How to Create an SEO-Friendly URL Structure

What’s the first thing a user sees when they land on your website? It’s not your text, images, or FAQ page. It’s your URL; they look here to make sure they’ve landed on the website they intended to. It’s also one of the first things that Google’s crawlers see.

Either you work with Thai SEO or English, when constructing a site hierarchy, URLs are like the concrete blocks that hold it all together. If you don’t plan them ahead of time, they can be a pain to correct. Google will notice all the unnecessary redirects and therefore, not show your page to most of your target users. URLs are one aspect of SEO that are worth the time and effort to do well. There isn’t one right way to structure a URL, but there are some rules that help you garner the most SEO ROI possible.

Keyword Usage

Every page on your website has a purpose, right? At least, it should. Each page should either be transactional, administrative, informational, or have another clear purpose. Each page’s purpose has a target user it wants to attract, in addition to Google crawlers. Keyword research and placement can help with this.

The keywords for your page that are the most relevant and descriptive should be included in the page’s URL. Specifically, close to the root domain.

For example, let’s say your website educates people on gym equipment. However, it’s not uncommon for users to misspell equipment as “equipment.” So, which spelling should you use in your URL? It’s best to go on a keyword research platform, like Ahrefs Keyword Explorer, and see which spelling has the highest volume of searches. Use the spelling that most of your target users use.

Sound Structure

It’s important for your URL hierarchy to work for our website’s intention in the future. If you constantly change the structure over the years, your website will look like a crochet blanket of winding paths and holes. From the user’s point of view and from Google’s, this isn’t a good look.

Here’s an example. A good URL flows logically, like this one: www.businessname.com/gymequipment/treadmills/horizonfitness. Clearly, the hierarchy flows from domain to category to sub-product, and then to the product. This is good for SEO strategy and for the user’s navigation of your site.

Sometimes, when new people join your team or a new product is launched, communication on URL hierarchy gets lost. Someone creates a URL structure unlike the usual process, thus starts the patchwork quilt of your URL organization. This is why planning your URL structure in advance and making it accessible to all team members is key.

Clear Language

The easier it is for a user to read your URL, the better. That means leaving out unnecessary words like some prepositions and conjunctions. For example, there’s no need to include the word “and” in a URL. If you leave it out, users and Google can still grasp the topic. You should also avoid repeating keywords in the URL. This type of spam doesn’t make Google or users view your website highly.

Additionally, be careful with case sensitivity. URLs are sensitive to lower and uppercase letters. When it comes to hashes, determine if it would be simpler to just create a simple URL for the content instead. Although sending users to a specific part of a page can be useful, it can also be confusing and cause disorganization. It’s best to keep your URLs as short as possible. That means using fewer, high impact words. Google truncates your URL in the results after 512 pixels, anyways.

URL Strings

It’s common for ecommerce platforms to give you URLs with dynamic character strings that don’t make any sense. For example, example.com/cat/>cid=7079.

Not only do these URLs not look very attractive, but they don’t follow a logical structure or use keywords. Sure, Google could see this URL and understand it, but your users can’t. It’s important to cater to both. Go for static character strings that include your keywords and are clear to users.

Different platforms have different options for rewriting the generated URL structures. If your server runs on Apache, you can use various tools from Generate It to rewrite the URL rules. Another option is to use relative URLs, except they aren’t always beneficial to SEO. They’re related to the context of the page, so if the context changes and the URL doesn’t, there will be some disconnect. In terms of SEO, it’s recommended to use absolute URLs.

What if you want to add parameters to your URL for analytic tracking purposes? Some examples would be “sid” and “utm.” To avoid getting nabbed for duplicate content from these URLs, you can tell Google to disregard these parameters in Google Search Console.

