URL structure best practices for any website.

Before strategizing on the URL structure for any website, following are the key points to remember.

Website URL Structure Strategy

Descriptive URLs

Most of the CMS systems produce dynamic URLs by default. These are usually long strings of text which are not understandable by humans. So, it is extremely essential to have descriptive, readable URLs that describe the content of every page.

If a user is searching for information related to dog food, a URL like the following will make it a lot easier for users to understand the context of the link.

http://www.example.com/dog-food

Following is a typical example of a dynamic URL which does not clearly specify the context of the link.

http://www.example.com/index.html?id_sezione=360&sid=6a5eb777944f41kaa6f849f730f1

Keywords in URL

When forming a URL structure for a website it is essential to have relevant keywords in the URLs. Not only this will help the user in understanding the context of the link, it also has SEO advantages from Search Engine point of view.

The following URL clearly explains what the page is all about.

http://www.example.com/dog-food

Punctuated URLs

It is also important to use proper punctuations in the URLs to avoid long strings of characters that are difficult for humans to read.

http://www.example.com/dog-food-store

Is far superior to simply listing:

http://www.example.com/dogfoodstore

It is also important to note that hyphens (“-“) are preferred to underscores as Google sees words separated by hyphens as individual words which are very useful for capturing multiple search terms.

Avoid Keyword Stuffing

Forming keyword rich URLs is definitely an important part of the SEO process but at the same time we have to keep in mind not to repeat the keywords in the URLs in order to avoid penalties related to keyword stuffing.

So avoid this:

http://www.example.com/dogfood-dog-food-dogfoodstore-dog-food-store

The above URL structure is most likely to get the site penalized by the search engines and also it will confuse the users by making it difficult for them to read the URL and trust it as it looks very spammy.

So, one should always avoid keyword stuffing at any instance and use descriptive URLs like the blow:

http://www.example.com/dog-food-store

Length of the URL

Recent research shows that short URLs within Google SERPs get clicked twice as often as long ones. So by sticking to short URLs you get both better rankings and better click through.

Keep It Short

It is generally accepted that if there are more than 5 words in your URL, search engines like Google give less weight to those words and not give you as much credit.

So don’t have:

http://www.example.com/cheap-dog-food-for-your-loyal-dog-who-loves-chicken

Just stick to:

http://www.example.com/healthy-dog-food

This also helps in avoiding to be seen as Spam in front of search engines and users.

Check Your Spelling

It is a very basic point, but you need to ensure that your URLs have the correct spelling. If a consumer comes across a link to your website that looks like this:

http://www.example.com/bog-food

They are likely to doubt the professionalism of your organization. So take the time to check your entire URL’s properly.

Avoid Capitalizations

Even slight changes to URL formatting, such as adding capitalization can result in a splitting of Pagerank and Link value. Example: www.example.com/Music/ vs. www.example.com/music/

It will also cause split in PageRank, URL confusion and duplicate URL issue.

Stick To Lowercase

Unlike domain names, URLs ARE CASE SENSITIVE! Therefore any randomly added uppercase character can cause havoc for users especially when users are trying to manually enter a URL into a browser address bar.

Avoid this kind of URL:

http://www.example.com/Dog-Food

Appended Parameters (Dynamic URLs)

Multiple parameters, can cause problems for Search Engines, create URL confusion by creating unnecessarily high numbers of URLs that point to identical or similar content. As a result, spiders may consume much more bandwidth than necessary, or may be unable to completely index all the content on your site.

Experts recommended shortening URLs by removing all unnecessary appended parameters and recommends using a combination of techniques to avoid duplicate content penalties.

Canonicalization of URLs

Canonicalization is the process of picking the best URL when there are several choices, and it usually refers to home pages. Canonical URL tag is part of the HTML header on any webpage, inside <head>...</head> section.

Example:
<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/" />

Session IDs

This is even worse than dynamic URLs. Avoid using session IDs for information that you woul like to be indexed by spiders. Session ID's appended to a URL can produce spider loops and cause the search engines to slow crawl a site, abandon sections of a site entirely, or even the site itself.

Try disabling cookies and changing the User-Agent to Googlebot / Slurp / MSNBot and see if session id's appear in the URL. Experts recommend storing Session IDs in a cookie rather than appending the ID to URLs.

Directory Structure

Search Engines measure the importance of a page's subject matter in part by its proximity to the Home page. Often, content residing more than 3 directories deep are considered of low value and will have difficulty ranking well for their topic.

Experts recommend altering the directory structure of the website to bring as much "Primary Content" within 3 directories and clicks of the Homepage as possible.

Flat Directory Structure

example.com/product-food-animals-dogs

Silo Directory Structure

example.com/product/food/animals/dogs

We cannot have a hard and fast rule of having a flat or silo directory structure on any website. This totally depends from site to site and situation to situation.

In case of a website having many categories and verticals, we recommend having a silo directory structure over flat directory structure. On the other hand if it’s only about a particular niche like a blog on SEO topics, then we can follow the flat directory structure.


           

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About the Author
Joydeep Deb

experienced in Online Marketing, Web Technologies, Search Engine Optimization, SEO, SEM, SMM, Web Master, eMail Marketing, Web Analytics, MIS Reporting, Web Design and Development.

Lives in Bangalore, Karnataka - India and working as an Program Manager SEO at Cisco Systems Inc.

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