The URLs of your website are often the first thing that Google and customers will see. A badly constructed URL that directs visitors to a blank page or unwanted page is often a source of abandonment. They are therefore worth the trouble. But getting a correct URL structure involves a complex mix of factors, from clarity to semantic positioning. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, there are some good practices we can all follow to get the most out of our URLs and set our sites for future SEO success. Here are 8 golden rules for building a powerful SEO URL structure.
1. Use your keywords
Whenever you create / add a page to your site, it should have a purpose. Whether it is transactional, informational or administrative, its rationale must be clear from the start. You want this page to be discovered by the right people (and the crawlers), so you’ll integrate keyword searches and include relevant terms. The most descriptive of these should be included in the URL, near the root domain. We will deal with several pages that will later address the same subject, but for now, suppose the simple example of a page that deals clearly with a subject: let’s go for whiskey.
Generic example : https://example.com/topic
Example based on whiskey : https://example.com/whisky
Even that is not as simple as it seems.
Should we use “whiskey” or “whiskey” as the standard spelling? Both are valid, the first being an Irish spelling and the second Scottish. Irish spelling has been adopted in the United States, but we will need more arguments before using this variant. The Moz Keyword Explorer is ideal for this type of situation because it groups the keywords to give an estimate of the search volume for particular topics. In a world where vague keyword research is legion, it offers an interesting solution.
The volume of research is more important with “whiskey” so, let’s continue with this spelling.
2. Build a solid structure for the future
The biggest challenge we all face when we define a site-wide URL hierarchy is to make sure it always meets our goal for years to come. For this reason, some websites are a patchwork of subdomains and conflicting paths to similar products. This is not ideal from the user’s point of view, but it also sends baffling signals to Google about how you categorize your offer. An example of this would be:
The first URL is logically transferred from the domain to the category to the subcategory up to the product. The second URL passes from the domain to the product. Hierarchically, both products must be at the same level on the site. The example of Jameson is better for SEO but also for users. However, it is still very common to encounter hierarchy errors on the sites. It can be a simple lack of communication, a product team launching a new article directly on the site without consulting other parties. In any case, it is essential to establish your structure in advance. Work with different teams to understand the future direction of the business, then add your SEO knowledge to shape the site’s architecture.
3. Avoid unnecessary words and characters
In general, make sure that a user can understand the content of your page by simply looking at the URL. This means that you do not need to include each preposition or conjunction. Words like “and” or “the” are just distractions and can be removed from the URL. Just as users can understand a subject without these short words, Google will do the same. You must also avoid repeating keywords in URLs. Adding the same keyword multiple times in the hope of increasing your ranking chances will only lead to a URL structure seen as spam. An example of this would be duplication: https://domain.com/ whiskey / irish- whiskey / Jameson-irish- whiskey / Jameson-irish-whiskey -history
The first two uses of the main keyword make sense, but the third and fourth are excessive. Some additional points to remember about this topic:
- Case sensitive : it is surprising to find several versions of the same URL, one in lowercase and the others in uppercase. Use canonical tags to mark the lowercase URL as the preferred version or, if possible, use permanent redirects.
- Hash function : These can be useful for sending users to a specific section of a page, but restrict their use in other circumstances. If content users are sent after the # symbol is unique, make it available through a simple URL.
- Word Delimiters : Stay with the hyphens to separate the words in your URLs. The sub characters will be used to join two words, so avoid using them.
- URL Length : After 512 pixels, Google will truncate your URL in the search results pages. A good rule is to keep your URLs as short as possible, without losing their general meaning.
