Optimizing URLs for Beginners

URLs are used to specify the addresses of webpages. When a URL is properly formatted a user should be able to identify the subject matter immediately upon seeing it. They tell the web server what the page user wants. URLs are basically directions for humans and crawlers. Often times your CMS will generate the URLs of your website pages. However, you can help your search engine results by optimizing your URLs manually.

Benefits of optimized URLs

Semantics. Well written URLs should make sense semantically. This is beneficial to both humans and search engines. It should reflect the page contents.

Relevancy. Sites are more likely to get search engine referred traffic due to the use of proper keywords in the URL.

How to improve URL structure

URLs that are properly formatted enable users to easily remember and share your pages. Clean URLs also help facilitate search engines in identifying the pages relevance to the search query. It is easier for crawlers to index clean URLs than haphazard ones.

That being said, the structure of your sites URLs should be as simple as possible. Indexing problems can occur when URLs are overly complex. Construct URLs logically and in a way that is both readable to humans and easily indexed by crawlers.

Depending on your CMS, it may generate a "messy" URL or a "clean" url.

For example:

  • A messy URL may look like this - http://www.yoursite.com/article.php/34317089/

Here, there is no indication in the URL of what the page content will be about.

  • In contrast a clean URL would resemble: http://www.yoursite.com/articles/optimizing-urls

In this example, you know that the page will be about optimizing URLs. Always make sure you use descriptive words that clearly represent the content of your pages.

Rewriting unsightly URLs

If your URLs are not up to the right standards, it's time to rewrite them. It may sound intimidating, however you can change the structure of your URLs without compromising your pages.

If you need to rewrite URLs as they appear in search engine results, it's best to do so by 301 redirects. Redirects ensure that both people and crawlers are directed to the right pages. There are several other instances where 301 redirects should be used. SEOmoz provides a great writeup for for redirect best practices.

For an in depth look at rewriting URLs for beginners, here is an excellent post from Smashing Magazine - Introduction to URL Rewriting. The article explains the process of rewriting URLs, how URL rewrites can help with your SEO, and some examples.

URL best practices

Optimizing your URLs doesn't have to be complicated. Here are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • Never repeat keywords throughout URLs
  • Optimize for both users and crawlers
  • It is recommended that URLs be in lowercase

When incorporating keywords:

Keep in mind that Google may not necessarily put lot of importance on keywords used in URLs. Keywords can help improve the click through rate from the search engine results pages. They are most important for user interaction.  Use of keywords can make the URL memorable, be informative, and be helpful for users typing out the URL. Here are some tips:

  • Put most important words first.
  • Limit the number of keywords you use - keeping the URL short.
  • For better readability separate words with dashes (hyphens).
  • Make sure the keywords you use actually reflect the page's content.
  • Be careful not to stuff keywords in URLs. It's best if they are short, descriptive, and memorable.

URLs help users and crawlers identify what the content of the page will be. After Google's algorithm change, it is more important than ever that your URLs reflect user search queries. Make them short, descriptive, and memorable.