Retargeter Blog

how://does.your.url/affect-seo?

*Note: All websites listed in this post were used for example purposes only 

URL structure typically includes four main elements: subdomains, domains, folders, and pages. Does this look familiar?

http://subdomain.domain.com/folder/page

Each element has a different priority in SEO tactics (source: SEOmoz). When possible, you want to work your target keywords into each element. This means thinking about SEO while selecting your content management system, naming your products and reserving the domain itself.

But here are 5 specific tips on how to make sure your URL structure follows SEO best practices:

1. Be Short and Descriptive 
Every website’s URL is visible on Google’s search engine results pages; it’s in green just under the link. If your URL makes sense to humans, it makes your search engine listing look better. So when possible, use comprehensible words.

GOOD: http://www.ninjasupplies.com/throwingstars/

BAD: http://www.ninjasupplies.com/catalog/3882-6993?prod=stars

2. Not Too Many Folders
When a URL has many directories and pages deep within those directories, the pages appear to be “farther away” from the root domain, and will therefore benefit less from the authority of the main domain. In other words, the more slashes in a URL, the less search engine friendly it is.

Avoiding folders (and folders within folders) will also keep your URLs shorter, which makes your URL structure more legible to humans.

GOOD: http://bigcats.com/tigers
BAD: http://bigcats.com/junglecats/striped/tigers

3. Sink the Subdomains
Sometimes there are good reasons to use subdomains, but they can be a problem for SEO. The trust and authority built up at the domain level doesn’t get fully passed on to the subdomain, so avoid putting any search optimized content here. Save the subdomains for login areas, secure areas, internets, extranets, etc.

GOOD: http://yummyfoods.com/pie

BAD: http://pie.yummyfoods.com

4. Domain, Sweet Domain
Regardless of the rest of the URL structure, the domain itself still impacts ranking. Although less important than in years past, domains with keywords are still preferred. This is partly due to the fact that keyword-focused domains attract keyword-focused links, since the domain inevitably serves as the anchor text in many inbound links.

An exact match domain is a domain name that contains the entire target keyphrase, such as www.timesharesincancun.com. Yes, they are considered spammy.  No, they are not as effective as they once were, but if you have an entire website focused on a single topic, a highly focused domain won’t hurt. Just don’t get carried away and start registering five word domain names.

So if your domain doesn’t have much link popularity yet, consider switching to a domain with at least one word from your primary target keyphrase.

GOOD: http://www.zippyturtlefood.com
BAD: http://www.zippycorp.com

5. Dashes = Good,  Underscores = Bad
Of course, URLs can’t have spaces, so when separating words, you may choose either an underscore or a dash. Choose the dash. It helps Google know that you’re using two separate words.

GOOD: http://monsterburrito.com/cheese-chorizo.html
BAD: http://monsterburrito.com/cheese_chorizo.html

You can do this when you’re creating files and pages. But if you use a content management tool, it may choose this for you. Hopefully it’s using dashes. When choosing a new CMS, look closely at the URLs it creates.

6. Beware Duplicate URLs
If there is any chance that Google may see two addresses returning the same content, pick the URL you prefer and stick to it. When Google finds the same content at two URLs, it will generally choose one, and sometimes it’s not the one you wanted.

The goal is to make sure Google knows which address to use for which page. You don’t want webaddress.com and webaddress.com/index.html both showing up in your Analytics. You also don’t want site.com/products and site.com/page.php?q=products to both get indexed in Google.

Use canonicalization to indicate that preference with the  rel=”canonical” tag.  And when necessary, use 301 redirects.

Bonus Tip: www or no www?
Speaking of making things official, ask yourself how much you like the letter w. Every site should decide if it’s http://address.com or http://www.address.com. It doesn’t matter which, but make up your mind.  Set the server to force your preference.  Then, for as long as you live, every time you type the address, keep it consistent.

About the Author

Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, an ecommerce and web design company in Chicago. You can find Andy on Google+ and Twitter.

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1 Comment

  • Nice article. I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts on domain name extensions like .com vs .ly. Are all these creatively named startups dinging themselves significantly in the SEO department if they have a domain extension that isn’t local to their target market?