Value is king in the world of search engine optimization today. URLs might seem like a rather minor component of a website experience, but there are still ways to optimize the value of a URL. Making them SEO friendly is a rather straightforward process that is often based on the actual structure of the address.
If you can recognize which URLs need to be emphasized, which should be de-emphasized, and which URLs should be hidden from search engines, that you’ll be able improve the SEO of your site. Here are some of the best practices that should be considered when optimizing the URL.
1. Be Simple
Your URLs should be meaningful in some way. Instead of having random numbers assigned to them or a bunch of unique characters, they should have keywords and indications of what content lurks behind a click on a link. Simple also means being straightforward with your content so that any duplicated site content is listed with a canonical URL so that visitors are confused by a series of different redirects.
2. Make Sure There is One Domain Instead of Two… or Three
There’s a www version of your URL and a non-www version. These are actually two different websites that are being displayed. You won’t have a penalty to pay if you’re running both of them live, but you won’t have a guarantee as to which one will be listed. It is easy enough to use a 301 redirect to point visitors to the preferred version of your website so that only one presence exists.
Why is this important? The incoming links to your site are going to use both versions and how they are used will fall outside of your control. By having one website point to the other, you’ll be able to pass along link equity so that your one site gets to benefit from all of the links.
3. Avoid Using Underscores Whenever Possible
As a best practice in URL development, use hyphens to separate words within the address instead of underscores. The underscores in a name aren’t recognized as a space by search engines. That means if you create a page that says “energy_drink_madness_part_1,” the search engines are going to read that as “energydrinkmadnesspart1” and that’s not a keyword that anyone is really using today.
With that being said, there are places where underscores can be to your advantage. Some words can be compound or separate from each other, like “waterfall” or “water fall.” Using the underscore so it is “water_fall” will make it appear as one word to a search engine [and it's a legitimate search term], yet still appear as two words to a user.
4. Static is Better Than Dynamic
A search engine isn’t going to have an issue with either type of URL address. The primary reason why static URLs are better is simply because you have more control over them. You can create an address that makes sense and contains your keywords. Anything that adds to the usability of a site is going to be valuable and anything of value can help to create a boost in website rankings.
Avoid using relative URLs whenever possible. Although relative URLs seem like a great idea [and can be on occasion], the problem is that they must be continually verified. You have a relative URL if you have an extension on your address like this: /URL-SEO-Practices.html. It’s bound to the content of the published page. If you’ve spelled a word wrong, then you can trap search engines into infinite loops of confusion that ultimately cause your site to be ignored.
5. Don’t Confuse “noindex” With “nofollow.”
Having search engines ignore certain pages on your website, like perhaps a full page of legalese, is a good thing. The “noindex” instruction allows the search engine to know what parts of your website that you don’t want available for everyone to see. The only problem with this is that many will confused “noindex” with “nofollow,” which is primarily used for linking purposes, and so they’ll accidentally tell search engines not to index pages on their website that really should be indexed.
When that happens, there will be an automatic drop-off in ranking and visitor clicks. It could even result in your website completely disappearing from search results.
6. Use Your Canonical Tags
Your website is a lot like a house. There is just one address to a house, but there are many instructions that can be given to reach that address. Now imagine having to direct someone to a specific room within a house and the amount of instruction variation is going to increase exponentially. This is what URLs are like on the internet today.
You likely have dozens of URLs that are duplicated right now and may not even be aware of it. Here’s how you can have multiple listings for the same content.
- Archived content that is accessible through archival links that have unique URLs.
- Searchable content that will lead people to specific content that can also be accessed directly with a direct address.
- Forgetting to seal off the “Http://” version of your website from the www and non-www versions.
By including canonical tags, you’ll be able to tell search engines what your preferred display content is going to be. This eliminates a lot of confusion for everyone. Why? Let’s say you haven’t used any canonical tags, redirects, or noindex commands for a blog. You post content on it today that becomes indexed next week. Here’s what your blog actually has:
- 3 copies of your original post..
- 3 copies of your archived post.
- 6 copies of searchable posts [3 for the original and 3 for the archived].
In other words, you’ll have 12 pages of duplicated content. That’s why steering the ship with canonical tags is so important.
Having SEO friendly URLs is not something that should be ignored. When these approaches are used during the initial design phase of a site, incorporating them only takes seconds. Use these tips today and you’ll add another layer of friendliness to your site that everyone is going to love.