Everyone knows that picking the main address for your website is crucial. In the US the best main URL is often a well-thought-out brand name with .com at the end of it. Would Amazon still be the major global sales force it has become if someone already got to the amazon.com main URL first? We’ll never know but there is certainly power in a name.
But URLs are much more than a container for a brand name: they represent the location of each page on site. They are the point of access for site visitors and search engines. This value extends beyond the main URL to include every URL that business owners want customers to find on search engines.
A site owner, who wants to develop a good SEO strategy, needs to take the time to consider the wording and structure of each URL on their site, ensuring that keyword targets are present in each. This is called making URLs SEO friendly. In this article, we will explore key best practices for creating search engine-friendly URLs for your site.
In order to get top rankings on search engines through SEO, you need to make sure your keywords targets are present in all the right places for each page. On top of a meta title, meta description, and image alt text, you should include your most important keyword phrases in your URL.
It's surprising how often, even today, that we come across URLs online that are simply a jumble of letters, numbers, and symbols. A website with a main address like www.badurlexample.com (In case you hadn't guessed I made this name up) could have a URL for subpages on the website that looks like this.
This URL is a missed opportunity for keywords. Amazon would certainly agree, despite selling millions of products, the company never misses the opportunity to use keywords in the URL of its products pages. Admittedly, the third part of their URL is a stream of letters numbers, for warehouse logistics purposes, but the second part (separated by a / always contains the keywords for the product’s name
Amazon has also cleverly configured its product search pages to be crawlable so they can function as a landing page for customers on Google. You also find keywords on these URLs too, like ‘ladies handbags’ in this example of an SEO-friendly URL.
A key reason why SEO is valuable for small businesses is that it can be a very cost-effective way of creating a long-term source of traffic to your website, but this can only be achieved if the content you create has a long-term appeal for searchers. A common mistake made by Bloggers, who often auto-generate their URLs, is to include the date, month, and year from the post in the URL itself.
This is a bad idea for any digital marketer who wants to create SEO content that will rank for a long time: Search engines are always looking for the freshest content to show searchers. If your page has the date from last year in its URL, this is a dead giveaway that the content isn’t fresh:
The algorithms, from search engines like Google, take the dates listed on pages as a ranking factor for relevance, this often means that many URLs with years in them drop out of the rankings very quickly after that year ends.
If you want your content to keep ranking year after year, you should update the dates wherever possible and wherever they are displayed on your page. Reposting updated versions of articles is a common practice among bloggers. For instance, an article on top marketing tips for 2030 could be updated and have the title changed to top marketing tips for 2031
The problem with adding dates to URLs is that you cannot update this date without changing the address of that page. This is the SEO equivalent of deleting your rankings and starting again. To avoid losing your rankings you would then need to put in 301 and 302 redirects.
That’s not the only problem, changing a URL causes. You also have to update any links to the new page otherwise those who click on pages linking to the old page will be greeted with the 404 error message. This makes an awful first impression on customers and is really bad for your rankings.
Rather than spending a lot of time redirecting old URLs or having to start a new page each year, just leave the dates out of your URLs. This is precisely what major music festival websites do.
The organizers of the Coachella festival use the same URL for the site’s key pages each year – tickets, lineup, info, etc but they update the dates in crucial keyword locations that can be edited such as headers and many-body text meta title, meta description, and image alt tags. This is how it appears on Google search results
In this best practice example of an SEO Friendly URL, we can see that date of the festival is shown in the editable meta title and post date. When the festival takes place next year the same URL will be used but the page content and meta tags will be updated.
The worst possible URLs for SEO are the ones that cannot be found by search engines at all. If your website's URLs are written with characters that Google's crawlers can't read then no users will find them on search engines. This is why it is so important to stick to the URL characters accepted by search engines and avoid creating invalid URLs.
There are a whole host of keyboard symbols and characters that should not be used in your URLs. Things get really complex when we get into other languages that don't use the Latin alphabet but when it comes to English we have two easy tips to remember. The first is that if the character isn't on the following list it definitely shouldn't be used in your URL at all
Any characters that are not on this list are likely to create an invalid URL if they are not correctly adapted with percentage encoding (we will come back to this later) One of the most common characters wrongly used in URLs, that you may not have noticed isn't on the top list, is the double quote marks "" so make sure you avoid those in URLs.
The second tip is an additional note for a handful of the characters on the list above, these ones:
These characters are referred to as reserved characters. This means using them in the URL also performs an important function. For instance / is used to separate the subsections of websites and the # is used to create URLs that take users to a specific part of a page. Unless you are using these characters for their special purpose and know how they work, I would also avoid using them in your URLs.
Percentage Encoding invalid URL Characters
For most people sticking to the accepted list of characters is enough, but some of you will be wondering why URLs you have created with characters, not on this list have worked, or perhaps you are always looking to bend the break rules. You cannot use characters that are not on the list above but a percentage code can be used in place of these characters. For example:
! # $ % & ' ( ) * + ,
%21 %23 %24 %25 %26 %27 %28 %29 %2A %2B %2C
For most websites avoiding using any of the characters that are not on the first list is the best option. But if you do want more information on using invalid URL characters with percentage encoding checkout this advice section from Google
Those of you offering a website in multiple languages will naturally ask: what about letters with accents. I’ll Google’s main man John Mueller answer this one for me.
Accents in URLs are no problem -- feel free to use them! You sometimes need to watch out for how your own tools work with them, but I suspect most of them will just work fine too.— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) March 23, 2019
It's not just the individual names of URLs that is important. The way URL names are structured and relate to one another plays an important role in the overall crawlability of your website. If you are yet to start a website, you can start by placing keywords in your page address:
This address will optimize the term 'buy beatles T-shirts'. Also, note the dashes, adding these to ULRs in between your keywords makes them easier for Googlebot to recognize.
Perhaps you can't afford to buy this URL or its focus is too specific. If the website in the previous example had the website address www.rocktshirts.com, they could then add Beatles to the end of the URL for a subpage:
This would also be great for optimizing the term, but the first example would likely be better for optimizing that specific phrase Beatles t-shirts. This is because keywords that are part of a website's main URL get a powerful optimization boost.
Regardless of which part of the URLs you decide to put your keywords pay attention to the address for your subpages and always opt for keywords over random words and numbers. A site with an SEO-friendly URL structure will rank much better than one without. It will also get you more clicks on the search engine results page because those featured keywords will draw searchers they can even be used to created kind of CTA like with this best practice example from the legendary Reading Rock festival that points towards tickets in an appealing way with its URL configuration.
In conclusion, Googlebot and all the other search engine crawlers use URLs to find, access, and sort site content for the search engine results. This means that URLs play an important role in SEO. They also influence click-through rates and site navigation which are also crucial ranking factors. When we talk about SEO friendly URLs, we are often referring to three key areas
- URLs that make appropriate use of keywords that help SEO rather than hurt it
- URLs that search engine crawlers like Googlebot can easily find and index
- A URL structure that makes it easy for crawlers to make sense of a page's content and the way it relates to the rest of a site
We hope this article has given you some good insights into the best ways to create Search Engine friendly URLs. For a complete audit of your website's Digital Marketing strategy along with a customized step-by-step plan for improving it, check out rankingCoach 360.