URL Structure – 11 SEO Best Practices

URL structure seo best practices
URL Structure – 11 SEO Best Practices

A URL structure plays a significant role in your SEO efforts and should not be neglected when you are starting a blog.

A URL is an address of a page or resource on a domain.

The URL structure can play a significant part in any SEO campaign and is something that you should always take great care and consideration when planning a new Blog or optimizing an existing one.

Good URL Example: Domain.com/url-structure-best-practices

Bad URL Example: Domain.com/BLOG/Internet_Marketing/SEO_search_engine-optimization/on-page-seo/technical/urls/best-practices

Before strategizing on the URL structure for any website or blog, there are a few key points to remember.

Descriptive URLs

Let me ask you a question.

You searched for “Buy White Whirlpool Washing Machine” on Google, and you have two options. 

First URL: example.com/productID=98d319?cm34_re3

Second URL: example.com/washing-machines/whirlpool/white-washing-machine

Which URL would you click?

That’s a no-brainer. Of course, the second one because it gives you a clear-cut picture of its content.

The first URL is non-descriptive, as you can’t say what the content on the page is by looking at the URL.

Straight away you can begin to see the difference of how the search engines consider the links.

First URL tells the search engine nothing about the product, whereas the Second URL not only tells the search engine the product details, but also that it is a washing machine and in fact a Whirlpool Washing Machine in white colour.

The Second URL has a far greater chance of ranking well, whereas it will take the First URL a lot more time and hard work to rank for this product.

Search engines find it easier to understand what the page is about if your URLs are descriptive.

A well thought URL structure is critical for SEO because keywords in the URLs are a ranking factor and descriptive URLs help not just with SEO, but also user interaction and link building.

Keywords in URL

When forming a URL structure, it is crucial to have relevant keywords in the URLs. Not only will this help the user in understanding the context of the link, but it also has SEO advantages.

Let’s look at a classic example.

Google Confusion
Google Confusion

In the above image,

Meta title says, “SEO tips for top rankings.”
The URL of the page is “/best-practice”
Page Breadcrumb is “Best Practices”
Page H1 is “URL Structure.”

My question is, for what keyword should Google rank this page?

SEO Tips?

SEO Best Practices?

SEO Best Practices?

Or URL Structure?

The page might not perform well for any of the keywords, even if it’s content is excellent.

Now, let’s see the SEO friendly version of the same example.

SEO friendly URL structure
SEO friendly URL structure

Not that hard, isn’t it?

Punctuated URLs

It is also essential to use proper punctuations in the URLs to avoid long strings of characters that are difficult for humans to read.

This URL is a lot better
example.com/white-washing-machine

compared to this one.
example.com/whitewashingmachine

Ecommerce product page URL structure
Ecommerce product page URL structure

It is also important to note that hyphens (“-“) are preferred to underscores as Google sees words separated by hyphens as individual words which are very useful for capturing multiple search terms.

Avoid Keyword Stuffing In URLs and Content

Forming keyword-rich URLs is a significant part of the SEO process, but at the same time, we have to keep in mind not to repeat the keywords in the URLs to avoid penalties related to keyword stuffing.

Avoid this:

example.com/washingmachine-white-washing-machine-buy-whirlpool-washingmachine-online

The above URL structure is most likely to get the site penalized by the search engines, and also it will confuse the users by making it difficult for them to read it and looks very spammy as well.

Thus, one should avoid keyword stuffing in any situation and use descriptive URLs like the blow:

example.com/washing-machines/whirlpool/white-washing-machine

This applies to all the aspects of your blog like meta title and description, header tags (H1, H2, etc), URLs, page content and so on.

Classic example of an over optimized keyword-stuffed page.

Keyword stuffing
Keyword stuffing

Length of the URL

Recent research shows that short URLs within Google SERPs get clicked twice as often as long ones.

So by sticking to short URLs, you get both better rankings and better click-through rates, which is excellent for high rankings.

If there are more than five words in your URL, Google gives less weightage to those words and not give you as much credit.

So don’t have:
example.com/cheap-healthy-dog-food-for-your-loyal-dog-who-loves-his-healthy-food-more-than-you

Just stick to:
example.com/healthy-dog-food

Shorter URLs also help you avoid over-optimization related Google penalties like keyword-stuffing.

Check Your URL Spellings

It is a fundamental point, but you need to ensure that your URLs have the correct spelling. If a user comes across a link to your blog website that looks like this:

example.com/bog-food

they are not only likely to doubt the professionalism of your organization, but the SEO performance of this page takes a big hit. So take the time to spell check your URLs properly.

Avoid Capitalizations In URLs

Search engines are pretty weird at times!

Unlike domain names, URLs Are casE SEnSItIVE!

Therefore any randomly added uppercase character can cause havoc for users, especially when users are trying to enter a URL into a browser address bar manually. (This issue is rectified on WordPress)

Example:

abc.com/Music/

vs.

abc.com/music/

These two URLs are considered as two different pages by search enignes.

Suppose you have posted something compelling and engaging that five bloggers link to your page abc.com/Music and 17 more use abc.com/music

Google gets confused (Yes, it does), it feels it now has two pages, one with five and the other one with 17 backlinks, while you needed to have just one URL with all the backlinks pointing to it.

