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How To Write SEO Friendly URLs For Improved Rankings

How To Write SEO Friendly URLs For Improved Rankings

Have you ever noticed what Google shows for each result when you search? If you said the title and meta description, great job. 

But chances are you missed the 3rd aspect – Page URL, also known as permalink. If you did, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Here’s how the URL looks like on Google.

URLs appearing within SERPs

Moreover, a URL is highly visible near the top of the browser window when your page is accessed by a visitor, as shown below. Hence, it becomes increasingly important to have a user friendly URL structure.

URLs appearing in browser windowAnd if that’s not enough, did you know that web page URL is also one of Google’s ranking factors?

Clearly,  the permalinks are important both from on page SEO perspective as well as branding perspective. Yet many marketers and SEOs overlook the need to write an SEO friendly URL structure.

What makes permalinks even crucial is the fact that unlike title and meta description, you cannot change a URL later without compromising on SEO and direct traffic.  And changing URLs at mass is an experts job, which means it will entail you additional cost (if you are not a tech person).

The structure of your URLs need to be such that they are easy for your visitors to remember later, and for search engines to make sense of associated content.

That’s why it’s worth the time to get into the subject of URL SEO best practices in detail.

There are a number of technical aspects to ensure SEO-friendly URLs, which means that your URLs are aiding, instead of hindering, your overall SEO effort. Let’s dig in.

12 Best Practices To Write SEO Friendly URLs

1. Implement a uniform URL structure throughout the website

When it comes to picking a logical permalink structure for your website, you have a number of options. For instance:

different url formats to chose

So the big question is which option is best for SEO? In making this choice, keep in mind that it’s actually not about SEO, but about UX.

Even as per Matt Cutts of Google, what’s best for user experience would be best from an SEO perspective.

In other words, an SEO-friendly URL structure should match your site’s information architecture. Because that’s how your pages will become easy to find and navigate for visitors.

information architecture for creating URLs
(Image Credit: Interaction Design Foundation)

For example, if your website’s information architecture is like the one shown above, it’d make sense to have permalink of your Paintings page to be set up like this:

yourdomain.com/gallery/paintings

It helps users know exactly where they are navigating and search engines understand the content of your website. It’s also important to stay close to the root domain and not have a series of folders in your URL path.

So set up a consistent URL structure which does right by your users, and you can’t go wrong with SEO too. On the other hand, a jumbled structure would make it harder for both visitors and search engines to browse your website.

On a related note, it’s better to choose subfolders instead of subdomains. Search engines have a tendency to treat a subdomain as an autonomous website in itself.


2. Embed keywords within the URL

Out of all the URL SEO best practices, this one has the most direct impact on SEO (& UX). Having descriptive keywords in the URL helps both Google and humans understand the topic of the page.

For each page or blog post you create for your website, ask yourself: What is the one main keyword I want to target through this page?

If you are unsure of the one focus keyword and a few secondary keywords you want to target, use a keyword research tool like  Keywordtool.io.

How to find keywords

Just put in a seed keyword to get ideas, and zero in on the ones with good relevance and search volume, along with low SEO difficulty.

When you’ve picked a focus keyword, include that in your URL. For example, instead of permalinks like the one in red, opt for SEO friendly URL as shown in green.

embedding keywords in permalink

That said, stay clear from stuffing any more than 3-5 words in the URL, because it’s hard for people to remember. And longer URLs will get truncated by Google in the SERP results.

In addition, including keywords right at the beginning of a permalink would better serve as one of the best practices.


3. Do you need ‘www’?

This is something that a lot of people ask about – to www or not to www? Whether to have URLs like www.yourdomain.com or just yourdomain.com is surprisingly not a crucial matter.

You can use either of these choices as long as you remain consistent. This consistency should reflect not only on your websites pages, but also in your WordPress settings.

wordpress settings for www


4. Do you need .com?

Similar to the case above, I see many marketers and entrepreneurs hung up on getting a domain name that ends with .com. This is more of a branding concern than an SEO concern, and is not included in permalink SEO best practices.

