SEO Best Practices for URL Structure

I’ve decided to make up a short all-in-one guide to summarize what we know about SEO for URLs. And if you have something to add, please do. So he we go:

[Google] algorithms typically will just weight those words less and just not give you as much credit.”

Here is one more evidence in favor of short URL: recent research shows that short URLs within Google SERPs get clicked twice as often as long ones. So by sticking to short URLs you get both better rankings and better clickthrough.

Short URLs will also help in direct type ins of URLs (if anyone still uses that instead of Google).

  • Dashes are better than underscores. Although Google has no individual preferences (meaning you won’t be penalizes for either of the versions), dashes are more preferable as Google “sees” each hyphened word as an individual one:

So if you have a url like word1_word2, Google will only return that page if the user searches for word1_word2 (which almost never happens). If you have a url like word1-word2, that page can be returned for the searches word1, word2, and even “word1 word2?.

  • Unlike a domain name, URL is case sensitive – meaning that if by any reason (your choice or CMS) you stick to a an upper-case version, remember that this can cause a few issues: people are most likely to link to the standard lower case one and you might both lose link juice and suffer from duplicate content issues.
  • Moving to static URL structure: my (and actually not only my) favorite tactic is to use 301 redirect only for most powerful (in terms of linking and traffic) pages and leave all others to be handled via 404.
 SEO Best Practices for URL Structure
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing, tutorials and her guest blogging project,
 SEO Best Practices for URL Structure

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54 thoughts on “SEO Best Practices for URL Structure

  1. Google announced earlier this year that they are now treating underscores in URLs the same way they treat hyphens in URLs. I’m not sure of how this may affect their ability to zero in on technical content (which is why they treated underscores as indexable characters from the beginning).

    It would also be a good idea to offline some of the keyword burden to sub-domains, although I’m not a fan of thin sub-domaining, where you create a 1-page sub-domain for the sake of offloading keywords. I would prefer to see robust sub-domain content.

  2. Michael is correct with the underscores. Take a look at Digg for example – all of their URLs have underscores and they don’t have any problem ranking. There are MANY other sites that use the underscore and it isn’t an issue.

    And as far as file extensions, don’t forget to stay away from ending the url with .0 (think web-2.0)

  3. One question:

    When choosing a domain or creating URLs – should one focus on keywords to get potentially higher rankings on the SERPs.

    Or should on focus on creating a URL or Domain with a name that would intrigue or be easy to remember regardless of the keywords validity.

    Perhaps even if the URLs were long, they would be clicked on if the wording was enough to stir the imagination.

  4. @ PR AD, the answer is simple, to select a domain name add your points 1 and 2 and do not go for long domain name even if they are easy to remember.

  5. Thanks Ann for the great tips. I was about to register couple of domains for online stores.

    @ Jeffrey: Thanks for the SEO Naming Conventions link.


  6. Thanks for the post Ann.

    But URL is case sensitive? Is that so? I have to find out more about it.

  7. Ummm, windoze is not case sensitive ie: Thisurl.htm will also load for a request for thisurl.htm

    NIX has always been case sensitive and windoze has always not been case sensitive.

    1. - Url is case sensitive, “” and “” are two different URLS.
      - If you have a Windows WEBSERVER, it can fetch the same page without worring about case, just because it cannot store two files with the same name (case insensitive)

      However in some case it will be case sensitive even under a windows webserver (think about url rewrites, then queries against a case insensitive db)

  8. Hey, nice post, but I am a little confused over the lenght of the title. Most sites that I submit to want you to have up to 60 characters in lenght.
    I rank very well for my keywords, but I have 6 words in my title, should I try and reduce this to a shorter title?

  9. Great Job Ann, superb info. I like Tools from seomoz and also specially spam-detection by Nick Gerner, Danny Dover, Ben Hendrickson after that there is specified like “See the blog post for more information” but that that URL is not opening for more info. so Ann, can you confirm about this URL of seomoz if you know.

    or should we ask to randfish?


  10. To continue the list…
    1. Don’t use diacritics (i.e. á, é, ó, ú …etc..and..ñ) in URLs when using Spanish and other languages that contain them. People still use old browsers that struggle with these characters.

    2. If using non-Roman characters, it will help to go with an IDN too, even though this may not be full non-ASCII TLD (wait until second half of 09). Chinese, Arabic and Cyrillic are good examples.

    3. Keep some variety in your keyword rich URL to make it more inclusive and less spammy when comparing it to the title page and headings.

