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SEO | Sep 14
Masooma Memon on June 4, 2021 (last modified on May 31, 2021) • 13 minute read
If you’ve been knocking together a random URL, think again.
Because your web address can improve your ranking, consider creating SEO-friendly URLs.
The key to doing so? Write URLs for your readers. This means SEO-friendly URLs are easy to understand, consistent, and short. You need to add keywords too, but only if they read naturally.
So let’s dive into the details without further ado. We’ll cover the following today:
A URL or web address is a reference address for where a resource, say a blog post, is located on the internet.
If we were to think of the internet as a giant library, the URL or Uniform Resource Locator, would be the address for each book/resource or web page in case of the internet.
Like a library’s call number identifying where a book is located, the URL also indicates how to retrieve a specific resource – also known as a protocol such as FTP, HTTP, and HTTPS.
Editor’s note: Have a strong grip on how well your SEO is doing by tracking essential metrics like your clicks, sessions, users, position, and more on one screen using this SEO Campaign Performance dashboard.
With the mandatory definition out of the way, let’s look at how you can create SEO-friendly URLs. Here’s a primer followed by the details:
1. Create clean and readable URLs
2. Write memorable URLs
3. Keep them short
4. Work your keyword in the URL naturally
5. Get rid of unnecessary directories
6. Make sure the blog title isn’t your URL
7. Use a consistent URL format
8. Use canonical tags
9. Make your URLs trustworthy
10. Optimize for user experience
11. Create evergreen URLs
Anything that’s simple to digest at one glance is the type of URL you need to be writing. To this end, you’ll want to keep get rid of “date fragments such as year, month, and day unless your content is actually time-critical (for example news),” suggests RankLetter’s Peter Thaleikis.
“While there are several other characters that are allowed technically, you should avoid them for readability and consistency.” So “avoid any experiments and stick to A-Z, 0-9, and “-” (dash),” recommends Thaleikis.
On top of this, Thaleikis suggests you always add your keyword. In fact, 98.75% of the respondents who contributed to this post think it’s important to have the keyword in the page URL. So Thaleikis isn’t alone in making this suggestion.
In the same vein, Thaleikis advises “you can assume that information (keywords) that are further at the beginning weigh more than later keywords.”
Chris Wilks from BrandExtract echoes the same. “Make your URL readable.” Wilks, however, thinks including keywords in your URL isn’t a set-in-stone guideline.
“It’s great to have URLs that include keywords and popular search terms,” Wilks explains “but providing URLs that are clear and serve as breadcrumbs will be valuable to user experience and ultimately give your content staying power in SERPs.”
The takeaway? “Keep it clean, readable and consistent,” according to Thaleikis. And, add keywords naturally only – a tip that we’ll explore more below.
Note how Wilks emphasizes on paying attention to user experience? Writing memorable or easily recognizable URLs helps with that.
For example, a blog post on ‘Instagram captions’ with a URL ‘site address + instagram-captions-for-businesses’ is going to be far more memorable than a long address that reads something like ‘site address + expert-recommended-instagram-captions-tips-for-small-business.’
Here are more ways to write simple, concise, and, subsequently, easily recognizable URLs:
“use lowercase words, separated by hyphens, that are relevant to the page content, and free from ID numbers, codes, spaces, or special characters,” shares Rebecca Lajoie-Dyck, from Voices.
Ludwig Media Inc.’s Larry Ludwig adds to this: “Create a short and easy-to-remember URL from the headline that doesn’t contain stop words, year, or anything that won’t make it evergreen.”
Here’s an example that Ludwig shares: “The headline “Betterment Review 2021: Is It The Best Robo Advisor For Me?” make the URL: /betterment-review/”
Another tip for creating SEO-friendly URLs is to write short ones. So far, we’ve discussed that your URLs need to be:
Keeping them short supports all this with a pinch of SEO goodness.
Sasha Quail from Claims UK talks about how short URLs help your SEO ranking game. “To dominate search results, keep your URLs short and quick.
In reality, shorter URLs rank higher than longer URLs. Shorter URLs are easier to post on social media than longer ones, and they increase accessibility and user experience,” Quail explains.
Kinsta’s Tom Zsomborgi makes another valid point in favor of short URLs: page depth.