If you’re going to use a .com extension, do it if it makes sense to be more memorable for your audience. SEO has no role to play in this matter.

In fact, there is a study which found that it’s harder for .com domain permalinks to rank in Google than other types of permalinks for some specific cases (like geographic targeting).

significance of TLD within URL


5. Make permalinks secure

Implementing HTTPS on your website isn’t just for SEO, but also a good in general. By installing an SSL certificate, you give users and search engines peace of mind while navigating your website.

Your visitors will appreciate the fact that you’ve taken steps to keep their data safe. With regards to SEO, it has been a ranking signal since 2014.

If you’re still not convinced, consider that in 2017, Google’s Chrome browser started warning visitors about non-secure sites with a nasty symbol indicating danger.

chrome URL security warning

So when a visitor will see this red symbol near the browser URL bar, they won’t be thrilled to enquire or buy from you. They will be more likely to leave without spending much time on your website, which hurts both SEO and your business.

To purchase and get assistance in installing SSL on your website, check your web hosting package or contact their support. 


6. Separate words with hyphens

Google has time and again asserted their preference for and encouraged webmasters to maintain a good user experience.

The easier a URL is to read for a human user, the bigger it scores on user friendliness. For instance, consider the following case:-

use hyphens in url

So another important best practice is to use hyphens instead of underscores to separate out the words.

This significantly improves readability of a URL, which in turn helps with SEO. Search robots treat these hyphens as spaces, unlike the other special characters (like underscores) which are treated as they are.

That can confuse the Google Bot wrt the content you have written within your URL (plus playing a spoilsport with your keyword).


7. Avoid dates/numbers

When you insert a date in the permalink structure, you’re not only significantly increasing its length, but also your effort. Because you may need to change it later to stay relevant.

For example, consider this URL:

avoid dates in url

The URL indicates the article was published in 2019. But as the year on the calendar changes to 2020 and beyond, the URL isn’t accurate anymore.

On similar lines, you may have written content on top 12 SEO tips. But when you update the article with the 13th tip, the permalink stops being correct.

So avoid use of numbers as part of writing your URLs.


8. Lowercase helps the case

Always use lowercase letters while writing URLs.

Modern servers don’t treat a URL in lowercase any different to the one in uppercase. However, some servers may often show a 404 error or even do a redirect on such URLs.

So one of the best practices is to stick to using lowercase letters for your permalink structure.

url-lowercase-letters


9. Reject unsafe characters

If you want to create an SEO-friendly URL, make it a point to stay clear of unsafe characters. These include spaces, \, <, >, {, }, #, %, * etc among others.

For example, the problem with using space is that there are chances that spaces may disappear or may be missed by the users while typesetting.

So why put in the labor when you are better off without them? As a part of my list of permalink seo best practices, I suggest avoiding or minimizing the use of unsafe and reserved characters.


10. Keep permalinks short

When it comes to your URL length, you should always incline towards being more concise. 

According to a study by Matthew Barby, the average URL length for pages which rank on #1 spot in Google search results is only 59 characters.

average URL length

Moreover, the study also involved an experiment which showed that shortening the heading and permalink of a page bought it to the front page of Google (though this is not a universal case).

However, the learning is very clear: shorter URLs can have a serious impact on your ranking. The shorter your URL, the more brand searches and direct traffic you’ll get from visitors who remembered it.

Apart from using only your focus keyword in your URL, another thing you need to keep in mind is to avoid the use of stop words. These are words like “to”, “with” and “of” which take unnecessary real estate in our permalinks.

For example, instead of creating URLs like this:

yourdomain.com/weight-loss-with-pills/

yourdomain.com/travel-in-singapore/

… it’s better to have SEO-friendly permalinks which look like this:

yourdomain.com/weight-loss-pills/

yourdomain.com/travel-singapore/

You may sometimes feel that this URL SEO best practice is making your permalinks a bit weird, but overall it’s more beneficial and easier.

