Why Long URLs Are Bad And How To Do Them Right

15 SEO Best Practices for Structuring URLs - Moz

While many people have recently jumped on the SEO bandwagon and there’s more free knowledge available than ever before, you often encounter advice that is either incorrect or not fully finished.

Because of that, in this post, we’ll break down everything you need to know about URLs. How they work, what’s important to remember when working with them, how they influence both Google and the end user, and ultimately, how you can structure yours so that you get the most out of your SEO efforts.

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

What is a URL?

Also known as a Uniform Resource Locator, a URL is just another word for web address – the address that you need to enter in your browser in order to access a website.

Every URL can be entered as an IP Address (Internet Protocol) – but most users remember names easier rather than numbers, so it’s generally accepted to use that.

But simply knowing what a URL is is not enough. We need to see what good URLs look like – and understand why they are considered “good” – and what they actually influence. WIth this knowledge, you can rank higher in Google much easier than before.

The great news about it all is that often you might think your URLs are great – but after a deeper analysis, you might find out you too have missed out something relevant.

One last important note before we dive in is to remember to be careful when changing URLs. If you’re familiar with the process and you’ve done it before, always remember to set up redirects (although some major CMS platforms like WordPress often take care of that for you).

This way, you’re ensuring that you won’t lose any relevant traffic by confusing Google. If you’ve never done this before, it’s best to ask your developers to explain the concept to you – and potentially guide you the first couple of times this has to be done.

What Is A Good URL Structure For SEO?

Naturally, your SEO tool of choice should alert you if your URL structure is bad. And if you don’t have a tool, Morningscore is a cheap alternative. Of course, you can also do all that process manually – but that takes much longer and you’re more likely to miss out on something important or not even consider something to be an error. Usually, you want it to be short and sweet – and ultimately include your main target keywords.

But simply saying that isn’t enough, and we need to look at why that’s actually important – and for who. Naturally, there are two major influencers when it comes to SEO – both Google and the end-user. Now let’s see what each of them “demands” when it comes to your URL structure.

URLs From Google’s Perspective

URLs generally help Google understand what your page is about. We’ll touch upon this more below in the text, but it’s important to remember that adding your target keyword in your URL actually helps your Google rankings since it’s one of the factors Google takes into consideration when determining the results for any query.

URLs From The User’s Perspective

However, URLs have a way bigger importance for the end user. Together with other elements like the page title and meta description, users take these signals into account when they are trying to make sense of the result they are seeing. 

Once again, we’ll touch upon this subject below in the text where we’ll provide you with more information on exactly how to add your keyword in your URLS. But for now, let’s look at a few examples of what good URLs look like – so it’s easier for you to replicate that – and ultimately rank higher.

Examples of Good URL Structure

For example, imagine the difference in the user’s understanding when they encounter these different search results:

Title: Pet Food

URL: yourwebsite.com/2019/02/l6RCT0-xRmQNu_CZgmVtw7/OINdMqER/

Meta Description: image_preview.png Pet Food yourwebsite.com/2019/02/l6RCT0-xRmQNu_CZgmVtw7/OINdMqER/

As you can see, this “presentation” of your website is not good enough because it sounds very ambiguous. By now, the user is thinking “where the heck am I going to end up if I click here?!”. And this creates friction – which ultimately hurts your SEO because it lowers your chances of users clicking.

Alternatively, take a look at this example:

Title: Best Dry & Wet Cat Food | Top Brands & Lowest Prices | YourWebsite

URL: yourwebsite.com/cats/cat-food/

Meta Description: Get FREE shipping by ordering the best dry and wet cat foods. Get your lovely pet to purr every time you open the pack!

As you can see, it is so much easier for the user to determine what they are about to see – and imagine exactly what kind of page they are going to end up on. That removes friction, makes the idea easily “perceivable” in your users’ eyes – and ultimately helps you get more visitors. And this, in turns, tells Google you should rank higher because you’re a more relevant result (since users click to visit your site).

4 Specific Tips On Structuring Your URLs

Now let’s get to the very fun part. Here are four concrete tips on structuring your URLs that you can implement either today or in the near future. Not all of these will be applicable right away – but the more you know, the more you can plan ahead. For example, Tip #1 requires a quite big change in your website architecture. Because of that, if you don’t have the particular experience with these things, it’s best to first plan it out and talk to your developers. Let’s dive in!

Tip 1 – Use Subfolders Rather Than Subdomains

It’s important to remember to use subfolders (also known as subdirectories) in your site architecture whenever possible instead of going for subdomains. Sometimes, this is not possible – and in this case, having a blog on a subdomain is of course better than not having a blog. However, be wary that search engines like Google might determine to treat the subdomain as a completely new website and not pass the authority and PageRank value you’ve already built on your main website to it.

From the data we’ve seen so far, unfortunately, there’s no consistency and no predictable way of knowing whether your subdomain will be rightfully considered as a part of your main website.

Therefore, subfolders can prevent all the headache that can potentially come from using subdomains.

Additionally, subfolders also help both Google and the user create a “mindmap” of your website’s architecture. For example, imagine you have a website about health. In it, you write about different diseases, different medications, and different exercises. To create a good subfolder (and therefore URL) structure, you can put each of these topics in its own folder as shown in the example below:

  • website.com/conditions/
  • website.com/medications/
  • website.com/excercises/

Here, you can add your respective articles in each of them.

One thing to remember, however, is keeping a good eye on your tags. Tags can create similar subfolders – but your content can get flagged for duplicate if they aren’t set up correctly. Tags should never modify the URLs of individual pages – but only the “Tags Archive” (also known as the “Tags Collection” or “Tag Category” page). In this case, the final URL where your blog post will simply be linked from different sources. In the alternative case, however, you will have multiples of pages created for each tag which will be flagged as duplicate content.

Tip 2 – Remember To Hyphenate Words

Whether you should use a hyphen (a dash) or an underscore has been a long debate. However, best practices strongly point towards using hyphens rather than underscores. That’s because a hyphen is technically an easier character for people to enter and it is a bit easier to recognize.

In fact, Google has publicly stated several times that they do not treat underscores as word separators and recommend using hyphens instead. For more information, here’s a great lecture by Matt Cutts that explains that.

From their statement, we’ve found that they treat underscores as word joiners instead rather than separators.

Tip 3 – Improve SEO & UX By Using Anchor Links

Using anchor links throughout your content can be yet another way of improving the user experience – and also pointing to Google what each of the different paragraphs / sections throughout your content are exactly about.

Anchor texts are rather easy to create – and they are very popular on modern blogs which display a Table of Contents on the page. For most CMS platforms, you can simply use a plugin to create them. Alternatively, you can do this step manually too, by simply adding IDs to the code on your sections and linking to them from the relevant ToC section (usually at the very top).

Tip 4 – Add Your Keywords – But Keep Them Short

Now, over the years, having your keywords present in your domain name or URL has had a diminishing return. That is to say, nowadays, you can safely rank at the top of Google for relevant search queries even if your domain or URL doesn’t contain the target keyword for that page.

However, having your keywords in the URLs still carries some value – and it’s important to remember to actually include them. That’s because even though they might someday be removed as a ranking factor altogether – they will still be visible by the user who will derive meaning from them – and they will still influence the users whether they want to click on the link or not. And this in it of itself is a ranking factor. The more clicks you get (and of course people stay on your say), the higher you will rank in Google.