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URL Structure and SEO
Thursday, November 22, 2007
We get a lot of questions on URL structure and how it can affect search engine rankings. So we decided to discuss some of our thoughts on this topic. This is based on our experience with our own sites and with clients that we have worked with. The one single best piece of advice that I like to offer is to make your URLs user-friendly. Make them descriptive of the page and easy to remember (ie. shorter) so that they can engage the user to click through when they are presented on a search results page. Even after the user clicks through a well "optimized" URL may entice the user to bookmark the page and it will help them remember the page (as opposed to remembering a long dynamic string).

SEO Tips for URL Structure

The whole process of SEO is not to exploit search engine rankings, it's to promote the most relevant content (based on a given query) to the audience that seeks this content. One of the most often overlooked issues that can have a definite impact on your online marketing campaign from the organic side of things is URL structure. This is one of the most common things that we see wrong with a number of sites out there. The site owners or designers did not take time to carefully plan out their site's architecture. Instead they seek corrective measures after the fact. Here are a couple of SEO Tips when planning out your URL structure:

  • Avoid burying your content deep within your site. Use fewer folders, try to keep your important site content less than three or folders deep. If you don't treat your content as important why would you expect the search engines to?

  • Describe Your Content - to promote the theme of your site, where possible try to ensure that your URLs accurately reflect the page content.

  • Shorter URLs are better than longer ones for usability as they are more easily remembered.

  • Avoid use of numbers as opposed to using descriptive keywords. The exception may be incorporating the date into URL. Of course with blogs and archived data, many URLs tend to contain a number sequence reflective of a defined time period.

  • You can use underscores ("_") or hyphens ("-") but hyphens tend to look better and are preferred by many (some say the search engines even prefer the use of a hyphen over an underscore.

  • Sub-domains can be effective if you have the supporting content and "theme" to back them up.

  • Static URLs tend to be shorter and more effective than dynamic URLs. Search engines have been pretty forward in saying that they prefer static URLs.
URL structure is something that may take a lot of planning when launching a new site or contemplating a site re-design. Consider taxonomy and hierarchal structure, classification, and grouping. Shari Thurlow had a great piece on URL structure a while back.

She makes some great points:
  • The people who least understand issues with URL structure and SEO are the very people who create them: Web developers, programmers, and software developers. This is so true. Further you would think that these same people would be experts on using URL re-writers

  • It's pointless to optimize a Web page without giving search engines easy access to that page's content. Navigation schemes and URL structures often act as a stop sign to search engine indexing. I couldn't agree more.

  • In truth, search engines don't wish to crawl Web sites with too many parameters in the URL. Content management systems often generate problematic URLs. When selecting a content management system one of the first things that you may want to consider is if the URLs can be re-written in an effective manner.

  • Static-looking, shorter URLs are usually the easiest to remember. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure that out.
Proper URL structure is one of those items that can have a great impact on your site rankings in the long run. Conversely terrible URL structure can have an immediate negative impact on your search engine visibility. While it's not all about rankings, you still need to generate traffic to your website. Once that traffic arrives, one way that you can keep them there is by having easy-to-identify URLs. Trying to improve repeat visits to your site? You may want to examine your URL structure to see if there is room for improvement.

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posted by Jody @ Thursday, November 22, 2007  
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About Me
Name: Jody
Home: Kelowna, BC, Canada
About Me: SEO guy by day, family man 24/7.
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