“The URL structure of your site has an impact on your SEO,” elaborates Zsomborgi. “Page depth is the number of clicks it takes to reach a page from the home page, more clicks tell or suggest the search engines that they are less important.”
With that in mind, “use the focus keyword and avoid special characters – including emojis – in your permalinks.
Quail adds, “make your URLs as short as possible and as descriptive as possible of the content of your page. The URL should be between 50 and 60 characters long.”
Of the 80 respondents we surveyed for this piece, the majority share Quail’s opinion. In fact, 95% of the respondents think that the length of a URL is important for SEO purposes.
Of these, 81.25% of the respondents think that shorter URLs are best for SEO. 6.25% of the respondents think that longer URLs are best for SEO. And, 12.50% of the respondents think that there’s no difference.
Moving forward: work the keyword into your URL. Generally speaking, it helps to have the keyword at the start of the URL provided it reads natural.
YourDigitalAid’s William Chin shares their thoughts on this. “One of the most important ones is adding the keyword into your URL. While this is extremely important, I personally think it’s better to write it more naturally (than keyword stuff).”
“For https://yourdigitalaid.com/pmi-acp-certification-exam-review/” Chin writes “I could have targeted a number of different keywords for exact match slugs, however, I went for something that would perk users interests and also hit some target keywords that I want.”
VinPit’s Miranda Yan suggests using primary keywords in URLs. “The best way to optimize the URL is by inserting primary keywords into it. Although this is not possible on homepages, you can optimize your targeted keywords on landing pages that are directly linking to products or categories.”
But what if you’re using long-tail keywords? Yan says “always link them with hyphens for example ‘https://example.com/for-example,’ Instead of ‘https://example.com/for_example_ex.’
This will inform Google that there are three different words and allow you to target more than one keywords.”
Ballistiglass’s Steve Steinman has another tip on strategically adding keywords to URLs. “Do your keyword research BEFORE you establish your URL. This may seem obvious, but your research may sometimes throw up some surprises, and then you may end up getting stuck with a slug that doesn’t actually help your SEO.”
“Make sure to not have URLs that are unnecessarily nested,” points out Austin Mullins from Conversion Media.
“It’s not uncommon to see websites create unnecessary subdirectories such as /blog/articles/post-title when they could have something more simple like /blog/post-title.”
Cayley Vos from Netpaths Marketing shares similar thoughts. “Keep your URLs as close to your domain as possible. The less subfolders the better.”
So here’s an example showing what makes a SEO-friendly URL:
❌ “Not good: domain.com/articles/search-engine-optimization/seo-tips/One_Way_to_SEO_Optimize_URL_Search_Engines
✔ Very good: domain.com/how-optimize-url-search-engines”
In short, limiting subfolders helps you create short and digestible URLs that improve user experience as well as ranking.
Editor’s note: Track how well your content is performing after an SEO update using this Blog Post Performance After SEO Update dashboard template. It gives you a full performance report by showing metrics like goal completions, position by pages, CTR, position by queries, and more on one screen.
It’s pretty common to see the URL being the same as a blog post’s title. “This is the default in most content management systems, and it’s all too easy to ignore,” admits Adam Smartschan from Altitude Marketing.
Doing so, however, “generates overly long URLs full of unnecessary ‘stop words’ like ‘a,’ ‘an,’ and, well, ‘and.’
Stop words in a URL make it unnecessarily long. “Plus, if you update the title and content of the, you’ll be left with a URL that no longer makes sense,” observes Megan Imhoff from Always Relevant Digital.
While you can always “keep it close to the title (include your focus keywords),” Smartschan comments, “it’s not helpful to keep the two the same.”
All the more better if you “pick a short URL that is only a few words long and that will still make sense if you ever decide to update the blog post,” Imhoff advises.
For an excellent user experience and to keep things readable, consistency is key.
“Drive all SEO value to the correct pages by using a universal URL format, avoiding duplicate pages appearing from inconsistent formatting,” Sam Gooch from Kinsta comments.
“Keeping your URLs lowercase will help to prevent duplicate pages appearing when it’s unclear what casing should be used in URLs.
For example, website.com/About-Us could load the same content as website.com/about-us. Use redirect rules to redirect uppercase versions to their lowercase counterparts.”
On top of this, “always add self-referencing canonical attributes to highlight the canonical version of each URL. This will also help to avoid other forms of duplicate content arising due to use of inconsistent URLs,” Gooch shares.
