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Working with SEO-friendly URLs

From: Analyzing Your Website to Improve SEO

Video: Working with SEO-friendly URLs

One of the most important components of a web page from an SEO perspective is the URL, the web address of that page. Getting keywords into file and directory names is a powerful way to give search engines information about the subject of your pages. Let's take a quick look at what makes up a URL. We start with the domain name of course. For web sites, we generally use the www subdomain for the main site. Next, we have a directory, often called folders these days of course. We can have multiple folders, subfolders within subfolders.

Working with SEO-friendly URLs

One of the most important components of a web page from an SEO perspective is the URL, the web address of that page. Getting keywords into file and directory names is a powerful way to give search engines information about the subject of your pages. Let's take a quick look at what makes up a URL. We start with the domain name of course. For web sites, we generally use the www subdomain for the main site. Next, we have a directory, often called folders these days of course. We can have multiple folders, subfolders within subfolders.

Then we may end with a file name, and that file name may end with a file extension. Thanks to blogging software, it's become common these days to not end file names with a file extension. I believe, for reasons we don't have time to go into here, that it is a good idea to differentiate between file names and directory names, and you do that using file extensions. It doesn't have to be HTML. It could be php or aspx or htm or whatever. But I think it's a good idea to make sure Google knows the difference between your file names and directory names to help it understand your site structure.

Perhaps the most common problem with URLs is is that they simply convey no information to search engines. Take a look at this one from the twotreesoliveoil web site. Yes, it does have olive oil in the domain name, but as far as a directory structure and file name goes, there is nothing. No keywords. Something like this might be better. Get some keywords in there. Separate the keywords, too. Use a dash, not an underscore or space. Many developers will tell you that the separator should be an underscore, but they won't be able give you a rational explanation why.

Just tell them that Google actually recommends dashes over underscores, and no, I am not making that up. By the way, a quick tip related to domain names: most domain names when printed or displayed on the screen should be title case. It makes them much easier to read. There is another common problem with URLs, often found on very large sites. If you have what is known as a dynamic site, you may have this problem. A dynamic web site is one in which web pages are created on the fly by pulling data out of a database and merging it with a template.

Most shopping card sites are dynamic sites. The problem is that many of these systems were created by developers who were not thinking about search engine optimization, so the built URL structures they contain database queries. You have seen these things of course. For instance, your site might have URLs that look like this. There are two problems in this URL. First, search engines are less likely to index pages with complicated URLs. Though, to be honest, that was much more of a problem in the past than today, but hey, why take a chance? The other problem is that there are no keywords.

It's a huge waste of prime SEO real estate. Here is a better URL, lots of lovely keywords. So if your site has this dynamic URL problem, how do you fix it? You use something called URL rewriting. It's a job for programmer, but not necessarily a terribly complicated job. Search for 'mod_rewrite' or 'url rewriting' to find more information. A quick work about directory structure: keep it simple. Don't go down 15 levels. Keep it to two or three at the most, and use keywords instead of generic directory terms.

Use 'buy-olive-oil' for instance, rather than just 'shop'. Now and then, you might run into web developers who tell you either the URLs really don't matter, or even the putting keywords into URLs can get your site penalized by Google. I just heard the second one recently when a client went to his web development company with a list of fixes for his site. Both of these statements are completely untrue. Rather than arguing the point though, I simply explain the Google itself actually recommends that you put keywords in your URLs. One final URL issue. It's good form to add a 301 redirect from your domain name to www.your domain name.

This used to be really important to help search engines understand that you only have one web site at your domain name. That domain name.com and www. domainname.com are not different sites. It's important these days, but my theory is, if it's good enough for Google is good enough for me. Using nicely keyworded URLs is important, whether your site is large or small. But consider very large sites, with tens of thousands of pages. A small fix can have a huge effect in the search results, as tens of thousands of file names become well keyworded.

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Analyzing Your Website to Improve SEO

26 video lessons · 28455 viewers

Peter Kent
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