Although URLs are unlikely to sit at the top of your search engine optimization (SEO) to-do list, how you structure your site URLs will contribute to the success of your optimization strategy.
Think of a URL as performing the same job as your home address. Just as people use your address to find your home, browsers and servers use URLs to access specific web pages. As many platforms do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to the technical aspects of URLs, URL structure and site architecture, in general, has become an element of SEO that is often overlooked.
The Anatomy of a Good URL
URLs are important links between your visitor and your content. Although search engines can handle long URLs, refining their structure will provide a better user experience (UX) and will have a small, positive impact on your rankings. The information shared by Google about keyword-rich URLs has varied over the years. In 2017, John Mueller, Search Advocate at Google, said that keywords in URLs were overrated, and in 2018, he advised people against worrying about words or keywords in a URL as they often aren't seen by users.
However, many optimization experts still see value in optimizing URLs for readability, particularly as the incorporation of keywords can help users effectively navigate around a site. You want to ensure that your visitors spend as much time as possible on your site rather than immediately bouncing. Additionally, developing a website with a robust URL structure will help you avoid falling into the trap of redirect loops that can be difficult to correct.
So, it will be beneficial for you over the long term to invest in the establishment of a sound URL structure from the beginning. Don't forget, many site owners have found themselves landed with poor URL structures that have negatively impacted their performance in search engine results pages (SERPs) as their sites grew.
How Does URL Structure Impact Rankings?
Search engines really care about the structure of your site because they want to ensure that their users are presented with search results that deliver a seamless experience. Search engines recognize that searchers don't want to have to work hard to find the information they're looking for and both site and URL structure plays a significant role in streamlining the entire process.
A good URL structure will also help you to drive additional backlinks from authoritative sites, which will significantly impact your ranking position. As backlinks are such an integral ranking factor, you need to ensure that you aren't inadvertently discouraging people from sharing your content.
Google Page Experience Update
Google is rolling out its Page Experience update this June, which further reinforces the search giant’s increasing priority on UX when it comes to ranking results.
This update accounts for the factors that contribute to how well users perceive their experience when interacting with a website. These factors include:
- Existing search signals
- Mobile-friendliness — The website is designed and optimized for mobile
- HTTPS — The website uses HTTPS for security
- Safe browsing — The website is free of malicious software
- Intrusive interstitials — The website doesn’t have instant pop-ups that cover content
- Core Web Vitals
- Loading — The website loads fast
- Interactivity — The website quickly recognizes users clicking on buttons
- Visual Stability — The website visual elements don’t move unexpectedly
Websites that cover all these bases will have a better chance of ranking high on Google. Although URL structure doesn’t directly tie in with the upcoming algorithm changes, structuring URLs properly fits right in with Google’s emphasis on rewarding websites with good UX.
By working on your URL structures today, you get into the right mindset of putting your users’ experiences above all else, which prepares you for Google Page Experience update.
What Do I Need to Keep in Mind When Structuring URLs?
1. Be Consistent and Organised
In addition to keeping things as simple as possible, you're also going to want to be consistent and extremely organized. Just as search engines don't react to surprises very well, they also value clear organization. Standing out from the crowd online is usually a good thing, but when it comes to the structure of your URLs, this definitely isn't the best time to try and be innovative.
In general, you're probably going to want to avoid using subdomains and instead utilize categories, directories, and subfolders. Don't forget subdomains will split your site authority, which certainly won't be beneficial for your SEO overall.
2. Prioritize Trustworthiness
As Google consistently prioritizes user experience, it is imperative that you do everything possible to enhance the credibility and trustworthiness of your site. Ideally, your URLs should use HTTPS and top-level domains (TLDs). HTTPS will give your site an additional layer of security, and selecting the right TLD will make a significant impact on the way your end-users view your site.
3. Be Concise
Shorter URLs are easier to read and easier to share. Driving more shares will increase your traffic and put you in a better position to demonstrate that your web pages contain the high-quality information that searchers are looking for.
4. Avoid Stop Words and Special Characters
URLs that feature stop words such as 'the' and 'an' or contain special characters such as ampersands, asterisks, and exclamation points can impact your rankings. It is best practice to omit words that don't add value, particularly because only a maximum of 70 URL characters will ever be displayed. Special characters are likely to cause indexing issues, which is something you definitely want to avoid.
What are the Most Commonly Made URL Mistakes?
We all make mistakes, but some can have more detrimental effects than others.
1. Changing URLs without 301 Redirects
If you decide that making changes to the structure of a URL is necessary, you need to make sure that you implement a proper 301 redirect. If you fail to do this, your rankings may be impacted.
2. Keyword Errors
It is possible to have both too few and too many keywords, so striking the perfect balance is essential. Too many keywords can make a URL look spammy, and if Google picks up on that, your rankings are going to suffer. Conversely, an absence of keywords can negatively impact the readability of a URL, which can be off-putting to many users.
The concept of URL structure is multi-dimensional, so much so that it isn't unusual to find lots of conflicting information about the subject. But although the fundamentals of structuring URLs are relatively complex, this knowledge will ultimately serve you well as you continue to develop and enhance your SEO strategy.
Just remember, in addition to keeping your URLs consistent, straightforward, and organized, make sure that you incorporate a target keyword and take care to present your business in the most credible and trustworthy light. Also, as with all aspects of SEO, it is best not to hyper-focus on single elements without looking at it from a holistic perspective. SEO takes time but getting off on the right foot will help maximize your efforts in the long run. There are many moving parts here, and you can't afford to take your eye off the ball at any point.