4. Reduce dynamic URL strings
This may be more difficult than it seems, depending on the content management system you use. Some e-commerce platforms will automatically put you in strings that leave you with URLs like: https://domain.com/cat/?cid=7078
These are a little unsightly and also go against the rules we have described above. We want static URLs that include a logical structure and descriptive keywords. Although search engines have no problem exploring or indexing either variant, for SEO purposes it is better to use static URLs rather than dynamic URLs. The fact is that static URLs contain your keywords and are more user-friendly because you can determine the nature of the page by simply looking at the name of the static URL. So, how can we get around this? You can use rewrite rules if your web server is running Apache, but also use some tools such as Generate It. Some web developers also use relative URLs. The problem with relative URLs for SEO is that they depend on the context in which they occur. Once the context is changed, the URL may not work. For SEO, it is better to use absolute URLs rather than relative URLs, the former being what search engines prefer. Now, different settings can sometimes be added to the URL for tracking analytics or for other reasons (such as Sid, UTM , etc.) to make sure these settings do not increase the number of URLs containing duplicate content, you can do any of the following:
- Have Google skip some URL settings in the Google Search Console in Setup> URL Settings.
- Check if your content management system allows you to consolidate URLs with additional parameters with their shorter counterparts.
5. Consolidate the different versions of your site
Generally, there are two main versions of your domain indexed in search engines: the www version and the non-www version. We can add to that the complexity of having a secure version (https) and unsecured (HTTP), Google favoring the first. Most SEOs use 301 redirect to point one version of their site to the other (or vice versa). This tells the search engines that a particular URL has been moved permanently to another destination. Alternatively, (for example, when you can not redirect), you can specify your preferred version in the Google Search Console by going to Setup> Settings> Preferred Domain. However, this has some disadvantages:
- This takes care of Google only.
- This option is limited to root domains only. If you have an example.wordpress.com site, this method is not for you.
But why worry about the www or non-www issue in the first place? The thing is, some of your backlinks can point to your www version, while others might go to the non-www version. For the SEO of all versions to be consolidated, it is better to explicitly establish this link between them. You can do this through the 301 redirect, in the Google Search Console or by using a canonical tag, which we will discuss in more detail below.
6. Correctly use canonical tags
We are there, the canonical beacons. This piece of code is very useful when you have multiple versions of what is essentially the same page. By adding a canonical tag, you can tell Google what your favorite version is. Note : The canonical tag should only be used to help search engines choose your canonical URL. To redirect pages of the site, use redirects. And, for paginated content, it’s a good idea to use the rel = “next” and rel = “prev” tags in most cases. Canonical tags are useful for virtually all websites, but they are particularly powerful for online retailers. For example, on the Macy’s website, we can directly access the Quilts & Bedspreads page using the URL (https://www.macys.com/shop/bed-bath/quilts-bedspreads), or we can take different routes from the home page :
- We can go to the home page >> Bed & Bath >> Quilts & Bedspreads. The following URL with our saved path is generated: https://www.macys.com/shop/bed-bath/quilts-bedspreads?id=22748&edge=hybrid
- Or we can go to the home page >> For the home >> Bed & Bath >> Bedding >> Quilts & bedspreads. The following URL is generated: https://www.macys.com/shop/bed-bath/quilts-bedspreads?id=22748&cm_sp=us_hdr-_-bed-%26-bath-_-22748_quilts-%26-bedspreads_COL1
Now all three URLs lead to the same content. And if you look at the code of each page, you will see the following tag in the head element:
As you can see, for each of these URLs, a canonical URL is specified, which is the cleanest version of all URLs in the group: https://www.macys.com/shop/bed-bath/quilts-bedspreads ? id = 22748. This reduces the SEO value of each of these three URLs to a single URL to display in the search results (the canonical URL).
7. Incorporate topical authority
In the Google Guidelinesabout the quality of the search (essential document for all SEOs!), There are clear references to the main content and additional content. The main content will be your main page in each section, which will really define the nature of your category. It will define your site as a relevant source for a topic. Additional content provides, as the name suggests, additional information that helps users navigate the topic and make informed decisions. The structure of the URL is an essential element to get things right. So back to our example of whiskey to see how we could fix it. Our site is focused on e-commerce and we want to sell the product. However, moving forward and just pushing the product pages is tantamount to an SEO tunnel vision. Our initial search from Moz Keyword Explorer is an excellent resource when we develop these plans. Below, we exported the keyword list and reduced it to the largest items. From there, we can begin to decide what could be considered as a subject for a main content or an additional content page.
