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Optimising URLs

15:45 on Fri, 14 May 2010 | SEO | 3 Comments

Whew! It’s May yet again and this also means that Pete’s SEO Corner is officially a year old. However, unfortunately the weather this month has not been up to par with May last year. On the plus side, we can use the extra time we will be spending indoors this month to work on optimising the URL structure of our sites.

Why Optimise URLs?

There are numerous benefits to optimising your site’s URLs:

Highlighted Keywords

Keywords which the user searches for will be highlighted in the URL string. This will serve to increase clickthroughs in the SERPs because they stand out more. This applies to individual keywords and not just search phrases.

So for example, in the screenshot below we can see that in the first result “Jimmy” and “Choo” has been highlighted while in the second it’s “jimmy” and “carr” and in the third it’s “jimmy” and “choo” again.

You will probably have noticed that the keywords have been highlighted in the title tag and the description as well. These were covered in my previous posts about optimising title tags and meta descriptions.

Easier crawlability

A good URL structure will make it easier for search engines to crawl your site and thus index individual pages. Google will find it alot harder to index URLs with foreign characters in it.

More likely to rank

Having keywords in the URL will help to increase your rankings for particular keywords. Google in recent times has gotten cleverer at indexing dynamic URLs however so the benefit of keyword optimised URLs has decreased somewhat as dynamic URLs have seen greater rankings.

More memorable

Shorter, more optimised URLs with intelligible keywords in them will tend to be more memorable than longer URLs full of database descriptors. This will increase visits to your site because people will be more inclined to remember your URL.

Let’s start optimising!

Right, there are multiple things you can do to optimise your URLs. Let’s go over a few now:

Keywords in URL

The first is making sure that the keywords you are searching for are in the URL. It’s prudent to first think of what users will search for before deciding what your URL will look like. In the following example for an electronics retailer, one of our clients the URL for one of their LG televisions is as follows:

http://www.myelectronicssite.co.uk/product/lg-37le5300

We figured that when searching for a television or other electrical appliance, they will usually search for the brand first and then the model number. This helps the site’s webpages to rank for specific product searches.

Search Engines also give more weighting to keywords which come first so place your more important keywords first. Also, try not minimise non keyword specific words out of the URL. Words such as “folder”, “your” and “directory” should be avoided unless they are part of the keyword sets you are targeting.

Minimize URL length

Long URLs are bad because they make it harder for users to remember the URL and like title tags, they dilute the strength of the individual keywords in the string.

In the following example:


http://www.myelectronicssite.co.uk/product/televisions/black/brand/LG/lg-37le5300


This URL is not ideal since the weighting of the core term: “LG-37le5300” is being shared among all the other terms in the string including “televisions”, “black” and “brand”. The shortened URL still contains “product” as a way of informing the searcher that the URL is for a product and not say, a blog post or a search string.

Avoid Underscores in URLs

Google does not recognize underscores (_) so any spaces between words will be treated as the one word. Use hyphens/dashes (-) instead. For example, if you have a domain like: www.experts-exchange.com, it will be better to use the former example than www.experts_exchange.com since in the latter the space isn’t recognised and can be read as something else entirely.

Convert Dynamic URLs into Static

Most E-commerce sites will have dynamic URLs. These are usually not SEO friendly as
An example of a particularly bad URL would be:


http://www.myelectronicssite.co.uk/product_details.jsp?PRODUCTID=0937489324345244324562&FOLDERID=9823764891236
47864&GENID=39287482361523


Not only is this particular URL long, it also does not contain any keywords. Unfortunately, there are many e-commerce sites out there still with such URLs.

Just like in our earlier examples, use keywords and minimise the URL length to

http://www.myelectronicssite.co.uk/product/lg-37le5300


A lot more memorable isn’t it?

Redirect non www

To search engines, the same site with www and without the www are 2 different sites. You will be splitting links between the two sites since some will link to the former and some the latter.

So for example, while most links will probably be to http://www.myelectronicssite.co.uk, some will still go to http://myelectronicssite.co.uk. These links won’t be credited to the www version of the site unless you use what’s called a 301 redirect which basically redirects all visitors to the www version of the site. Existing links to the domain being redirected will be credited to the destination URL albeit with a slightly diminished strength. That’s why it’s better to redirect domains earlier than later.

Maintain consistent URL structure

It’s also wise to maintain a consistent URL structure throughout the lifetime of a site. Although you can always redirect old URLs to their newer counterparts if the directory structure changes, link equity from redirected URLs don’t pass on their full strength.

This is why you should make sure you’ve got an optimised URL structure from the start of a new site.

These tips should help your on-site efforts so go forward and optimise!

Comments & Discussion

(3 Comments)

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Dave Smith

Dave Smith • Years ago

Can search engines crawl URLs with no dash or space between words? Thanks.

Reply

Peter

Peter • Years ago

Hi Dan,

Thanks for your queston. Your product URLs are indeed long! What I would recommend is that for individual product URLs, such as http://www.teamdirect.co.uk/prods/football/football-kits/nike-football-kits/nike-team-shirts/nike-football-shirts/nike-drifit-premium-brasil-whiteroyal-blue-ls-team-shirt.html. Strip out all the category folders from it so the URL looks like this: http://www.teamdirect.co.uk/nike-drifit-premium-brasil-whiteroyal-blue-ls-team-shirt.html. If you're using Linux, you can easily rewrite URLs in htaccess.

This should help your SEO efforts by making your URLs easier to remember, link to and display more prominently in the SERPs.

Good luck!

Reply

Daniel D'Auria

Daniel D'Auria • Years ago

Hi Peter

Thanks for your post.

What is the current best practice seo stance on subdirectories then?

If you view our website, it has keyword friendly urls, however it has a few sub directories - meaning that urls are sometimes long, and possibly overly stuffed with keywords? - Especially when one arrives at a product page - which is right at the end of string of subdirectories.

This said though, our websites seem to be getting indexed ok and steadily gaining rankings.

What I am unsure of though is how much slower or quicker this ranking process would be with shorter urls / no subdirectories... Though I dare say that 6 months after go live, we stand to lose a fair amount of traffic if we now go back and revise url structure! Though sometimes I accept that one has to take a step back to move forward again more strongly.. if deemed worth it.

Are you able to offer an opinion at all?

Many thanks in advance

Dan.

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