Website URL Structure

Today we are going to discuss creating a website url structure which is search engine friendly and adds to the usability of your website/blog.

First we will cover the Uniform Resource Locators (URL) system for those who are not familiar with the term url, give some quick pointers on url structure then further explain good practices when creating the url structure of your website or blog.

Uniform Resource Locators (URL)

A url is the location of your page on the web. It is shown in the address bar of the browser, in the search results and is used when someone links to your page within their website/blog, mentions your page on any of the social networking sites or bookmarks the page in their browser.

http://www.domainname.com/folder-name/web-page-file-name.htm

The above url is broken down into the following parts:

  • http://

    The first part of the url indicates the protocol of the url. There are different types of protocols but for this discussion we will keep things simple and refer to the HyperText Transfer Protocol (http).

  • www.domainname.com

    This portion is your domain name. It is also referred to as the host or server id.

  • /folder-name/

    As the name used implies, this shows that the web page referenced in “filed” in a folder on the web server.

  • web-page-file-name.htm

    This portion of the url is actual web page file name. The .htm at the end indcates it is a static web page. File names can have different extensions (the .htm part) or depending on how the web server is set up, it could end with a / or nothing at all.

    A web page does not have to be “filed” in a folder. It can be in the root of your web server file system. e.g. http://www.yourdomainname.com/web-page-file-name.htm.

Quick Tips for URL Structure

Quick tips for search engine friendly and user friendly urls:

  1. Keep things as simple as possible. This will improve the search engine optimization, usability and accessibility of your urls.
  2. Organize you website url structure logically.
  3. Use meaningful words for your folder and web page file names.
  4. Make your urls easy to remember.

Creating a Website URL Structure

Building on the quick tips above,

Keep Things Simple

A complicated url structure makes it harder for you to maintain the site and complicates the usability of the site for your visitors.

If you are considering the search engine optimization aspect of things consider what your url looks like in the results.

Urls truncated in search results

As you can see from the image above, your url will be truncated in the search results if too long. What does this mean? People may be less likely to click your result because they do not see a clear picture of where on your site they will be taken.

A shorter url shown in the search results could lead to more clicks if it is clear to the user where they are going to end up when they click your result.

Shorter url structure

The example above shows a more consise explanation of how the article/section relates to the user’s search.

  • Keep your web page file name short. Try not to go over 3-5 words. You could count the characters in the above examples to get an idea of the character count that works best.
  • If you decide sorting your web pages into folders, try to keep the url structure such that it is no more than 3 folders deep. e.g. http://www.yourdomainname.com/folder-name/folder-name/folder-name/ That being said, less is much better.

A Note About Using Folders: Don’t forget to create an index (home page) for the folder. An advanced user may go up to the address bar in their browser and backspace the web page file name out of the url to see what else is in that folder/category. If there is no index/home page/category page in the folder they are not going to see anything. A lost opportunity to have the user explore what else you have to offer.

Logical URL Structure

What is the best logical url structure for a site? The one that meets the needs of your target audience and the theme of your site. (smiles) Yes that is a vague answer but no one set up will work for all sites and audiences.

In the planning stage of your website/blog you should have done research about your target audience and learned what they are looking for and how they search the net for your particular product/service/information. This will give you an idea how they like things organized.

Do they like to search by brand? If so then maybe a url structure of http://www.yourdomainname.com/brand-name/product-name.htm would be the best url structure for your project.

Did you pick a subject where sorting into folders is not really required? e.g. http://www.yourdomainname.com/topic-of-page.htm Would work just fine.

Pick the url structure logic that best suits your target audience’s needs (keeping in mind the url length issues pointed out above). Make it easy for them to understand where to find things on your site.

Using Words for Folder and Web Page Names

When possible use words for the names of your folders and web page file names. Why? Because it is much more user friendly that is why (and may give a bit of a boost to your search engine optimization plan). Which of these are you more likely to click in the search results?

Dynamic URL vs web page named file name

See how this previous example used words for folder (directory) names and web page file names:

Words for folder and web page names

Not only did they use words, they used keywords/phrases their target audience would use in the search box to find this information. Now just because we have pointed this out that does not mean you over use these phrases. That would be considered a spammy or over optimization technique which will not serve you well as far as getting found in the search results.

This however would be a poor example of using words:

http://www.yourdomianname.com/store/item1.htm

Why is this a poor example? Because:

  1. Unless the store portion of your website or blog is an additional feature of your site the store should be in the root of your domain name. e.g. http://www.yourdomainname.com/product-name.htm Some ecommerce software does this by default on installation. Be careful on how you set up a new ecommerce site if selling is what you plan on being the focus of the site.
  2. item1.htm is not descriptive of what the user will find on the page if they click the result link. Something like queen-size-blankets.htm would be more descriptive. If you have various types of blankets in addition to other linen items something like http://www.yourdomainname.com/blankets/queen-size-blankets.htm would help the user see how your store is organized.

Use Hyphens (Dashes) Between Words

Notice how we included hyphens between words in our examples? This makes it easier for the user and the search engines to see each word.

Don’t use spaces! Some web servers (and browsers) do not like these plus it makes for a messy url listing in the search results. e.g. http://www.yourdomainname.com/queen%20size%20blankets.htm is really hard to read.

You will see some use underscores between the words (e.g. queen_size_blankets.htm). If your existing site already uses these it is not a huge deal but if you are starting fresh use hyphens. Here is a video from Matt Cutts, Head of Google’s Spam Department explaining the difference:

Aug 5, 2011
Matt Cutts explains the difference between how Google interprets underscores and dashes in a URL.

Refine Default Web Page Name

When using some content management systems you will notice that they recycle the title you give the page:

Default web page name WordPress

Depending on which content management system you are using, you can change the web page file name. WordPress for example has an edit button to the right of the url box which you can click to edit the name:

Revised web page name WordPress

This is something you should look into if you are using something other than WordPress. You do not need to include the, and, a, etc. in your web page file name as they just make the url long and they are ignored by the search engines.

Lower Case Names for Easier Maintenance

You will notice we have used lower case for our folder and web page file names. This is because it is easier to maintain the consistency across the site (we also name images in lower case for the same reason). It is also easier to read in the search results.

Create a User (and Search Engine) Friendly URL Structure

Many things you do to accomplish one thing, like usability, also improves other things, like search engine optimization. A proper url structure is one of those things.

If you decide to give your existing site or blog an overhaul after reading this don’t forget to use 301 permanent redirects to guide incoming links and the search engine to your new improved url structure. Also have a custom 404 error page in place for those changes you forgot that you will fix once you run your site through a broken link check. Look for your internal links that reference the changed pages also. The broken link check will help find those.

Any questions? Ask away in the comment section below.

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