  11. I know that Matt Cutts referenced the 3-5 words in the URL as being “perfectly normal”, but he doesn’t reference any magic number that becomes the maximum number of words or directories that still get indexed.

    Has anyone out there found that point where Google simply stops indexing after X words and/or Y sub-directories were reached in the URL?

  12. Hi Berto:

    Personally, I have not seen the magic number where Google omits a site based on naming conventions. I have however seen where the folder names are tuncated with a / / after the domain name, yet the keywords referenced still rank based on allinurl conventions.

  13. Personally I have found that sites attain the best SERP if hyphens are used and if the extension is a straightforward .html or .htm. It all goes back to trust and keeping it simple. I concentrate on just 2 or 3 keywords in the URL (except blogs), after all the more words that are used the more diluted the effect and the perceived content is less targeted.

  14. Great Job Ann, super info. I like Tools from seomoz and also specially spam-detection by Nick Gerner, Danny Dover, Ben Hendrickson after that there is specified like “See the blog post for more information” but that that URL is not opening for more info. so Ann, can you confirm about this URL of seomoz if you know.

    Thanks Holz-Export

  15. I have seen urls have a effect on rankings but only in very competitive serps. We should do a article on htags… they are more relevant at this time..

    seo agency

  16. @John, for the better results, yes, ‘john-g-walter’ would be better. As for case sensitivity, it doesn’t matter for rankings – so either version would be fine.

  17. Thank you, Ann. That’s what I figured. Probably doesn’t mean a whole lot with a common name(s) like mine, and as a dynamic e-commerce link, but I wanted to have what I could control set as the most effective before I invest in a lot of link coding.

  18. Hi Ann,
    I don’t see google index most of my url
    on this page
    Is this because most of the url are too long ? Here is one of the sample url

    shoud I rename it to ../Samsonite.html or ../Samsonite-Company-Store.html ?
    If I rename all of these url so shorter url, will I get penalty for pages not found for some of these pages (200+) already index on google ?


  19. No, I really don’t think so that Google is not indexing you URL due to spammy links and on the other hand according to the SEO Moz tool the given link is not spammy. i was having the same issue few days back with one of my website.

    i will prefer to submit your xml site map again and fix the issues (may be non www issues)

  20. Hi,

    I have a question with seo friendly domain name.

    “Which one domain is better hyphenated or non hyphenated, does search engines feels spammy to hyphenated domains?”

    Best Regards

  21. Hi Ann,

    I have a question related to URL structure… Let’s say that I have a homepage, and a link to a page from there. Then I have category links within that page. Then in the category page I have links to articles.

    What would be the correct URL structure:

    1. — — —

    2. — — —

    3. Something else?

    Thanks in advance,

  22. Dan L.,
    I think your structure is SEO-fine in both variants as long as page, category and article name describe the main idea of the content that is inside.

    You can also change it to smth like, I did it for my website with LinkFreeze.

  23. I think this is really good post for doing seo practices for url structure.

  24. Good article and informative .I agree with your views that URL structure should be short.As I am new in this field I start to learn how to use URL and this article is helpul to me .It seems that search engine are much more at ease with the URL that don’t contain long query.Many of SEO professional agree that dynamic URL are not visible to web spider while static URL have a greater visibilty in their eyes.So Dashes must be use than the underscores and dashes look a lot cleaner if use.Great Post.

  25. I think 1 question in my mind : what is the major difference between “-” and “_” ? why ? we have only consider to seo or other things, then seo so how it possible.
    waiting for your answer with video

    thank you,
    kadia kartik.

  26. URL structure is one of the main key factors for SEO . However , the structure is good when it comes with WordPress .But , the main problem appears when someone is using Joomla as his or her CMS . However , Joomla comes with default SEF module but there is a problem .If you are going to burn your feed in Feedburner.Google , your feed will not work .I faced the same problem . I run a directory submission service at one of my sub domains ( ) and there , I use Joomla for content management .I disabled the SEF module so that RSS Feeds work but I reinstate the module ASAP as the URL structure was so odd without the SEF module .However , when using WordPress , permalink structure should be used as custom ,( /%category%/%postname%)

  27. Thank you Ann. it was really good for who operating seo for their own sites.That’s what I figured. Probably doesn’t mean a whole lot with a common name(s) like mine, and as a dynamic e-commerce link, but I wanted to have what I could control set as the most effective before I invest in a lot of link coding

  28. Do URLs ending with .html or .htm really get better treatment than other extensions like .asp or .jsp ? What about URLs with no extension at all? This would seem to be an outdated concept if true.

    Thanks Ann for the info!
    The People Database