The URL, or web address of the page is an often overlooked component of SEO. Today, we’ll look at how to create SEO friendly URLs.
Once you get past great content and a quality back link profile, SEO comes down to a lot of little things. The URL structure of your website and your web individual web addresses are some of those things that you can optimize.
Here are some best practices for SEO friendly URLs.
SEO Friendly URLS Avoid Extraneous Clutter
What this means is, URLs should always be text based, as opposed to page or date based. If you’re using WordPress, I recommend setting your Permalinks to Post name. Permalinks establish the rules for URL structure on your website. You can find this in your WordPress admin under Settings > Permalinks.
Using this type of URL structure is more legible than using the post number or the month/year date URL structure.
Shorter URLs Are More SEO Friendly Than Long URLs
When it comes to creating URLs for a page, the shorter is better.
If you’ve done your keyword research, and you know what your keyword phrase should be, make that keyword phrase the URL.
Cut any additional words from your URL. Shorter is better.
Think of your URL as the most concise possible way you can describe a page to someone else.
SEO Friendly URLs Are Sharable
A SEO friendly URL is a label for that web page. Making your URLs more appealing to click than your competitors is a key to getting better click-through rate, more shares, and more traffic.
A 2014 study by RadiumOne study suggests that URLs that are shared on social media do better with shorter URLs. One reason for this might be that naturally short URLs are easy to read and trust. Conversely, with link shortened, non-branded URLs, (like bit.ly links), it’s hard to tell what’s behind that link.
Google can parse long URLs with ease, but longer URLs are less readable by humans. Short URLs are easier to understand at a glance, they are more clickable, and are easier to share.
Don’t make people think too hard about what they’re going to find on your page. Keep URLs concise and easy to share.
SEO Friendly URLs Contain the Target Keywords
Articles get shared via social media and email. The URL is the first indication of what that web page is about. The URL should match the page content, and be a distilled version of the page title.
Using your main keyword phrase as the URL make it abundantly clear that the site visitor will get what they are coming for.
When you share a URL in forums, on social media, and email, that URL becomes the anchor text. The words that make up the link are important for SEO.
The URL is also a promise to the people clicking it that they’re going to find information for the specific subject described in the URL.
The meta description has the most words. The title has the second most amount of words. The URL should have the least amount of words.
All three of these convey what that page is about. Be sure to have your main search phrase for that page in all three.
SEO Friendly URLs Avoid Stop Words
If you’re using Yoast SEO on a WordPress site, stop words are usually stripped out of the title automatically. Stop words are anything like a, the, at, in, etc. These small prepositions are words that Google doesn’t need to figure out what your URL is about.
To duplicate these settings in Yoast SEO, go to SEO > Advanced > Permalinks.
Under Clean up Permalinks, set Keep stop words in slugs to Remove.
SEO Friendly URLs Are Readable, Not Merely Clever
The best web addresses closely match the title of the page.
Avoid making the URL something completely different from the page title, because this is confusing to your site visitors. Eliminate any doubt of what people will find. If people are looking at a page of search results, make that information digestible in a single glance.
Exercise judgment on this rule. Brevity is best. Variations of the title are usually OK. The ultimate goal is to communicate what your page is about in an instant. Everything in your search result should convey that information.
Some Thoughts on Canonical URLs
The canonical tag in HTML means “this is the original version of this page, treat this page as the definitive version”.
When a canonical link is output in the
head of a web page, it will look like this:
<link rel="canonical" href="https://www.yourwebsite.com/your-page/" />
Canonical URLs are a SEO best practice, but why do they exist? Sometimes, especially on e-commerce or large media sites, the same page of content can be accessed via different URLs. The canonical tag designates one URL as the definitive URL for that content. This prevents search engines from penalizing your pages for duplicate content issues.
If you are using Yoast SEO on your WordPress site (which we highly recommend), 99.9% of pages are already output with a canonical tag for the original URL.
The canonical tag tells the search engines which page they should regard as the authoritative version of the page.
If you want to manually set the canonical tag for a page in Yoast, you can do so by hitting the gear icon in the Yoast module when editing a page.
SEO Friendly URLs Do Not Rely on Parameters and Hashes
Whenever possible, avoid using parameters (?=some+stuff+goes+here) or hashes (#) in your URLs.
Google prefers to index pages without parameters over ones with parameters. The easier you can make it for Google to crawl your page, the better.
If your content is hidden behind a pop-up or modal, and you have to click a hashed link to reveal it, don’t expect that content to be indexed. However, Google will index tabbed content (like on a WooCommerce product page).
