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There’s a lot to think about when it comes to search engine optimization. One question that often gets overlooked, though, is “how do you structure URLs for SEO?”
In this post, we’ll offer four essential tips for creating better, more SEO-friendly URLs. (And yes, there are examples of well-structured URLs.)
First, though, let’s cover the basics.
What Is a URL?
A URL – short for Uniform Resource Locator – is the web’s version of an address. Each URL (usually) points to a specific destination. These include:
- HTML pages (like the one you’re on)
- CSS documents
URLs are useful things. They can be used to classify content, pass data between applications (using webhooks), and more. But for the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on how to structure URLs for SEO.
URLs & SEO: The Relationship
Facts first: There are dozens of factors that determine where your content ranks on the SERP. A URL is only one of them.
Google (and, heh, Bing) analyze everything about your page and post. That includes its UX, quality, E-A-T, and much more. The URL is absolutely not the most important ranking factor. But it is on the list.
That said, will a great URL improve your SEO rankings? Frankly, probably not. But will a terrible URL hurt them? You betcha.
Again, your URL is not a top ranking factor. But it does hold several important pieces of information that Google needs. A good URL is like a wall in the house you’re trying to sell. Will you get a better price because you have a wall? Of course not! But will a crack down the center of the wall cost you a sale? Probably.
How to Structure URLs for SEO
Now you know what a URL is, and why it matters for search engine optimization. Let’s get to the tips!
How Do You Structure Your URL for SEO?
- Keep your URL short
- Avoid over-nesting
- Don’t just copy your title
- Include your keywords
Tip #1: Keep It Short
This is as much about the robots as it is the user. A simple, easy-to-use URL is attractive on the SERP. It also (hopefully) doesn’t require a URL shortener when posted on social media or shared.
Example: Think about scripting a commercial. You want to tell viewers to visit your landing page for a 20% discount. (We’ve all heard these in podcasts.)
Do you say …
“Visit altitudemarketing.com/podcast to learn more!”
“Visit altitudemarketing.com/heres-your-20-percent-discount-for-being-a-podcast-listener to learn more!”
Obviously, it’s the first. Now, you could use a redirect to create the same experience, but too many redirects is a Google red flag. Avoid them if you can.
And you know how your listener likes the first URL better? Google parses things in much the same way. It likes you to get to the point, letting its robots know exactly what your content is as quickly as possible. Better user experience is better robot experience, which means better rankings. And that’s the point of structuring your URLs for SEO.
Tip #2: Avoid Over-Nesting
In the old days, it was common for URLs (and website menus) to closely reflect content “hierarchy.” Web developers and content producers would try to group pages and posts like they were organizing their sock drawer.
You’d end up with grandchild pages, great-grandchild pages, great-great-grandchild pages … and sometimes even worse. You’d see URLs like:
You know what message these URLs are sending to Google?
They’re saying the content is unimportant. It’s three or four levels deep! How big a deal could it be?
Menus, intra-linking and URLs are not the same thing. Now, organization is good. You can’t have an entirely flat sitemap. And some content, frankly, is unimportant. Go ahead and bury it. But when you’re dealing with the important stuff, the best way to structure your URL for SEO is to bring it closer to the “top.”
There’s an exception here: Extra wording used exclusively for tracking. The classic example here is structuring post URLs as:
That /blog/ is a big deal. Yes, it’s adding length. But it’s also letting you easily segregate out blog posts in Google Analytics. Without it, you’re at a loss. Same goes for /about/news/, /white-papers/ and other sorts of content you might want to compare apples-to-apples.
(Just don’t go crazy. /blog/ is enough. You don’t need /company/resource-center/blog.)
Tip #3: Don’t Just Copy Your Title
Ah, the classic mistake when you’re trying to choose a URL to improve SEO. Problem is, it’s the default for a lot of SEO plugins and helpers.
Here’s why not to just copy your title.
First, there’s length. Blog posts sometimes have long headlines. That violates URL SEO Rule #1.
Then there are stop words.
Stop words, like “a,” “an,” “the” and, well, “and,” are skipped by natural language processing engines, like Google’s. (Here’s a full list of stop words.) In other words, they add no value, and only serve to make for a longer and more confusing URL.
What you’re trying to get across in your title is not exactly what you’re trying to get across in the URL. So enter it by hand (Yoast calls this the “slug”), and avoid stop words. Keep it close to the title, but not exact.
There is an argument to be made that stop words sometimes do belong in URLs. This is when their absence impacts clarity.
Imagine a blog post about dealing with hair loss. (A totally foreign topic to me.) Which URL better gets the point across?
The first is clear because of the “with.” The latter could be about losing your hair because of a missed sales opportunity. Here, the stop word should be included. It’s all about getting the point across in the shortest URL possible.
Tip #4: Include Your Keywords
This one should be obvious. When you’re structuring a URL for SEO, make sure to include the keyword you’re writing for. That’s the point of the post, so it belongs in your URL.
Take this post. Its focus keyphrase is “structure URL for SEO.” That’s basically the address – minus the stop word, which adds no context. Your title should contain your focus keyword, so it’s a good starting place. Just remember SEO URL Rule #3: Don’t copy it.
(Usually. Stupid exceptions.)
URLs are not terribly hard, once you get the hang of them. Keep them short, remember that they don’t need to match your menu structure exactly, remove anything Google will ignore, and make sure they match your content’s focus.
Will better URLs make your rankings go through the roof? Probably not. But they will protect the rest of your search engine optimization efforts from unnecessary penalties.