Best Practices for SEO-Friendly URLs

An URL (universal resource locator) is text designed to represent the numerical IP addresses that computers use to communicate with servers in a way people can understand. URLs also identify the file structure of a website, allowing visitors to understand, for example, that the case study page they’re reading is in the Case Study subfolder of the Resources folder.

URLs count for SEO, so it’s important to make sure all of your webpage URLs are optimally structured and include a relevant keyword whenever possible. Place the keyword at the beginning of the URL if you can. Do not try to stuff your URLs with multiple keywords.

On a general level, URLs describe a site or page to visitors and search engines. Creating relevant, compelling and accurate URLs will help search engines index your pages and improve your page rank. The URL for a page should be descriptive enough that a visitor can have a good idea of what to expect on the page just by reading the URL.

Other important considerations when creating URLs:

  • Do not create URLs longer than 2,048 characters as some browsers may have problems loading the page. That’s really long; for optimum SEO, the shorter the better.
  • You can use hyphens as necessary for readability in URLs. Do not use underscores, spaces, or any other characters to separate words in URLs. Limit hyphen use in URLs as the practice can be seen by search engines as “spammy”.
  • Avoid the use of parameters in URLs. If parameters must be used, they should be limited to two at most.
  • Avoid repetition as it is also seen as spammy and can have a negative impact on page rank.
  • Avoid using capital letters in URLs.

Using Sub-domains

You can also create a sub-domain for completely different parts of your websites, such as a blog page or message board with a good bit of user-generated content. However, keep in mind that search engines can consider sub-domains to be a separate entity and not part of your website, so you should generally avoid using multiple sub-domains in an URL. It is also important to create an extensive interlinking structure between the sub-domain pages and the main page so you will not lose link juice.

Duplicate URLs

Duplicate URLs will hurt the ranking of your website. Automated content management systems (CMS) sometimes create duplicate URLs for the same content. It’s also easy to end up with www and non-www versions of your URL pointing to the same content, thus creating a duplicate content problem. Last but not least, duplicate content is often accidentally created by the use of session ids, affiliate codes and sorting options.

One way to deal with duplicate URLs is select the best URL and tack a rel canonical tag onto the duplicate URLs. Another solution is to add 301 redirects, typically redirecting multiple home page URLs to a single current version.

In general, you should have a smart URL strategy that every single page adheres to. Be thoughtful, follow the rules, and keep a clean site from page to page.