“For example, when using tracking parameters at the end of URLs, search engines will know not to index these, but instead cluster them and assign all value to the canonical version.”
“Use canonical tags: Google crawlers can become confused if you have two URLs with the same content,” points out Grooming Hut’s William Munir.
This lowers your SEO value. Even so, this is common in certain cases. For example: “On different pages of certain e-commerce sites, the same product has the same definition,” Munir highlights.
Similarly, “there is a printable edition of a web page. The same blog posts were published in two separate categories. This can also happen if you have different versions of web pages, such as ‘HTTP’ and ‘HTTPS.’ You must use canonical tags in these situations, and you must use those tags in the HTML of a duplicate page.”
Speaking of HTTP and HTTPS, it’s essential you take the steps to optimize your URL for gaining users’ trust.
“One of the most important characteristics of your website is security,” notes Nuttifox’s Chris Nutbeen. “You can demonstrate that your website is trustworthy by using HTTPS rather than HTTP. Safe is represented by the letter ‘S’ in HTTPS.
If your website is secured with an SSL certificate, your URL will begin with HTTPS. It guards your website against hacker attacks. It encrypts all data sent back and forth between the end-user and the server. In reality, since 2014, Google has verified HTTPS as a ranking signal.”
Nutbeen continues, “if you sell goods on your website or collect personal information from users, your site must be safe. If your website is not stable, some browsers will warn users that it is unsafe, which will negatively impact the user experience and, in turn, your rankings.”
So you know what to do, right? Get your website SSL certified so there are less browser warnings and better user trust in the picture.
We’ve already referenced SEO-friendly URLs are ones that focus on user experience. This point, however, deserves a separate mention– thanks to how important it is.
“When creating SEO friendly rules, you should only optimize for human readers,” advises Kristina Witmer of Witmer Group.
“Keyword stuffing and putting variations of keywords into the URL do not offer a good user experience. It’s best to add your main keyword only once and then a pipe dash and then the name of your company. This provides a branding signal to Google and makes everything look more professional,” Witmer writes.
At The Search Engine Shop, for instance, the team concentrates on the readers’ experience. Brendan Tully writes, “A general rule or test we have for URLs is whether or not you can understand what that page is about as a standalone URL or slug without seeing the website. If a human can’t understand what a page is about by looking at the URL then less intelligent search algorithms are going to have an even harder time.”
Hence, aim to write URLs that “you should be able to understand what the page is about by simply looking at the URL.”
Here’s an example:
❌ NOT GREAT: agency.com/design >> this isn’t great because if we just took the /design slug it’s not clear what type of design
✔ GREAT: agency.com/web-design >> this is good as it’s clear exactly what this page is about just looking at the slug
Also, “agency.com/web-design-sydney >> if the agency is serving only Sydney or wants to rank for Sydney terms this is *probably* a better URL because it’s immediately clear what the page is about.”
“You can apply this principle to many other SEO elements like H1 tags, image filenames and alt tags,” Tully goes on. “One caveat to be mindful of is not to go overboard and make it too long, 4-5 words is the maximum you ideally want to goto.”
This is another point that we’ve talked about through the post, but deserves a separate mention.
To begin with, not all the URLs need to be evergreen. News articles can have dated URLs. Most cases, however, call for evergreen URLs to make them SEO-friendly.
“If you’re creating a URL for a seasonal page (ie. Mother’s Day, Christmas, Black Friday…), use evergreen URL,” Get Clicks’ Killian Kostiha explains.
“The objective is not to have the date in the URL so that it will get authority overtime and Googlebot will value it better. For instance, if you put /2021-restaurants-mothers-day/ in the URL, you might need to change it in 2022, to avoid confusion.
In this case, you will have to change the date, set up a redirect and wait for Googlebot to update its index.
Also, backlinks that were acquired to /2021-restaurants-mothers-day/ might have less value if you redirect the URL to /2022-restaurants-mothers-day/.
To avoid that, use ‘evergreen URLs’, like /restaurants-mothers-day/.”
SEO-friendly URLs are short, consistent, evergreen, and memorable. To optimize URLs, aim to achieve these characteristics.
And while you are at it, add your primary or long-tail keyword naturally in the URL and avoid adding too many subfolders. Don’t forget: your blog title isn’t your URL slug.
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