URL Best Practices

URLs are the foundation of websites. They play a significant role in both search engine optimisation (SEO) and user experience.

URLs form the information architecture of your website. They help users navigate, and they help Google crawl. They need to be clear, descriptive, and well-structured, allowing users and search engines to understand the content of the page just by glancing at the URL.

But there’s a bit more to it that that. Here are some key URL best practices to know.

Table of Contents

The Importance of URL Best Practice

Getting your website URL structure right can greatly improve SEO visibility and user experience. Great URLs are a blend of technical know-how and creative keyword targets.

URLs Enhance SEO and User Experience

URL structuring can have a significant impact on SEO. A tidy, well-structured URL, utilising the right keywords, makes it easier for search engines to crawl, understand and index your pages.

Structuring does a lot for relationship creation between pages. A logical hierarchy will immediately assign an up flow and down flow of relevancy between URLs. As an example:

yoursite.com/haircare

yoursite.com/haircare/shampoo/

yoursite.com/haircare/shampoo/dry-shampoo

This is a basic hierarchy that follows a logical sequence.

You can’t have dry shampoo without shampoo, and you can’t have shampoo without haircare. This is known as a silo structure. It’s a process to basically tell Google: “Hey, these pages are part of the same category/topic”

This structure also helps users better understand where they are on the website, and navigate around.

Simplicity and clarity are king when it comes to user experience. A clear and descriptive URL gives users a hint about the content they can expect on your page, which aligns directly with their search queries. The other great bit is with breadcrumb navigation, you can further enhance the relationship between pages, and also give users a logical sequence of URLs to click on as they navigate.

Good URL Structures Facilitate Website Maintenance

Many in SEO would have come across client sites with a flat URL structure. These are typically service pages and category pages that standalone, outside of any logical hierarchy. To make it worse, they often become orphaned URLs due to poor internal linking. An example of a flat URL structure is:

yoursite.com/haircare

yoursite.com/shampoo

yoursite.com/dry-shampoo

As you can see, it’s quite different from the hierarchical structure. Now imagine this 1000+ times. It creates a mess of a website.

Outside of the SEO upside that comes with URLs grouped together in folder paths, one often overlooked aspect of URL structuring best practice is technical auditing and maintenance.

When you have grouped URLs, you can quickly crawl and audit entire site sections. In any popular crawling tool, and GSC, you can filter URLs by folder path. This is a great way to segment technical audits and also keep tabs on performance of those pages.

When it comes to reporting, hierarchical URLs are much easier to analsyse as a group. You can quickly say: “The /haircare/ site section grew by 5% in sessions MoM”.

URL Structure Best Practices

Lets look at the practical side of URL structure optimisation. Here’s my take on the top five must-follow best practices for URL structuring.

Keep it Concise and Descriptive

It’s a golden rule of thumb, both for the sake of users and search engines. A short and sharp URL gives users (and search engine bots) a good hint of what to expect on a webpage. How does this work? It’s simple really.

Keep your URLs stripped to essentials – remove filler words and stay focused on the core subject. For instance, if we’ve a post about “URL structure best practices”, we might choose to say it compactly as “url-best-practices” rather than an overly long phrase. Remember, shorter URLs are easy to recall and share, and they’re more likely to show in full in search results!

Use Keywords Wisely

Keywords in URLs have been a staple SEO tactic since the dawn of SEO. It just makes sense. So be sure to use a keyword phrase in your URLs that are also mirrored in your page title and H1.

Adding the right keywords can significantly improve your search engine visibility. But always err on the side of caution – keyword stuffing won’t do you any favours. Instead of shoving numerous keywords into the slug, pick a single keyword for the URL and let the page content direct the rest of the conversation.

Utilise Hyphens as Word Separators

When creating multi-word URLs, always use hyphens to separate words, as search engines interpret them as spaces.

This tip might seem elementary, but you’ll be surprised at the number of URLs that use underscores or spaces. An underscore disappears when the URL is underlined, whereas spaces show up as %20 in the address bar. Things like underscore lead to malformed URLs and index issues.

