What Is A URL?
URL is short for Uniform Resource Locator. It is commonly referred to as the website address.
It can be found at the top of your web browser.
The URL is basically the digital street address of a website. The internet is one big city and Google is the street directory. Every website is a house and has its own street address.
Makes sense? Ok.
A URL has 4 main components.
- The Protocol—HTTP/HTTPS
- The Domain Name—The website name + top-level domain (.com, .net etc…)
- The Subdirectories—The group housing individual webpages
- The Individual Page Name—The name of one specific webpage
See how it’s similar to a street address? You have the city, the suburb, the street, and the number.
Not all websites show the protocol. We don’t. It still is technically there… Our website is still HTTPS protected. It just isn’t shown.
It’s purely marketing/aesthetics.
Note: You can break down the URL into more than 4 parts—but it’s unnecessary for SEO. Best to keep things simple.
Why Is URL Structure Important For SEO?
Because it affects SEO.
Search engines like Google use your URL/website address to better understand your content. Googlebot uses URLs to crawl, rank and index.
An optimized URL makes it easier to do just that.
It’s both an entire website, and an individual webpage issue. URLs matter for SEO at both levels.
URLs can also dramatically affect organic click-through rates – a search engine ranking factor.
URL Structure Best Practices
- Feature A Keyword
- Keep URL Short
- Use HTTPS
- Use Hyphens (Not Underscores)
- Make URL Descriptive
- No Capitalization (All Lowercase)
- Create Well-Structured URL Subfolders
Feature A Keyword
Your URL needs to have a keyword.
2 reasons why.
- It is an SEO ranking factor.
- Improves click-through rates.
Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller had this to say about URL keywords in 2016:
“I believe that is a very small ranking factor. So it is not something I’d really try to force. And it is not something I’d say it is even worth your effort to restructure your site just so you can get keywords in your URL.”John Mueller, 2016.
Let me be clear – he is either lying, ignorant, or misrepresenting having keywords in URL. They are not a very small ranking factor. They are a MAJOR ranking factor.
What’s more important, is the effect a keyword in the URL can have on click-through rates.
Research from Backlinko has shown a keyword-rich URL can increase CTR by 45%.
But don’t go overboard. 1 keyword is fine. 2 at most.
BOTTOM LINE: Try to get your primary keyword in the URL.
Keep URLs Short
The length of a URL can affect your SEO efforts.
So… What is the optimal URL length?
In general, shorter is better. Research from Ahrefs shows #1 ranking webpages have significantly shorter URLs.
17 characters for the #1 rank to be precise.
The average word has 6 characters. 17 characters is generally 2-4 words.
Backlinko’s ranking factors study came to a similar conclusion.
All the research and data on URL length is consistent. The consensus is overwhelmingly clear—shorter is better.
For good measure, here’s what Matt Cutts of Google said about URL length.
“Certainly. If you can make your title four- or five-words long – and it is pretty natural. If you have got a three, four or five words in your URL, that can be perfectly normal. As it gets a little longer, then it starts to look a little worse. Now, our algorithms typically will just weight those words less and just not give you as much credit.”Matt Cutts
There you go. 3-5 words.
Another pro-tip on this topic of short URLs is URL depth, which we cover below.
BOTTOM LINE: Keep URL length short if you can.
Using HTTPS will improve your SEO efforts.
Google has called for HTTPS usage to be universal across the web. This is a part of the companies ideology—a safer internet for all. As such they consider HTTPS a ranking signal.
Google also straight-out recommends HTTPS in its SEO starter guide.
Google clearly favors HTTPS.
There does seem to be a slight correlation between HTTPS usage and higher SERP rank—according to Backlinko research.
Top ranking domains tend to use HTTPS.
Switching from HTTP to HTTPS is quite technical—this might not be at the top of ones SEO “to-do list.” Ideally you want to create a website with HTTPS from the get-go.
- Further Reading: HTTP vs HTTPS
BOTTOM LINE: Use HTTPS.
Use Hyphens (Not Underscores)
When you have a URL with multiple words, you want to use hyphens (-) to break it up.
If you don’t break up the words, Google will process it as /googlerankingfactors … One long word.
Use hyphens (-) to break up words in your URL to make it easier for Google to understand. When you make it easier for Google to understand your content/webpages, you get better SERP results.
In fact, Google recommends the use of hyphens in URLs.
They even mention specifically not to use underscores (_). In fact Google straight out ignores them as a URL separator.
The hyphen is the universal URL separator according to Google’s Matt Cutts.
