While there are numerous different ways in which you can optimize your website’s structure and content for the search engines, a process known as search engine optimization, the importance of creating SEO-friendly URLs is often overlooked by novice Web designers and online marketers. Creating SEO-friendly URL structures will make it easier for the search engine crawlers, as well as your visitors, to navigate your website. A clear and consistent URL structure can also help to make website maintenance and folder browsing easier, so it’s a good idea to get it right when you first design your website.
A URL is just a technical term for a Web address, but it is not to be confused with a domain name, which is only a part of the former. In fact, a URL consists of three or four distinct elements as outlined below:
A typical URL looks something like this:
- The first part of a URL is the application protocol, which with all websites is http:// or https://, with the latter denoting a website, such as an e-commerce website, protected by the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption protocols. In modern browsers, there’s no need to enter this part of a URL in the browser.
- The second part of a URL is the domain, and it consists of two or three parts. The ‘www’ part shows that it’s a website (though it is becoming less common), while the second part is the name of the website and the third is the top level domain, such as the country code.
- The third part of a URL is the only part which is optional, since it is the subdirectory of the webpage stored within it. A simple website might not have any subdirectories, with each page being stored in the root directory.
- The fourth and final part of the URL is the actual webpage or the file name of the resource – it doesn’t necessarily have to be an HTML file (a webpage) either, and it can be an image, download or anything else.
In terms of SEO and website design, we only need to concern ourselves with the domain name, top level domain, subdirectories and webpage names.
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Domain Names and SEO FOR THE REAL ESTATE AGENT
The world’s largest search engine and most visited website of all, Google, used to put more weight into keyword-rich domains than it once did. However, search engine ranking algorithms are much more advanced than they used to be, and while having a keyword-rich domain name can still be slightly beneficial, it is no longer a major consideration. There are various other factors which are far more important when choosing a good domain name.
The most important consideration when registering a domain name is to choose one which is easy to remember, and this means keeping it as short as possible, preferably in one or two words or just the name of your business. While having a short domain name won’t directly help your website to rank higher in the search results, it will make life a lot easier for your visitors and repeat visitors. Short domain names are even more important these days given that many people now browse the Web using smartphones with their virtual on-screen keyboards.
A Google algorithm update launched in September, 2012, actually started penalizing websites which made excessive use of keywords in their domain names. These domains are often known as exact match domains, and while there is generally no harm in using them provided that your content and website structure also meets current standards and guidelines, it should no longer be seen as an important search engine ranking factor.
The last part of a domain name is the top level domain. .com is by far the most popular one, accounting for well over half of all websites, and this is usually the one you will want to use unless your website has a very specific focus or serves a particular geographic area. Local businesses will generally be better off using their county code TLDs, such as .co.uk, .ca or .au etc., since this can help to increase search engine rankings in local searches.
URL Subdirectories and SEO
Just as is the case with the Windows File Explorer, websites have subdirectories which have exactly the same type of directory structure, albeit on a remote server rather than the local computer. Subdirectories are useful for categorizing your content and maintaining a clear structural hierarchy for your website. For example, your website may also contain a blog and a forum, in which case both sections will have their own subdirectories such as website.com/blog and website.com/forum.
Your subdirectories may also have their own subfolders. For example, your blog posts might be sorted by year of publication such as website.com/blog/2012, and an e-commerce website might have URLs organized like this: website.com/shop/computers/laptops.
To make your subdirectory structure easy for both your visitors and the search engines to rank and categorize, it is wise to use intelligible keywords rather than numbers or generic names. Additionally, your URL paths play an important part in website performance analytics tools, making it far easier to track and interpret visitor data.
Avoid having a subdirectory structure which is too deep. Any webpages which are more than three subdirectories deep will generally be visited by the search engines less frequently, particularly if you don’t keep an up-to-date Sitemap (although you should). The number of pages you can have within a subdirectory is unlimited, and this has no influence on search engine rankings.
Page Names and URL
While changing your website’s domain name is often a major undertaking and not worth the effort for SEO alone, changing page names is generally very easy. For page names, it is generally wise to follow the same best practices as those for creating subdirectory names as discussed in the previous section. Avoid generic names and numbers in your page names, and be sure to use appropriate keywords so that they make sense to both visitors and the search engines alike.
It is also worth noting that keywords in your page names will be highlighted in bold in the search engine results when someone enters keywords which also appear in the page names, and this helps people to better identify relevant content. Since you cannot use spaces in a URL, you should always separate your keywords by using hyphens. Sticking all the words together will be counter-productive, as is using any other separators. You should also keep your page names as short as possible by omitting irrelevant words such as conjunctions and prepositions. With these rules in mind, simply stick to using the title of the webpage as your URL.
Your URLs should ultimately be useful to your visitors by having a clear hierarchy and being consistent across your website, and this in turn will help you to achieve higher visibility in the search engines. No longer is it necessary to worry about static URLs versus dynamic URLs either, since new algorithm updates mean that Google can easily crawl through content regardless of the URL structure. One more thing to be aware of is that Google ranks different subdomains separately, so it is generally better to use subdirectories instead of subdomains for different parts of your website unless each subdomain serves a specific geographic area or a completely separate industry or niche.
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