine rankings go well above just having the right keywords in your website address.

It’s time we make it easier for Google and Bing use those URLs to increase your search engine rankings.

Here’s 15 Tips to Best Structure Your URLs for Higher Search Engine Rankings…

1. Always Use a Single Domain and Subdomain

If you’re using more than 1 domain or subdomain, the search engines think you have multiple websites. This splits your links and decreases the overall weight of your main domain.

Good: www.awesomedomain.com/blog

Bad: blog.awesomedomain.com

The former put both your blog and website pages on the same domain. The latter puts your blog on an entirely separate domain (as far as the search engines are concerned).

Another example is found more predominantly in the subdomain “www”. You have to choose either “www” or “non-www” for your website domain and redirects the one your are not using to the one you want.

For example, if you type in www.shannonksteffen.com, you will be redirected to shannonksteffen.com without the “www”. I chose to use no “www” but it is up to you which one.

2. Humans and Robots Like Readability

The easier a URL is to read for humans, the easier it is for the search engines.

Good: awesomedomain.com/dogs/puppy-toys

Bad: awesomedomain.com/category_184793/section_8493/session_b903eaa9e427/

The goal is that the URL is clean and easily understood. This increases SEO rankings as well as conversions.

3. Keywords are Good for URLs

If you have the opportunity to have your keywords in the URL, then go for it! The keywords in the URL not only tell the search engines what your page is about, but also tell your visitors that a link is worth clicking on.

Good: awesomedomain.com/top-10-large-breed-dog-toys

Bad: awesomedomain.com/pubs/15541/article

Which would you rather click?

4. Canonicalize Those URLs

I always get a confused look when I start talking to my clients about canonicals. Honestly, they’re easier to understand than they are to say out loud.

If you have 2 URLs that are serving the same content, you need to either 301 redirect them or create a rel=canoncial (if you want to maintain the slightly different version).

Google and Bing look for unique content. Limit the duplicate content by using canonicalization.

5. Watch Dynamic Parameters When Possible

If you have an e-commerce shop, then you’ve probably had ugly URLs that contain multiple parameters.

Ugly URL: www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001BXY3MG/ref=s9_simh_gw_p199_d0_i2?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=desktop-1

Clean URL: www.amazon.com/dog-products/busy-bone/dental (doesn’t exist)

As you can see from this example, it’s not always possible to clean up those URLs. But, if you do have the option, it’s best to go with the clean URL.

6. Shorter is Better Than Longer

Humans and the search engines love shorter URLs over longer ones. This is mostly with usability and user experience, but my own experience has shown that keyword-dense URLs are also good rankers on the search engines.

Don’t go changing existing URLs though. If you do, you can break all that wonderful link juice.

Use this rule for creating future content and see the results for yourself.

7. Match URLs to Your Page Titles – Some of the Time

Some SEO strategists are set in their ways and believe that you should always match your page title to the URL. I say… yes and no.

If you have a contact page with the title “Contact Us”, you don’t need your URL to be the same.

URL: awesomedoman.com/contact-us/

Page Title: Contact Us For Your Dog Toy Needs

You can use this for keywords, brand names, and more.

8. Leave Behind Stop Words

Drop those words from the URL that don’t make sense. Such words include: “and”, “or”, “but”, “a”, “the”, “of”, and so on. The shorter the URL, the better. These words don’t add value and dilute the URL keywords.

9. Don’t Use Too Many Folders

Humans love to organize their data, but a website is one place you don’t need a folder for everything.

Bad: awesomedomain.com/animals/pets/dogs/puppies/toys/busy-bone-chew

Good: awesomedomain.com/dog-toys/busy-bone-chew

This doesn’t necessarily harm your website’ performance, but it creates a perception of depth that can be confusing – for both humans and the search engines.

10. Be Careful with Case Sensitivity

This one is a little technical so I won’t get all geek on you.

Different servers respond to case-sensitivity differently. If you’re using Microsoft servers, then you may be alright – regardless of upper or lowercase. However, Linux/UNIX can see the upper and lowercase URLs as different content.

When in doubt, always use ALL lowercase in your URLs. This will help prevent any problems occurring in the first place.

11. Use Hyphens and Underscores in Your URLs

My clients are always asking: “Which is better – using underscores or hyphens to separate words in a URL?”

Either works for SEO URL structure – however, my recommendation is to AVOID underscores as they render awkwardly. The underscores come through with all those %20 and that’s just distracting. Hyphens keep the URLs clean and don’t make humans (or search engines) question the validity of the URL.

One more thing…

Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and the other search engines look at 3 main places to understand what a webpage is all about. The first place is always the URL.

If your URL is not structured properly, you can turn off both your target market as well as the search engines.

With these simple 11 tips, you can easier help your search engine rankings.

But please note… if you already have an existing website, any URL structure for SEO changes you make from this point forward can decrease your search engine rankings for a time. When you change a URL, you are essentially breaking every link that exists to your website or webpage. Create a strategy first for creating 301 redirects before you implement any URL changes.

URL structure changes are a great long-term SEO strategy – if done correctly.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • %20 is a space not an underscore, FYI.

    • Correct. However, Google reads underscores as spaces and merges the words together in the URL.

  • Nice post!
    As I was reading #5, I was thinking…how nice it must be for companies like Amazon, eBay, etc. to not have to worry about the cleanliness of their URLs lol