This hurts your Google rankings. Crazy! But, true.

Solution?

The best practice is to set-up a 301 re-direct from the capitalized version to the non-capitalized version of the URL to get the SEO benefits.

301 Redirects from Capitalized to non-capitalized URLs
301 Redirects from Capitalized to non-capitalized URLs

There are some genuine cases, as well. People who did not know SEO before starting their blog, decide to optimize their page URLs, say after a year of launching their site.

The old pages have earned backlinks, and after changing the URLs, the new URLs will have no backlinks pointing to them, causing SEO losses (drop in rankings), unless you use the 301 redirect trick.

Appended Parameters (Dynamic URLs)

Any word after the question mark (?) in a URL is a parameter that can hold values. The value for the corresponding parameter is given after the symbol “equals” (=).

Multiple parameters pass through the URL by separating them with numerous “&.”

Multiple parameters in URLs can confuse Search Engines by creating unnecessarily high numbers of URLs that point to identical or similar content.

For example: 

example.com/?utm_source=instagram&utm_medium=adbanner&utm_campaign=insta_campaign

As a result, search engine spiders may consume much more bandwidth than necessary, or maybe unable to completely index all the content on your site.

Dynamic URLs look messy and confuse your potential visitors or existing users of your blog, severely affecting your CTRs, which directly affect your Rankings.

Dynamic URLs affect CTRs and Google rankings
Dynamic URLs affect CTRs and Google rankings

It’s highly recommended shortening URLs by removing all unnecessary appended parameters and using a combination of techniques to avoid duplicate content penalties.

Canonicalization of URLs

When your blog website has several similar versions of the same content, you select one “canonical” version (original version, the master copy) and point the search engines to it. 

rel-canonicalization to avoid duplicate content penalty
rel-canonicalization to avoid duplicate content penalty

Avoid Duplicate Content Issues With Canonical Tag

Canonicalizing URL tells the search engines that the site has multiple versions of the same page; however, “example.com/xyz-post” is the original version.

Canonicalizing solves the duplicate content problem where search engines don’t know which version of the content to show in their results. 

For example, here are two URLs:

  • example.com/whirlpool/white-washing-machines
  • example.com/washing-machines/whirlpool/white

The content of the page is the same.

When Google indexes these pages, they get confused and don’t understand which URL should be ranked better when users search for “Whirlpool White Washing Machines.”

Here is the solution:

  1. Pick one of these pages as the canonical version, the most important one. If you are not sure, pick the one with more backlinks or visitors.
  2. Add a rel=canonical link from the non-canonical page to the canonical one. So if we picked the shortest URL as our canonical URL, the other URL would link to the shortest URL in the <head> section of the page – like this:
<link rel="canonical" href="https://example.com/whirlpool/white-washing-machines" />

Visit this page, should you need a very detailed guide on the Canonical tags.

Session IDs in URLs

session ID or session token is a unique identifier that a website assigns to a specific user for some predetermined duration of time, or session, to keep track of visitor activity—for example, shopping carts, online tests, etc.

Example of a page with a session ID.

example.com/products/men/shoes?sessionid=331911

The search engine crawlers may index multiple versions of one page on your blog, even if the only distinction is the URL and session ID.

Session IDs appended to a URL can produce spider loops and cause the search engines to crawl a site slower, abandon sections of a website entirely, or even the site itself.

Because new URLs are created for one existing web page, duplicate content is created.

Session IDs are even worse than dynamic URLs.

Avoid using session IDs for information that you would like to be indexed by spiders.

Disable the cookies and changing the user-agent to Googlebot / MSNBot / Slurp and see if session IDs appear in the URL. Its highly recommended storing session IDs in a cookie rather than appending the ID to the URLs.

Use this Chrome Extension to change the User-agent for testing.

Directory Structure

Search Engines measure the importance of a page’s subject matter in part by its proximity to the Home page.

Often, content residing more than three directories deep is considered of low value and will have difficulty ranking well for their topic.

You may optimize the blog’s directory structure to bring the “Primary Content” within three directories or three clicks from the Homepage.

Flat Directory Structure

example.com/product-food-animals-dogs

Flat directory structure
Flat directory structure

Silo Directory Structure

example.com/product/food/animals/dogs

Silo directory structure
Silo directory structure

We cannot have a hard and fast rule of having a flat or silo directory structure on any website. It depends from site to site and situation to situation.

In the case of a website having many categories and verticals, we recommend having a silo directory structure over flat directory structure. 

On the other hand, if it’s only about a particular niche like a blog on SEO topics, then we can follow the flat directory structure.

The Conclusion

When designing your blog website, make sure you place as much importance on your URL structure as anything you are considering in your planning stages.

Getting this right from the start will make sure your site is indexed correctly as you really do not want to go changing your structure halfway through the indexing process, or even worse, a year down the line.

Now I’d like to hear from you.

Which point from this list was new to you?

Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Hi, Iam Vikas Solanki

I am an Internet marketing consultant, blogger, owner of an award-winning Quick service restaurant (DumSquare), and a cryptocurrency trader.

I am an amateur photographer on the side and also love travelling to exciting places.

BlogYep.com is my recent project focused on helping beginners start a blog.

URL Structure – 11 SEO Best Practices

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