Yes, that’s right, you can tailor your domain URLs to be optimized for search engines too. If you’re thinking “but isn’t a URL just my web address” well no not exactly. You can think of a URL as the unique search engine I.D. code for a piece of content.
Think of it sort of like trying to find a book in a massive library using the old Dewey Decimal System. Every piece of content on the web uses a unique URL to find and store it so that it can be found when someone looks for it.
That’s why how you create your URL can drastically impact your ranking on google, so much so in fact, that if your URL is too long and complex, you’ll slide right to the bottom of the page rankings simply because google can’t figure out what your content is about.
Imagine being a native English speaker trying to read Mandarin with no prior knowledge, hopeless right? That’s the way search engines look at complex URLs
The first thing you need to know about building your search engine-friendly URL is your target keyword. Putting your target keyword in your URL serves two purposes.
Firstly, your target keyword in the URL helps the search engine to figure out what the content is about. So if your target keyword is “hotdogs” your URL would need to include hotdog in it somewhere.
Secondly, beyond letting the search engine understand the nature of your content, putting your primary keyword into the URL helps your site to rank higher according to relevance based on that keyword. Think of it as the search engine going “oh that blog is about hotdogs, let me put that over here for the next time someone asks about hotdogs”.
Because the URL is being written for a search engine though, this means that you don’t want to use long-tail keywords and phrases. Complexity kills in the search engine process. I personally like to focus on the “money term” in the URL string and add clarity to the front and end of the title, meta and H1 tags that helps to clarify
That being said, the keyword or words you pick should be the single most relevant words you can use that make sense for that URL. You wouldn’t put the keyword “unicorn” in the URL for a hotdog blog, remember, stay relevant.
The next piece of the formula is to keep your URL short and direct. Excess words and phrases will just confuse a search engine so the URL for a particular piece of content should only contain words that are relevant to that piece.
This ties into our earlier comment on not using long-tail keywords as they are more complex and difficult for search engines to process.
A good rule of thumb is to use just two or three single words if possible to help describe the content by what it is focused on. This helps the search engine identify the content and also helps users see immediately what the page they are going to is.
To continue with our hotdog example, having a URL like “website.com/blog/hotdogs-relish-onions “ tells both search engines and potential readers that this URL goes to a blog about hotdogs with relish and onions. Now you just have to make sure that the content matches the URL. Giving your blog about poodles a URL about hotdogs may be a bit counterproductive.
Keeping it short applies to the total number of words and the complexity of the URL so trying to balance both while keeping keyword relevance in mind can be tricky, but it’s important to remember both the search engine and your audience.
Also, keep in mind that a shorter URL string is more likely to receive inbound links because they’re easier to remember for the purposes of recall. For instance, we use SEO.co/NDA/ for access to our confidentiality agreement.
Knowing the proper URL format isn’t enough to get you ranking higher on Google. You will also need to “write” your URL in such a way that is recognizable to the search engine as well as readers.
In the past, it was common to use the underscore to separate words in a URL. Some users also choose not to space out the words in a URL at all. Both of these methods are incorrect. Underscores don’t register properly in a search engine anymore and not spacing out words creates unintelligible garbles of text.
Remember, the search engine needs to understand you. A URL that looks like this “website.com/blog/hotdogeatingcontest” will likely be deemed less relevant by the search engine, as well as one that looks like “website.com/blog/hotdog_eating_contest”. While the second one is certainly more readable, the search engine won’t see it that way.
According to Google, the correct way to create a URL is to use hyphens to separate words. This helps the search engine to identify each word as a separate term, meaning you can place multiple keywords in a URL using hyphens and the site will rank according to those words.
It’s also just as easy for users to read so that you still get across the point of the content that visitors will be accessing. So, for one final example as to how to write a search engine friendly URL we’ll go with this example: “website.com/blog/hotdog-eating-contest”
Now, if you look closely, the URL contains only as much information as is needed to describe the content and is formatted in a way that is easy for the engine and users to read.
If you need help remembering the rules, here it is in 3 simple words. Relevant, Short, Readable. Keep those three things in mind and you’ll be creating search engine-friendly URLs every time.
Perhaps your URL path is antiquated or now irrelevant. You can always fix it with a more SEO friendly URL string with the caveat that you create a relevant 301 redirect to the new URL path from the old.
In doing so, you may see a drop in rankings and traffic for a period of time, but if done right and in accordance with research and best practices, you’re more likely to see an eventual improvement in SEO rankings.
Hopefully, this post has illuminated some of the finer points of URL design and given you a better understanding of the steps to making a URL that is friendly to search engines and will even help your site rank higher.
Even with stellar content, it can be difficult to rank well if you have a poorly designed URL. It’s important to take everything into account when designing content that you want to rank highly in search engines.
If you’re needing help mapping your URLs, please consider a complete SEO audit where we can assess the full strategy with a holistic view.