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Designing an SEO Friendly URL Structure

Josh McCoy
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What's in a URL? For the search engine optimization (SEO) world, everything!

Having a keyword-rich domain name and creating a sound information architecture followed by proper page naming conventions can put you on the fast track for SEO success.

Look on the web for yourself. In the SERPs you'll find many sites that make the great mistake of not creating a hierarchal flow to their site, less than optimal keyword usage in page names, and ill-advised variables in URL strings. Over the past few years I've found great success in URL rewriting to take advantage of a properly created URL structure.

The Domain

This is your address on the web. To search engines it is much like real estate: location, location, location.

Residing at a keyword-rich domain will give you instant authority out of the gate. This authority has decreased over time, but it still doesn't hurt you.

Ideally, we all wish we had a domain name consisting of our most important keyword. For most of us bound by time and money or organizational red tape, we have to work with what we have.

For those of you wanting to hunt a new domain this is a rather simple process of performing keyword research, defining an overarching general term representing the site, and buying a domain that has no more than one hyphen inside it. Additionally, stick with the .coms and .orgs because they hold the authority, but you can buy up the .net, .biz, .us, etc., if you want to go ahead and keep your name away from any imposters.

Information Architecture/Folder Structure

This is where search engines have been paying more attention in the last year. As discussed in "What Google Thinks of Your Site," since early 2010 Google often displays URLs with links to site categories in the listing's URL line.

Google does things for a reason. Everything they do is an indication of something you should be doing. Here, Google is announcing that they prefer a sound information architecture.

Despite this notion, for a long time in the world of SEO information architecture has been one of the most important elements in pursuing organic ranking success. It also is of great benefit to the end user.

For instance, if I handed you a proverbial bucket of URLs and said go to my page selling red bicycles, which of these three URL structures would likely be of greater assistance:

  • www.example.com/58739.php
  • www.example.com/products/bike-14.html
  • www.example.com/bikes/red-bicycles

Catch my drift? The best way to develop a sound information architecture is through laying out all of the categories of your site along side your keyword research.

Pretend you're showing a search engine (or a slow, dim-witted friend) how to drill down through the site. In showing the hierarchical flow of the site, you want to record the tiers of the site, but you don't want to make it too difficult to follow.

For this, ensure that you stay within three folders of the main site root. Developing a proper information architecture shows search engines what you consider the most important categories on your site as well as the association of these category's pages with their parent category theme. If you do it correctly, it also adds keywords to the top-level folders on your site.

Page Naming

People so often get it wrong -- pages named after product numbers, dynamically generated, no hyphenation between words, and the list goes on. It seems many are so concerned with on-page SEO they forget the foundation of the page.

When building a great page name, consider your keyword research or the top keyword for the page. Or, if it's a product, consider a targeted term plus the product name or ID if it's a popular identification number.

This shouldn't be difficult. Most of your attempts at successfully naming a page will at least be better than a dynamically generated version or letting IT make the decision.

In the past there has been debate over hyphens or underscores in word spacing. Now both can be read by crawlers, though I still prefer hyphens.

Whatever you decide, don't add spaces because " " instances aren't sexy to search engines or users. Leaving no space between words is also an improper method for search engines to decipher key term separation. At the end of the page name we find the declaration of the scripting language.

Note: If you're rewriting your URLs, it may be worth rewriting them to remove the script extension in case you move to a different programming platform down the road. This will help alleviate any future headaches.

Try It Out For Yourself

To this day I still get "giddy" when a client is open to a URL rewrite. I've seen so much come from this process. With so many other sites are doing it wrong, these feel like a "can't miss" type of project.

If you don't build a solid pathway throughout your site which forms relevance to your site's theme and targeted keywords, how do you expect search engines and users to find and understand the mission of your site?


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