Seo-mama’s Blog

How The Importance Of URL Structures Affects a Sites Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Posted in Uncategorized by Rajib Roy on November 17, 2008

The whole point of search engine optimisation (SEO) is not to exploit or try to take advantage or trick search engine rankings. It’s to match the most relevant content to a search audience. SEO experts apply numerous on and off-page techniques in order that their clients’ websites are in the mix when it comes to matching web users search requirements. The two main areas of focus traditionally associated with successful SEO are the creation of high quality content and the generation of strong, authoritative inbound links. An often-overlooked aspect of SEO that can have definite positive impacts on online presence when conducting an organic SEO campaign is URL structure. It is pointless optimising a web page without giving search engines easy access to that page’s content. Search engines don’t like crawling sites with too many parameters in the URL with content management systems in particular prone to problematic URLs.

Defining and applying effective URL structure is a discipline that can take a lot of organisation and planning when launching a new site or contemplating a site re-design. Taxonomy, hierarchal structure, classification and grouping are all issues that need to be considered. It’s energy well spent, as proper URL structure can have a wonderfully positive impact on your site rankings in the long run. Conversely, ill conceived or poorly deployed URL structure can have immediate negative impacts on your search engine visibility and web presence.

URL structure is often an aspect of an organisation’s website where it’s worth looking to see if there is any room for improvement. But closing the URL structure door after the horse has bolted is far less effective than taking the necessary organisational steps to carefully plan site architecture before launch.

Here are some of the most common areas for improvement when considering URL structure in the context of SEO:

1. Describe Your Content
Promote the theme of your site, and where possible try to ensure that your URLs accurately reflect the page content. They say an obvious URL is a great URL. If a user can guess the content of a page simply by looking at the address bar (or a pasted link), you’ve done your job. These URLs get pasted, shared, emailed, written down and recognized by the engines. One of the criticisms of ‘tinyurls’ is that they render the user blind, offering no clues what so ever as to what the page may relate to. Because TinyURLs ‘301’ (permanently redirect), search engines should not index the TinyURL but instead should index and pass PageRank to the actual URL. In that respect they are beneficial for SEO.

It is important to note that TinyURLs to paid links passing PageRank is a violation of Google Webmaster Guidelines and that sites like Twitter use ‘nofollow’ techniques to prevent spam.

2. Less is more
Shorter URLs are better than longer ones. Google’s Matt Cutts says, “If you have got a three, four or five words in your URL, that can be perfectly normal. As it gets a little longer, then it starts to look a little worse. Now, our algorithms typically will just weight those words less and just not give you as much credit.” Shorter URLs are also less prone to typos.

3. Static URL’s are best
Static URLs tend to be shorter and more effective than dynamic URLs. Some engines make a point of treating static URLs better than dynamic ones with ‘?’, ‘&’ and ‘=’ both unfriendly and unhelpful.

4. Descriptives are Better than Numbers
Avoid use of numbers as opposed to using descriptive keywords. It’s far better to use words when possible. The exception may be incorporating the date into URL such as a number sequence reflective of a defined time period.

5. Keywords Won’t Harm
With sites that target plenty of competitive keyword phrases, you’ll want all the help you can get. Employ keywords in your URL structures. For dynamically created pages through a CMS, create the option of including keywords in the URL.

6. Subdomains? Best avoided.
Subdomains can be unnecessarily complex and lengthy. They also have the potential to be treated separately from the primary domain when it comes to passing link and trust value. Benefits derived from reputation management are minimal compared to the potential loss of link/trust juice.

7. Fewer Folders
Avoid burying content deep within a site. Use fewer folders; try to keep your important site content less than three or folders deep. Why should the search engines give your content priority if you don’t? A URL should contain no unnecessary folders (or words or characters for that matter).

8. Hyphens Separate Best
Some SEOs believe search engines prefer the use of a hyphen to an underscore. When creating URLs with multiple words in the format of a phrase, hyphens are best to separate the terms followed (in order) by, underscores (_), pluses (+) and nothing.

9. Keep it Conventional
Apply your URL guidelines consistently, so users (and future developers) will have a clear idea of how content is organised into folders and pages.

10. Don’t be Case Sensitive
Unlike a domain name, URL is case sensitive – Don’t ever, ever allow any uppercase letters in your structure. Mixed cases can complicate and confuse.

11. Don’t Append Irrelevant Data
There’s no point to having a URL that will generate the same content in an abbreviated form. You can virtually guarantee that it will cause duplication issues.

Whilst not adhering to the above practices won’t necessarily lead to perfect SEO results, organised and well-applied URL structures should be considered a component of any organisation best practice SEO in the same way that W3C and CSS validation is applied.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: