How to Create Website URLs for SEO? Must-Know Tips & Best Practices
# SEO Knowledge
What is a website URL and why should you make it SEO-friendly? Learn about the best practices to optimize your website URL for SEO in this article below!
- The Basics of Website URL
- The Different Types of URLs
- Why Optimize Your Website URL for SEO?
- SEO Best Practices for URLs
- Need Help Enhancing Your URL Structure for SEO?
The Basics of Website URL
The knowledge of creating optimized website URLs is a must for anyone striving to conquer the SEO landscape, so if you're a content creator or a digital marketer, this guide is tailored just for you. We're going to delve into the world of website URLs and examine their structure to help you understand their impact on SEO.
Now, let’s start with the basics.
What is a URL?
URL, or Uniform Resource Locator, is the web address used to identify and locate web resources on the internet.
It's like a digital postal code that tells your browser where to find a specific webpage. Without URLs, the internet, as we know it, wouldn't exist.
Understanding URL Structure
By breaking down a URL into its core components, we can get a better understanding of its structure. Take this URL below for example:
It can be divided into three main parts, including the protocol, the domain name, and the slug.
The Protocol Identifier
The protocol identifier determines how data is transferred between your browser and the web server. It is indicated by 'https' in our example with a colon and two slashes right after this part.
You might have also encountered 'http' (without the 's'), which is the unsecured version. The ‘https’ protocol identifier, on the other hand, has a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) security certification which provides encryption for all data transfers to ensure safe browsing. This prevents personal information, like account passwords or credit card numbers, from being leaked.
The Domain Name
The domain name serves as the main address for the website. It's the part you type into your browser's address bar to access a specific site, like this part in our example above:
It can also be further dissected into three parts:
Subdomain: An optional part of the domain name that helps to categorize your website content. The example above uses ‘www’ (World Wide Web) as its subdomain, but there are also other subdomains like support, blog, news, etc.
Root Domain: In our example, “wellyseo” is the root domain. It's the main part of the domain name, representing the website’s primary content or brand image.
Top-Level Domain (TLD): The last segment of your domain name which often denotes the website's purpose, origin, or industry. Common TLDs include '.com' (which is the one in the example above,) '.org,' '.net,' and '.edu.'
The slug, also known as the path, specifies a particular webpage or resource within the website.
In our case, 'article-title’ identifies a specific article.
The slug also plays a vital role in SEO, as it helps both search engines and users to understand the content of the page.
We’ll provide tips on optimizing URL slugs for SEO later in this article, so stay tuned!
The Different Types of URLs
Absolute URLs VS Relative URLs
Website URLs come in various lengths and forms. Broadly, they can be divided into two categories: absolute and relative.
An absolute URL provides the complete web address of a resource, including the protocol identifier, domain name, and slug.
For example, this is an absolute URL:
A relative URL, on the other hand, only specifies a resource's address by including the slug. It relies on the context of the current page to determine the full URL which is the reason why it’s called a “relative” URL.
An example of a relative URL would be simply:
Categories Based on URL Function
URLs can also be categorized according to their specialized functions. Here are a few notable types:
Canonical URLs play a crucial role in preventing duplicate content issues that might harm your SEO rankings, as they help browsers and search engines identify the preferred version of a web page when multiple versions of the same content exist.
To gain a better understanding of this concept, let's illustrate it with an example. Imagine running an e-commerce website that sells a variety of electronic gadgets. It has a product page for a popular smartphone that can be accessed through different URLs for various reasons.
- Original URL The link you initially established for this page, such as:
- Category Page The smartphone is part of the "Mobile Phones" category, so there's a URL for that category page, that could be:
- Search Results When users search for "smartphone" on your site, it generates an alternate URL for the search results, for instance:
To let search engines consider the original URL as your primary version, you can add a canonical tag (link rel="canonical") to the HTML of the product page, like this:
<link rel="canonical" href="https://www.example.com/products/smartphone">
By specifying the canonical URL, you can combine the SEO value of backlinks and ranking signals to this single URL, allowing it to get the best visibility in search results.
Callback URLs are frequently used in web applications to handle authentication and redirection after specific user actions.
For instance, imagine yourself making a purchase online. Once you’ve authenticated your credit card, you’ll be redirected to the online store you were browsing. This page you return to is the one with the callback URL and it helps the website manage traffic when the users have to jump websites for specific purposes.
Vanity URLs are user-friendly, customized URLs that direct users to specific pages on a website. They are often used for promotional purposes and are easily shareable.
Why Optimize Your Website URL for SEO?
Not only can a well-structured URL help you manage your website efficiently, but it also gives your website an advantage over both users and search engines.
The Importance of an SEO-Friendly URL
Imagine moving along a bustling city with confusing, complicated streets and no street signs. Frustrating, right? The same concept applies to URLs. A well-structured URL makes it easier for users to understand and navigate your website as it provides:
Readability: A well-structured URL is readable and easier to comprehend. It offers a preview of what to expect on the page so that users can decide if the page's content aligns with their interests or needs.
Trustworthiness: Users are more likely to click on a link with a clear, organized URL structure, as it suggests professionalism and reliability. URLs with a string of random letters and numbers could easily be suspected as spam or malware, making the users avoid them.
Shareability: An optimized URL performs better when shared. When users find content they love, they might want to share it on social media, forums, or other online platforms. However, if the content relies on an unoptimized, randomly generated URL, it would probably gain less traffic and visibility than a URL that’s been structured for human readability.
Just take a look at the example below. You might notice how the URL on top looks more suspicious when compared to the one on the bottom.
Search Engine Rankings
While URLs alone won't catapult your page to the top of search results, they are one of many ranking factors considered by search engines. When combined with other SEO practices, such as quality content and backlinks, optimized URLs contribute to higher rankings by boosting:
Keyword Relevance: When search engines find keywords in your URL, it helps them match user queries with your content, giving you a chance to rank better for these specific search terms.
Crawlability: Search engine bots appreciate straightforward URLs, as the organized structure allows them to crawl and index your pages more efficiently, your content more likely to be discovered and displayed in search results.
Click-Through Rate (CTR): As we’ve mentioned earlier, users are more likely to click on a link when the URL aligns with their search intent. This improves your click-through rate, increases organic traffic to your site, and ultimately boosts your SEO.
Why You Shouldn’t Just Change Old URLs
Now that you know how URLs impact SEO, you might be tempted to change your old ones.
However, the act of changing existing URLs should be approached with caution, as it might lead to a loss in rankings and traffic.
Plus, it could confuse your users who try to locate the page with your old link. This is why you should focus on optimizing new URLs instead.
Nevertheless, sometimes you might run into issues that call for an inevitable URL change. When that happens, consider implementing a 301 redirect, which guides users and search engines to the new location seamlessly.
You can check out this article here to learn more about URL redirection: What is URL Redirection? How to Redirect a Website URL?
SEO Best Practices for URLs
URL structure isn't a one-size-fits-all and varies from one website to another.
So, to understand how you can optimize it effectively, be sure to assess your website’s functions and needs.
Now, let's explore some best practices that can transform your URLs into powerful SEO tools.
Create SEO-Friendly URL Slugs
Slugs are the most flexible part of your URL, unlike most parts that are usually decided when you establish your website. They have to be created every time you add a new page to your website, which also means there’ll be a lot of them, so we’ll start here.
1. Make It Relevant
Be descriptive and avoid using the random slugs that are automatically generated.
Your slug should offer a glimpse of what the page is about. Craft it in a way that piques the curiosity of your users, while giving them a clear idea of what they'll find.
So, instead of this:
Opt for something like this:
2. Include Target Keywords
Conduct thorough keyword research and try incorporating your target keyword to help search engines understand your page better, but be sure to avoid keyword stuffing and excessive repetition, or it might harm your SEO instead. One to two relevant keywords are usually enough.
Here’s an example of keyword stuffing in URL slugs:
If you’re not familiar with keyword research, you can check out these articles for more insight and discover useful keyword research tools:
- How to Use Google Keyword Planner: Free Tool Full Guide
- What are Long-Tail Keywords & How to Use Them for SEO?
3. Keep It Short and Sweet
Some websites try to include their entire page title in the slug, making it lengthy and hard to read. Aim to keep your slug within 3 to 5 words, and remove unnecessary information that doesn't help the users understand your content.
For instance, something like this would be overcomplex and could even be cut short when it’s shared on different platforms:
In contrast, this URL is straightforward and attractive for users:
4. Avoid Using Stop Words
Though stop words like 'and,' 'the,' and 'in' can help create fluid sentences, including them in your slug could clutter your URL.
Omit them to keep your URL clean and concise.
Just look at these URLs:
Example 1: https://www.example.com/the-best-milk-tea-in-hong-kong/
Example 2: https://www.example.com/best-milk-tea-hong-kong/
You’ll realize how users are still able to understand what the page is about with the second URL, even though some words were removed, so just keep it simple!
5. Use Hyphens to Separate Words
When separating words in your slug, use hyphens (-) instead of underscores or other punctuations.
This can make your URL more readable for readers and optimized for search engines like Google.