And while we are on this topic, avoid repetitions. Repeating words in your URL is another mistake that can add to permalink length.


11. Say no to dynamic URLs

You might have come across URLs that seem like a puzzle. The structure of the URLs are such that you cannot have a slightest idea of what the page is about, unless you visit that page. 

It is better to use static URLs over dynamic URLs.

Static URLs are recommended because they use keywords that help users (and bots) to better understand what the page is about by just looking at it.

For example, instead of creating URLs (Dynamic URLs) like this:

yourdomain.com/dp/?id=745373&sort=date

… it’s better to have SEO-friendly URLs (Static URLs) which look like this:

yourdomain.com/seo-growth-hacks/


12. Implementing canonical URLs:

At times, a web page can have different versions of URLs. 

As a result, the SEO value gets distributed between these different versions. 

By using a canonical tag, you are telling the search engines about your preferred version.

Moreover, you let the SEO value of these different versions consolidate into a single URL.

And that canonical URL would then be displayed in the search results.

If you are on WordPress, Plugins like Yoast can help you define canonical URLs, as shown in the screenshot below.


13. Bonus: Chosing permalinks structure in WordPress

By now, you know how important it is to have a proper URL structure for pages of your website.

Now let’s see how you would make that happen in WordPress.

If you use WordPress as the CMS behind your website, the bad news is that the default permalink structure is not optimized for humans and SEO.

But the good news is you have the ability to change the permalink structure of your website with just a couple of clicks.

In your WordPress Dashboard, head over to Settings > Permalinks on the left sidebar menu.

wordpress-permalink-settings

On the permalink settings window, you’ll see different options to pick one from and set as the default URL structure of each page/post of your website.

Considering the best possible SEO and user experience, I’d recommend that you select and save the Post Name option.

postname-permalink-wordpress

Once you have applied this setting, all you need to do is determine the slug for each post or page you create. A slug is the part that comes after your domain name in the URL. For example:

https://onpagechamp.com/[slug]

https://onpagechamp.com/seo-trends

Therefore in the above example, your slug is “seo-trends.”

Although WordPress will automatically set unique slugs for your posts and pages, you’ll be better off taking this matter in your own hands.

To set a slug for post or page, head over to the Add New or Edit window. Then find the permalink option under document settings.

permalink-edit-wordpress

Enter the slug that you want to set for the post or page, and you’re all set to have an SEO-friendly URL.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

#1. Does URL affect SEO?

Yes, URL affects SEO. First of all, it is a direct ranking factor. This means Google analyses URLs to understand the context of the web page. Secondly, if you wish to change URL later, you cannot do that without compromising on SEO and direct traffic.

 

#2. What is a properly optimized URL?

An optimized URL is one which is short and to the point. It has a keyword embedded and is written in lowercase. The URL is secured with https and the words are separated by hyphens. Also, there is no use of unsafe characters like spaces, \, <, >, {, }, #, %, * etc.

 

#3. Do you need the www in the URL?

It is totally up to you whether you want www or not. The only thing that matters is the consistency. You need to have the same URL structure throughout the website.

 

#4. How do I redirect an old URL to a new URL?

You can redirect an old URL to a new URL by using a 301 redirect.

 

#5. How many URLs can appear in a sitemap?

A sitemap can contain a maximum number of 50000 URLs and it cannot be larger than 50 MB.

Conclusion

As we discussed, URL SEO may not be one of your top priorities, but it should be.

Your permalinks have a straight impact on your SEO, both in the short and long term.

If you want to rise in search engine rankings and become an authority, you’ll need to be methodical in how you approach your URL structure.

Determine a permalink framework you want to use and stick to it throughout your website.

Pairing this strategy with the right keyword research will help ensure you’re on the right track. By boosting your URL SEO, you set the foundation of a long lasting plan that delivers.

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