Avoid Special Characters and Symbols

When structuring your URLs, steer clear of special characters like question marks, apostrophes, and exclamation points. They can cause indexing issues with search engines and hurt SEO-friendliness of your URL. So, stick with standard English alphabets and numerals, and hyphens for word separation – remember, simplicity is king!

Use Lowercase Letters

Last but not least, always use lowercase letters in your URLs. URLs are generally case-insensitive, but uppercase letters can occasionally lead to issues with duplicate pages on a site.

/exmaple-page and /Example-Page are treated as 2 different URLs by Google.

Developers can implement URL rewrites that will force any uppercase URL variant to the lowercase counterpart. This is a great solution if you’re dealing with many instances of camel casing.

Common URL issues

Some of the common issues that may pop up with URLs include: underscores, camel casing, non-ASCII characters, malformed URLs, and unnecessary parameters. Here’s a bit more on what those are:

Underscores in URLs

Splitting the words in your URLs with underscores might seem like a practical idea, but it’s not exactly advantageous. Keywords separated by underscores (_) don’t get recognised as separate words; instead, they appear as a single, hyphen-less phrase.

Programmers and developers might be accustomed to using underscores, but in the SEO world, it’s hyphens all day.

That said, URL parameters can freely contain underscores as they operate under a different set of rules.

Camel Casing

URLs are case-sensitive. If you have a URLs where both lowercase and uppercase page variants both accessible, indexable and without canonical tags, they might be perceived as distinct URLs by Google, potentially resulting in duplicate content issues and SEO trouble.

The best way to avoid this is to always use lowercase URLs, and setup a URL rewrite on your site that will automatically 301 redirect and uppercase URL to its lowercase counterpart.

Non-ASCII Characters

A non-ASCII character is any character that is outside of the English alphabet. Think things like accented vowels.

When Non-ASCII characters get linked in HTML, they often get encoded to be browser-compatible, which might result in a miscommunication between user expectation and browser interpretation.

Although it’s possible to encode non-UTF characters in URLs, I’d suggest sidestepping this risk and avoiding the use of non-ASCII characters altogether.

Malformed URLs

Malformed URLs are a recipe for bad SEO as these are URLs that contain incorrect formatting such as typos, wrong characters or special characters. All of these things can unintentionally alter your URL’s behaviour, leading to crawling, indexing and ultimately ranking issues.

As an example of malformed URLs, when a browser comes across ampersands (&) and spaces in URLs, it re-writes them, which can lead to errors in the URL. Ampersands can be especially problematic as they’re frequently used to separate parameters. Steer clear of special characters to prevent your URLs from becoming malformed.

Unnecessary Parameters

URL paths should direct users to a specific resource on your website, and each element of the path should contribute to that purpose. This includes parameters—but only to an extent.

Unnecessary parameters can lengthen your URLs and create a large number of crawl paths for Google, leading to crawl bloat and potential indexation errors.

Be sure to properly handle your URL parameters. The best way to get a handle on what you need to do, is to check Google Search Console. Look for any parameters Google is unnecessarily crawling, then block those in your robots.txt file.

Conclusion

It’s clear that URL best practices play a fundamental role in shaping the success of your web applications. They’re not just about aesthetics or ease of use, they’re pivotal in the grander scheme of SEO, user experience, and maintenance.

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn

Recent blog posts

In our blog section you’ll discover more in depth guides and SEO news. Check out some other posts below!

SEO Tips for Beginners

November 27, 2023
by Ben

7 Examples of AI in the Workplace

October 9, 2023
by Ben

Canonical Tags in SEO: A Guide to Better Site Visibility

October 4, 2023
by Ben

8 Essential SEO Tools Used By Digital Marketing Experts

August 26, 2023
by Ben

How to Optimise Images for SEO (5 Key Tips)

June 7, 2023
by Ben

What are Zero Volume Keywords?

March 22, 2023
by Ben