Also, avoid stringing words together because it might be difficult to read. You can compare these two URLs to understand the difference:
Example 1: https://www.example.com/musicawardswinners
Example 2: https://www.example.com/music-awards-winners
6. Use All Lowercase
Stick to lowercase letters throughout your slug.
Mixing uppercase and lowercase could lead to confusion because users usually rely on lowercase letters when making search queries or typing web addresses. If they didn’t include the uppercase letters that you have in your official URL, they might be directed to an error page.
For example, our article will turn up when you type this link:
But you will reach an error 404 page if you include uppercase letters like this:
7.Avoid Special Characters
Special characters and brackets have no place in your slug, as they can make your URL look too complicated.
Plus, some of these characters are reserved for defining HTML or CSS markup language, so including them in your URL may cause your page to not render properly. Stick to letters, numbers, hyphens, and forward slashes instead!
8. Future-proof Your URL
Think long-term when crafting your slug. Avoid including dates or numbers to make sure your URL remains relevant at all times.
Imagine yourself as a user looking for popular cafes. You’re more likely to click on this link:
because the latter seems too outdated, and a recent post would be more helpful.
Moreover, you might want to update your page in the future, leading you to consider editing the slug to match its content, but as we’ve discussed earlier, it’s not recommended to change your existing URL.
Keeping the same slug for the updated page isn’t a wise choice either. For instance, if the page says “/top-10-hong-kong-cafe/” in its slug but only provides 8 café recommendations, you’ll feel cheated. Sure, they might have their reasons, maybe some of the cafés closed down, but the users won’t know that.
By omitting dates and numbers in your slug, you create a timeless URL that ensures lasting SEO benefits.
Optimize the Rest of Your Website URL
Here are some tips to optimize other elements in your URL, beyond the slug.
1. Use HTTPS Instead of HTTP
Security matters. Opt for “https” over “http” to secure data transfer and help the users feel safe when they enter personal information to create accounts or make purchases at your website.
The “https” protocol will prevent hackers from reading the data, even if they manage to trap it. In turn, you gain the trust of both users and search engines.
You’ll notice that most browsers hide the “www” and “https://” parts in the address bar (but you can still see them if you double-click the address bar). That’s because it’s not necessary to display them.
Thus, you can consider omitting the 'www' prefix or other subdomains from your URL to simplify it.
3. Avoid Using Multiple Subdomains
Though some people use multiple subdomains to categorize their page functions, the inconsistency may cause search engines to treat these pages as different websites with duplicate content. This will ultimately cause the website’s ranking to drop.
So, instead of subdomains, we recommend that you try using subfolders to manage your website content.
4. Apply Subfolders Wisely
Subfolders are used to organize content and help users get a clearer picture of your website’s hierarchy. Let’s take a look at this example:
It’s unclear if this URL below leads to a blog about green tea, a store that’s selling tea products, or something else.
With subfolders, you can tell this is actually a product page for “green tea”, nested in a “tea leaves” category page within the store.
You can also omit some of the subfolders when there are excessive layers, keeping it within 2 or 3 folders, to maintain a clean URL structure.
5. Create a Memorable Domain
If your website is at an early development stage, you should choose a domain name that’s memorable and reflective of your brand or content. Avoid overly complex and lengthy domains that users may struggle to remember.
6.Select an Appropriate TLD
Your TLD should align with your website's purpose and audience.
The most common one is .com so it’s the easiest to remember, while region-specific TLDs like .hk or .fr are useful when you want to target audiences in particular countries.
Furthermore, some TLDs, such as .edu (for educational websites) or .gov (for government websites) can add a sense of authority, whereas others like .biz, .info, and .name could be associated with spam, affecting your credibility among users and search engines. Consider all the aspects to choose the best one for your website.
7. Avoid Dynamic Parameters
Dynamic URLs contain query parameters, which are instructions that navigate the browser to specific parts of a page. They contain special characters, such as question marks (?), equal signs (=), and ampersands (&), making them look messy and non-user-friendly.
When you apply dynamic parameters, you are also creating multiple versions of a URL that lead to the same page. This could lead to duplicate content issues so opt for non-dynamic, static URLs whenever possible.
At the end of the day, just be sure to use the same naming conventions and logic for all of your website’s URLs, from the homepage to each individual post. This ensures easy navigation and enhanced understanding, for both users and search engines.
Need Help Enhancing Your URL Structure for SEO?
This article has unveiled the secrets of website URLs, from their basic components to their profound impact on SEO. We hope that the tips and best practices you've learned here will serve as a guide in your SEO journey.
If you want to learn more or get a free SEO audit report, don't hesitate to reach out to Welly via the yellow button below. Our experts are here to help you elevate your SEO performance!