An examples of content hidden behind parameters would be content that is dynamically generated after making selections on a drop-down menu, without reloading the page. Googlebot does not index content pulled in from a database via Ajax if it is dependent on making selections from a dropdown.
Make sure the page content you want indexed is on the page on the initial page loading.
SEO Friendly URLs Avoid Special Characters
Recently, we’ve seen URLs with emojis in them. This can occur if you are are using an automated service like IFTTT to create pages on your WordPress site when you publish photos on Instagram.
Google can render URLs containing emojis in search results. The way your emoji-based URLs are displayed in a search result may be different than how they are rendered on your phone.
But I’m going to tell you to avoid emojis in your URLs whenever possible.
If the goal is to have the most clickable search result, everything needs to be about clarity. Adding emojis to your URL makes it difficult to read, and may make people hesitant to click your search result.
There’s another reason you should stick to alphanumeric characters in your URLs.
Uncommon Unicode characters can be difficult for search engines to render in search results. Any characters that are not alphanumeric require special encoding to be rendered in the URL. This means special Unicode symbols may not render correctly in every browser (like older versions of IE).
There are also reserved characters for URLs in the W3C specs. Using these reserved characters in your URLs requires special treatment. While you can use some of these symbols in your URL slugs in certain circumstances, it may be more trouble than it is worth.
Symbols to avoid in your URL slugs:
- The plus and equals signs (+, =)
- The @ symbol
- The dollar sign ($)
- Semicolons, colons, and commas
- The ampersand (&)
- The forward slash (/, as part of a URL slug)
One other thing to note with special characters. Including characters with diacritical marks in your URL — like
å à ç é ĕ ë ñ ó ü — require octet encoding or percent encoding for universal browser support.
These are not common issues for most US-based businesses thinking about how their URLs can SEO friendly, but may be of importance for many countries outside the US.
When in doubt, stick to alphanumeric characters in your URLs.
SEO Friendly URLs Use Hyphens for Separators
If you need to separate words either use hyphens and avoid underscores or spaces.
Most modern CMS like WordPress default to using hyphens as word separators in the URL. If you are using flat HTML files, and you are using spaces as word separators, that renders in the URL as
%20 in your URL looks ugly, and makes it difficult to read your URL. Not only that, it decreases trust in people clicking through to the result. Frankly, it looks like spam.
Google says right on their site that they prefer hyphens to underscores as word separators in the URL.
When Google says it, I follow their advice.
SEO Friendly URLs Are Not Keyword Stuffed
Another way to make your URLs more SEO friendly is to avoid keyword stuffing.
If your e-commerce URL structure has the domain name, then the category name, there is no need to repeat the category name in the product name. For example, the following URLs would be considered repetitious:
Repeating the same words over and over in your URL is not only spammy, but a wasted effort. Google already sees the words mentioned in the category. There’s no need to repeat it.
The same principle holds true if you’re running a regular marketing site. See if you can identify the keyword stuffing in the following URL.
In the example above, we repeat the brand name in the URL slug — but Google already sees that information in the domain name. Repeating it is a waste of space. Remember that both your customers and Google like things as simple as possible. More of the same words won’t make you rank higher.
This leads us into our last recommendation for URLs, which is the folder structure of your site.
Site Architecture and SEO Friendly URLs
Be selective about what categories and subcategories you have on your website.
Many sites will use the category name as a subfolder. Trouble starts when you have layers of nesting subcategories as part of the folder structure.
For example, the following URL is perfectly acceptable:
But this URL has many unnecessary layers of sub-categories in the folder structure:
Avoid redundancy in your folder and subcategory structure. Think of things from a UX standpoint. How difficult will it be for a user to get to a specific page?
Are your URLs repetitive? Do many of them look similar, except for the trailing slug (last part of the URL)?
Instead of making your URLs do all the heavy lifting on a large site, consider having breadcrumb navigation on each page instead. Your customers should be able to get to any page within three clicks.
Remember that the more words there are in a URL, the harder it is for customers to discern what your page is about in a single glance.
SEO friendly URLs are the ultimate form of micro-copy. Can you tell the story of the web page in a few words? Or even one or two words?
Convey the information that is necessary, discard the rest. Be sure to use your keyword for that page. Conciseness and clarity are your goals. Make sure people can understand what your page is about from a single glance at your URL.
More Posts in this Series
- What Is SEO?
- Know Your End Goal For SEO
- Know Your Customers
- Keyword Research for Better SEO
- Google Analytics & Google Search Console
- Content Planning for Your Website
- Website Content Audits
- 301 Redirects and Their Role in SEO
- Back Links and How They Affect SEO
- Writing Better Title Tags for SEO
- The Meta Description and Its Role In SEO
- The Guide to SEO Friendly URLs