This is a simplified example and a first step. However, it should be noted that this approach goes beyond the mere category> subcategory> product. Thinking in terms of core content and additional content, a product is just as likely to qualify as a primary content. The question is more about the topics that consumers want us to develop to help them make choices. From there, we can delve into some of these topics and begin to define what each hub might look like. Some obvious opportunities already stand out for creating content and ranking through rich snippets. People want to know how whiskey is made, what are the different varieties and, of course, if the spelling is “whiskey” or “whiskey”. This could be the beginning of a business case for creating a whiskey tasting guide or a “historic whiskey” section on the site. Combined with ranking difficulty metrics, business priorities, and content production capabilities, this approach will soon take the form of an analysis of the hierarchy of sites and opportunities. For our example of whiskey, it could start to include the following structure: this approach will soon take the form of an analysis of the hierarchy of sites and opportunities. For our example of whiskey, it could start to include the following structure: this approach will soon take the form of an analysis of the hierarchy of sites and opportunities. For our example of whiskey, it could start to include the following structure:
Once again, there are decisions to be made.
In the last URL, it could be argued that the barley whiskey tasting guide page should be under the whiskey barley sub-category page in the site hierarchy. After all, barley whiskey has been designated as “main content” in the spreadsheet. The choice here comes down to the question of value consolidation; the dispersion of this value would reduce our chances of ranking for any term of “tasting guide”. These are exactly the types of decisions that can lead to a confusing structure if a coherent logic is not followed. All this will contribute to your current authority and increase the visibility of the site.
8. Create an XML sitemap
Once you have ticked all the items above, you want to make sure the search engines know what is happening on your website. This is where sitemaps are useful, especially XML sitemaps. An XML sitemap should not be confused with the HTML sitemap. The first is for search engines, while the second is primarily for human users. So, what is an XML sitemap? Clearly, it is a list of the URLs of your site that you submit to the search engines. This is mainly for 2 things:
- This helps search engines find your pages more easily.
- Search engines can use the sitemap as a reference when choosing canonical URLs on your site.
Selecting a preferred (canonical) URL becomes necessary when search engines see duplicate pages on your site. Thus, since they do not want duplicates in the search results, the engines use a special algorithm to identify duplicate pages and choose a single URL for the search results. Other web pages are simply filtered. Now, let’s go back to the sitemaps. One of the criteria that search engines can use to choose a canonical URL for a group of web pages is whether this URL is mentioned in your site’s sitemap. So, which web pages should be included in your sitemap? For purely SEO reasons, it is recommended to include only the web pages that you want to display in the search.
A friendly URL structure for SEO is:
- Easy to read : Users and search engines must be able to understand what’s on each page by simply looking at the URL.
- Rich in keywords : keywords are always important and your target queries must be in URLs. Do not overload, however, your keyword URLs.
- Consistency : There are several ways to create an SEO-compatible URL structure. It is essential that, whatever logic you choose to follow, it is applied consistently across the site.
- Static : Dynamic settings are rarely the best friend of SEO, but they are pretty common. If possible, find a solution that allows your site to generate static URLs.
- Planned for the future : think about planning the structure of your site. You must minimize the number of redirects on your domain and it is easier to do so if you do not need to change the URLs.
- Complete : Use the main content and additional content concepts to ensure you have adequate coverage for all relevant topics. This will maximize the visibility of your site.
- Supported by data : This typically requires the engagement of many stakeholders to initiate or update a particular site structure. The numbers speak, so use the research and analysis data to support your case.
- Submitted to search engines : Finally, create an XML sitemap containing all the URLs you want to rank and submit to the search engines. This will ensure that all your hard work gets the reward it deserves.
And you, through this article, do you think that your URL structures are perfectly optimized? Leave us a comment below to share your opinion.