URLs that are designed to fulfill the needs of users and searchers are SEO friendly URLs. Specifically, SEO optimized URLs tend to be concise and include a primary SEO keyword to target.
URLs are one of many factors that search engines use to determine how well your content should rank in its search engine results pages (SERPs).
They also can directly influence clickthrough rates as users determine which page they want to visit when looking for answers relating to their search on Google.
While there isn’t a catch-all best URL structure for SEO, below is a list of best practices you should follow when optimizing your URLs:
First, you want your URL to include the primary keyword that you want your web page to rank for.
This is a signal to Google that helps them determine what your web page is all about, so they can rank it accordingly in the search results. Google has also said:
“URLs with words that are relevant to your site’s content and structure are friendlier for visitors navigating your site.”
You want to also make sure that your URL structure is short. Long URLs are confusing to both Google and searchers who use URLs to better understand what the main topic of a web page is.
Having shorter URLs benefits Google in that it allows them to preserve crawl budget and find more of your site pages in a shorter period of time.
It also has the added bonus of encouraging a higher number of social shares and more organic clickthroughs from the SERPs compared to long, unruly URLs.
Google has stated that they prefer hyphens, rather than spaces, to separate words in a URL.
Hyphens serve as “spaces” between words in a URL - so “/urls-for-seo” is viewed as three different words, rather than “/urlsforseo”, which Google views as a single word, which can get confusing.
In that same vein, you want to avoid underscores or special characters in URLs. Google can’t understand special characters, and has difficulty parsing underscores in URL structures, which can hurt your overall website rankings if you use either of these in your current website architecture.
While servers have come a long way, some types of servers view /URLs-for-SEO as a different URL than /urls-for-seo, so best practice is to stick with lowercase for the entirety of your URL structure.
While dates themselves aren’t a bad thing, they can lead to unnecessarily long URLs, which isn’t good for SEO or users viewing URLs when determining which search result they want to click on.
This ties in with keeping your URL structure short and succinct. It’s also difficult to actively update your content and have that reflected in your URL structure when it’s showing an old date from the original publication.
Looking to learn more about search engine optimization? Read our SEO beginner’s guide for everything you need to know about SEO and how to drive business results through search engines like Google and Bing.
Organizing your site sections using subfolders is a great way to help Google and readers understand where they are in your site map.
An example of a subfolder is /blog, which shows that a user is visiting the site’s content section. If your blog is split up among different categories, like /blog/seo, this goes even further in both enhancing the user experience, and helping Google better understand the relationship of your site’s content as it pertains to a specific category or section.
This recommendation is more for security, but you want to make sure your website is SSL encrypted and serving URLs as HTTPS instead of HTTP.
HTTPS makes it harder for hackers to view user data as they visit your website because it “encrypts” that data more securely than an unencrypted HTTP URL.
This is especially important if your website handles sensitive client information or conducts online transactions.
Google has also stated that HTTPS is another ranking factor in its search engine, so if your site resolves as HTTP, you’re leaving this easy optimization on the table.
A best practice is to make sure all URL variants 301 redirect to your preferred URL version.
URL parameters make your web page URL long and unruly, which goes against our best practice of being short and succinct.
The biggest component of avoiding URL parameters is mainly because Google views URL parameters as unique URLs. As an example /seo-for-urls and /seo-for-urls?UTM_1234 are different URLs in the eyes of Google.
This can create problems if Google chooses to index both of them, or the URL parameter rather than your preferred URL. Google will also view these pages as duplicate content, which can hurt your overall keyword rankings as you have two “unique” pages competing for the same keywords.
Subfolders are much easier for Google to navigate compared to subdomains.
For context, Google views subdomains as separate websites. Because of this, domain authority between your “main” website and your subdomains are split/not shared, which can significantly hurt your keyword rankings.
Subfolders, on the other hand, do share/pass on any domain authority your site generates through backlinks from other quality, relevant websites (for context, backlinks are considered one of the top ranking factors for Google in its algorithm).
Google also knows that a subfolder is a section of your website, compared to subdomains, which it views as a separate entity.
Tying back to my URL parameters best practice, you want to make sure your website has a single version of its URLs accessible to users. Here’s an example of different URLs that Google views for a website:
Google views all of these URLs as unique, rather than the same, which can cause your rankings to drop because Google sees “duplicate content” among 4 different URL variations on your website.