Consolidation of Versions

Your domain gets indexed as two different versions, the www version and the non-www version. It’s common for SEO marketers to use 301 redirects to direct pages to one version of their website. This signifies to search engines that a URL has permanently moved. When you can’t do a redirect, you can tell Google which is your preferred version in Google Search Console. However, this only solves the problem on Google, no other search engines, and is restricted only to root domains. So, it won’t work with businessname.wordpress.com sites. 

Another problem arises when some backlinks point to the www version and others to the non-www version. A better way to consolidate versions is by establishing a link between the versions. This can be done with 301s, Google Search Console, and through canonicalization.

Canonical Tags

Canonical tags are super useful when it comes to identifying multiple versions of the same content. They allow you to instruct Google on which page is the master, or preferred, version. However, they should only be used for helping search engines decide which URL is canonical. When you need to redirect pages, use redirections.

Canonical tags are especially useful for online retailers. On the popular fashion brand, Macy’s, website, you can take various routes from the home page to get to the Quilts & Bedspreads page. You could go from the Home Page to the Bed & Bath page to the Quilts & Bedspreads page. Alternatively, you could for from the Homepage to the For The Home page to the Bed & Bath page to the Quilts & Bedspreads page. Both routes take users to the same content. If you look at the code of each page you’ll see a canonical tag element in the header. It identifies the cleanest, most comprehensive version of the URLs.

This process helps search engines see the one page they need to instead of three different ones that say the same thing.

Topical Authority

There’s a difference between main and supplementary content. Main content is the lead page in each section, and it signifies what the category is about. Supplementary content provides additional information to help users navigate the category and topic. URL structure is key to differentiating between the two types of content.

Let’s say you’re an e-commerce business in the gym equipment industry. You shouldn’t only post product pages because that causes your SEO efforts to have tunnel vision. Start by finding keywords with the highest volume topics on Moz Keyword Explorer. Use this list as a source of ideas for what might make a good topic for main or supplementary content.

Often, topics qualify as both main and supplementary content. So, it’s up to you to decide which topic your target customers want you to elaborate on more. There are already some clear examples. People want to know the following:

  • Which equipment brands are best?
  • What at-home gym equipment should I buy?
  • How to use different gym equipment pieces

Combined with keyword research, you can decide if it’s better to create a page on choosing the right piece of equipment or one that features a guided workout. Combined with your business priorities and ability to create content, this method will give you a hierarchy for content on your site. Make sure you create URLs along with web design that flow logically. For example, https://yourbusiness.com/gymequipment/home-workouts could spur a page with the URL https://yourbusiness.com/gymequipment/home-workouts/best-equipment-cardio.

You may face a conundrum when some URLs could be led to from a different path. It’s important to decide if what you want to consolidate them. If you don’t plan this in advance, the structure you choose won’t continue to be followed and your navigation will get disorganized. All of which impacts your site visibility and topical authority.

XML Sitemap

The final step is to make sure search engines can easily see what’s happening on your site. This is done through an organized XML sitemap. An XML sitemap is different than an HTML sitemap. HTML sitemaps are designed for your human users. XML sitemaps are for search engines. Essentially, your XML sitemap is the list of all your website’s URLs that get submitted to search engine.

You need the XML sitemap to help crawlers find your pages and so that search engines can use it as a reference when choosing canonical URLs. This is why picking the right canonical URL is so important. You don’t want any duplicates in the search engine results page. Canonical URLs let you choose just one URL to represent the others in the group. Search engines might check to see if a canonical URL is used on the website’s sitemap. It’s best to only include web-pages you want to show up in the search results on your sitemap. You can include more detailed URLs on the HTML sitemap.

Conclusion

To conclude, here is a brief summary of the points covered in this guide. To create a URL structure that is SEO-friendly, include the following things.

  • Works and phrases that are easy to read
  • Include rich keywords, but not too many
  • Be consistent across all your URL structures
  • Choose static parameters over dynamic ones
  • Plan for the future when choosing your URL structure
  • Incorporate both main and supplementary content concepts
  • Create an XML sitemap with all the URLs you want visible on the results page

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