Search Engine Optimization is important for every website. In our SEO series, we will be giving tips of the trade so you can help your site perform well in a search engine. In this post, we will be going over all the ways you can make your URLs search engine and user-friendly. Here are 15 tips of the trade to help URLs work for your company. Before we go on to the tips, here is the anatomy of a URL Cheat Sheet from Moz. This graph will provide you with all the knowledge and lingo you need to continue reading this post.
- If humans can’t read or understand your URL, neither can search engines. Using a straight forward (static) permalink makes it easier for users to copy the link from memory and share with others. As compared to a URL that is filled with symbols or assorted letters that do not make up real words (dynamic) these can appear as spam and turn customers away from the link. Three to five word URL’s have been shown to pull more users to the site than complicated URLs. Static URLs also make it easier for consumers to recite to other people by memory, as well as easing the ability to share.
- Fewer folders are better. Having a URL that is folder heavy gives the perception of depth to both users and search engines as well as hindering the ease of editing the URL in the future. As far as Search Engine Optimization is concerned, keywords in folders do not help push your rank to the top, but keywords in filenames do exactly that. For example, a website like this http://cardealership.com/ford/fordtrucks/models/trucks/f250 is lengthy, folder dense and repetitive. It would look much better as http://cardealership.com/ford/trucks-f250 which is straightforward and simple. A customer is more likely to click on the link that is simple compared to the one that is longer and more complicated.
- Avoid the use of sub-domains when they are not appropriate. In most cases, a sub-domain is used for blogs of the main website or when there are multiple language versions of a web page. The thing to remember about the use of sub-domains is that search engines will not see it as part of the main page, but as a different website entirely, so you will lose ranking in this way. This is the acceptable time to use folders. http://car.dealership.com/about-us is an entirely different website in the eyes of search engines than http://dealership.com/car/about-us.
- URLs are case sensitive. Users assume that your site will use all lowercase letters and if you use capital letters they might be getting a 404 error page instead of getting to your site. Customers are also able to remember a URL better if they do not have to specify which letters should be capitalized or not.
- Hyphens are the preferred method of separating words in a URL. Followed by underscores, then plus signs. Underscores are seen as one word to search engine spiders. Such as this_example would be seen as thisexample, which would contradict any keywords that you use because real people use spaces. Plus signs are also tricky because particular types of code turn them into “%2B” in the same way a space becomes “%20” which is not user-friendly.
- Keywords matter in your URL too! You should still follow the rules for picking words that appropriately describe what will be on your page, making your title match the URL as best as possible, and limiting the use of stop words. Keywords in your URL show up bold in a search engine the same way they do in your title or Meta description. Remember not to stuff them in there; this still turns users away from your site.
- Use a Rel=canonical tag to define authentic content. This tag is inserted into the header of your HTML, which helps to communicate to the search engine spiders which piece of content is the original and which are duplicates. Which lets the bot pass over any duplicates and only index the original. A common use for the canonical tag is on a website that offers multiple ways to view a specific object based on categories. For example, a blue vehicle, a crew cab, or a pick-up could all bring you to the same vehicle in different ways.
- Tell Google about any URL changes with a 301 redirect. This piece of code redirects users and spiders to the new URL you have created. Whether for SEO purposes or when you have a www and non-www versions of your page, a 301 redirect is essential in maintaining the same traffic you had before you made the change. A 301 redirect goes into a .htaccess file that sits in your root directory (where your home page is). I’ve included a quick guide to making the code for a rewrite above.
- Use fragment URLs sparingly. A fragment URL specifies a location within a page. Changing a fragment ID doesn’t reload a page, if you have ever been to a website that has a “top” or “bottom” hyperlink, the chances are that site was using a fragmented URL. It is best to avoid hashes (#) in your URL that creates separate/unique content for a couple of reasons. One, Google Bots skip right over these pages by default. Two, using a fragment URL adds history to your browser, so clicking on the back button will just bring you back to the original location on the page. On pages with multiple fragments, this can be a real pain to the user.
- Create a Favicon, or favorite icon. This is a small icon that appears at the top of a page next to your title as well as in a bookmark folder. There are not any direct SEO benefits to having a favicon, but it does improve branding and site credibility. In the long term, it will lead to increased recognition which will push you up higher in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). There are generators to help you make your own favicon such as the one at Don’s Tools. There is also the Real Favicon Generator which allows you to check your existing site and gives you tips on how you can improve the favicon.
- Properly redirect mobile users to your mobile site. A lot more people are using their phones or tablets for looking up things on the internet than they have in the past. It is important to utilize this feature in your SEO practices. There are multiple things to consider when making a mobile site, but for now, focus on redirecting users correctly. Either add code to adjust your site when users have a smaller screen, or have a separate mobile URL such as m.cardealership.com. But as we’ve already covered, having an additional sub-domain is not recommended. If that is the route you choose to go, you will need to make a sitemap for this new mobile site as well.
- Create an XML Sitemap. A sitemap is essentially a list of files that give hints to the search engine bots on how to crawl your website. An XML (Extensible Markup Language) sitemap is the recommended format. It is extremely easy for search engines to analyze and allows control of page parameters. There are also RSS (Rich Site Summary) sitemaps which are easy to maintain, but harder to manage overall. As well as Text file sitemaps which are incredibly easy to create, but it does not have the ability to add Meta data to your pages.
- Create a Robots.txt file. This file will block most search engine spiders from crawling a web page you deem unimportant. This data is stored in your website’s root directory. Even if there are not any files that you wish to be ignored by bots, you should still make a text file with the name “robots.txt” and leave it blank. This will convey the message that there is nothing you do not want to be indexed. Keep in mind—this file is viewable to anyone who intends to look at it, so you should not put passwords or any other private information in your Robots.txt file that could be hacked.
- Have a top-level root domain. This is crucial to your credibility as a website. People are less likely to click on your webpage if your URL is http://www.cardealership.pblt than if there was a credible root domain at the end. Some of the top-level domains were discussed in the Anatomy of a URL Cheat Sheet, but a few others are: .int (international organizations) .gov (government agencies) and .mil (U.S. military).
- Limit redirection hops to two or less. Hops happen when multiple 301 redirects get chained together. While Googlebot will follow up to five redirects (under rare circumstances) until it calls it quits, real people start getting irritated after the second hop. They are very unlikely to follow your chain of redirects much further. As well as a poor user experience, multiple redirects in a chain can slow your page speed and hurt your conversion rates.
Now that we have gone over the 15 tips to making your URL SEO and user-friendly, you will understand how to make a successful URL properly. Combined with our other SEO tips, you can start to figure out what goes on behind the scenes of a web page. There are so many different aspects of a website; not one SEO trick will make your site number one on its own. Try some of these tips out on pages not currently ranking well and see what works best for your company.
Be sure to check out the rest of our SEO series to learn more ways to optimize your search results.