GOOD ✔ serp.co/seo/google-ranking-factors
BAD ✖ serp.co/seo/google_ranking_factors
BAD ✖ serp.co/seo/googlerankingfactors
This really does not need to get more complicated
BOTTOM LINE: Use Hyphens (-) to break up multiple words in your URL.
Make your URLs Clear & Descriptive
A descriptive URL can entice search engine users to click through.
Which URL would you be more likely to click?
A URL that is descriptive gives a search engine user context to what the page is about. Now yes, SERP results have page titles and meta descriptions, but a good URL can support that.
SERPs are not the only place a link can be featured—social platforms like Reddit, online forums or Twitter. A non-descriptive URL is less likely to be clicked on those places too.
A descriptive URL is important for SEO because it can improve click-through rate. Organic click-through rate is what we call a user experience signal. Google uses these to better rank content/webpages.
Essentially, organic click-through rate is a ranking factor.
Creating a descriptive URL is not hard or complicated. If you adhere to the other best practice guidelines—such as featuring a keyword and keeping it short, it should be enough.
GOOD ✔ serp.co/seo/google-ranking-factors
BAD ✖ serp.co/seo/ 34569010/p=v2ha780sdf32
BOTTOM LINE: Create “descriptive” URLs to increase click-through rate.
No Capitalization (All Lowercase)
Capitalization does not make a difference to Google—but the server your website is hosted on might. Most servers consider /google-ranking-factors the same as /Google-ranking-factors.
Not all do though—which is why you should stick with no capitalization.
Windows is case insensitive. /google-ranking-factors is the same as /Google-ranking-factors.
Linux is case sensitive. It will consider those two pages entirely different. Having multiple pages for the same content is not good, the link juice will be spread.
To avoid server case sensitivity problems altogether, just avoid capitalization—use lowercase.
GOOD ✔ serp.co/seo/google-ranking-factors
BAD ✖ serp.co/seo/Google-ranking-factors
BOTTOM LINE: Avoid URL capitalization for web server optimization
Create Well-Structured URL Subfolders
Well-structured, organized URL subfolders make it easy for Googlebot to crawl your website—indexing and ranking you well.
It can also make navigation of your website easy for visitors.
Google echoes these sentiments. Here’s a quote from its SEO starter guide.
“The navigation of a website is important in helping visitors quickly find the content they want. It can also help search engines understand what content the webmaster thinks is important.”
Google wants to know what role an individual webpage plays on the overall website. Making a clear, concise URL subfolder will boost the ranking of individual pages.
Remember, website architecture plays a role in on-page SEO.
An organized URL subfolder improves SEO much like improving site speed, or using a responsive design. Website features affect the SEO of individual webpages.
So how do we create well-structured URL subfolders?
Best practice is quite simple according to Google.
- Create a natural flowing hierarchy—avoid overly complex webs of links
- Use text for navigation—avoid navigation based on images/animations
Here’s how we do it at SERP Co.
Our learning hub starts with the “University” subfolder.
From here the learning hub splits into two sections “Content” and “SEO.”
Here hosted are the individual webpages.
The URL path is “University” → “SEO” → “Intro” → “What Is SEO”
Clean, smooth. Easy for Googlebot to crawl.
This post would be “University” → “SEO” → “On-Page” → “URL Structure”.
Pro-Tip: This is great for organization and site structure, and navigation but not great for SEO rankings.
Notice how we have so many levels, but when you look at the actual URL of the page you don’t see all those sub-folders in the final URL, you see something different…
Why is that?
Keeping your keywords closer to the root domain is going to significantly help your rankings.
The fewer subfolders you use the better you will rank. Plain and simple. People deny this all the time but I personally have tested and seen this fact in action hundreds of times.
For example, if you want to rank for “Los Angeles SEO Company” you would be better off with Option 1 than Option 2:
- Option 1: yourwebsite.com/los-angeles-seo-company
- Option 2: yourtwebsite.com/services/seo/california/los-angeles
You see, each time you add another / into the URL it is actually a “subfolder”. This is called URL depth. Shorter URL depths have been shown to help rankings.
This is how it looks on the server-side:
If you look at our website, we actually go against our own advice here – but not because we don’t believe in it. We do it out of necessity.
We just have way too many “local landing pages” to have all these short URL structures.
We needed to use sub-folders for organizational purposes, or things would have gotten a little too crazy for us to manage.
BOTTOM LINE: Keep URL subfolders simple and text-based.
Optimizing your URL structure is an easy way to enhance your SEO efforts.
Follow the best practice strategies outlined in this post and your URLs will be vastly improved.
To learn more about SEO, continue reading the guides in our learning hub, and join our mastermind community group here: SERP University.