SEO Best Practices for URL Structure

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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.
Ann Smarty
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, MyBlogGuest.com.
Ann Smarty
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  • http://www.seo-theory.com/wordpress/ Michael Martinez

    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.

  • http://www.markbarrera.com Mark Barrera

    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)

  • http://galaxyspectrum.com/ PR AD

    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.

  • http:http://matt-cutts.blogspot.com/2008/05/contact-me.html Pratheep

    @ 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.

  • Jeffrey Smith

    Thanks for the tips Ann.

    In addition, here is another brief and useful post on SEO Naming Conventions.

  • http://www.richdadblog.com Shinil Payamal

    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.

    Regards,
    Shinil.

  • Sally

    Thanks for the post Ann.

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

  • http://www.seopros.org Terry Van Horne

    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.

    • Ludovico

      – Url is case sensitive, “www.site.com/page.html” and “www.site.com/Page.html” 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)

      • Ludovico

        I meant case sensitive db, of course.

  • http://seojsolutions.blogspot.com/search/label/Why%20hyphen%3F Manoj Goure

    Because of google’s monopoly, favoring hyphen in the url, it is getting prevalent over underscore.

  • http://www.wesellhalifax.com Joey Ross

    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?

  • http://www.trezora.com Trezora – Art, Glass, Jewelry

    I am considering switching to a new shopping cart for my glass jewelry site and most of these carts are absolutely pitiful when it comes to SEO considerations. Their URL structures are beyond bad.

    My top choice so far is X-Cart but I need to know if there exists any add-on modules to enable the following URL structure (following Ann’s suggestions):

    http://www.trezora.com/jewelry/glass-pendant/sku1234.html

    Thanks,

    Mendy

  • http://maduraimeenakshitempleforu.blogspot.com/ vignarajan

    Very nice and useful information about the URL structure. I think it is the one of the way to improve the rankings in the SERP.

  • sweetievale

    Thanks for the tips! 😉

  • http://www.jvptechnology.com jay paul

    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?

    Thanks
    Jay

  • https://www.searchenginejournal.com Ann Smarty

    @Jay : the post is here.

  • http://www.spanishseo.org/ Spanish SEO

    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.

  • berto

    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?

  • http://www.seodesignsolutions.com/blog/ Jeffrey Smith

    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.

  • http://www.altum.co.uk Altum

    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.

  • http://www.m7mmad.com m7mmad

    Thank you for this useful information i liked that tools .

    peace

  • http://blog.brock.be/ Brock’s blog

    Very good information here ( also in the replies :-) )

  • http://www.vijetawebservices.com/ Vipin Kumar

    Thanks all commenter!

  • http://www.0p0.net افلام

    thanks

  • http://www.0p0.net/topics توبيكات

    thanks work cute

  • http://www.indiaplaza.in kumar

    Can i have % symbols in static url’s

  • http://www.holz-export-wichmann.de Holz-Export

    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

  • http://www.homesearchnovascotia.com Paul

    I have pretty high SERPs but I only use 2 of my 4 words in my URL as keywords? Should I ad to my keyword list?

  • http://www.theseoagency.com seo company

    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

  • http://johngwalter.com John G. Walter

    In the following URL: http://pa.photoshelter.com/c/johngwalter/gallery-img-show/G0000QvpSZCun1ls/I0000feH4FkPbbfk/0would it be best to break up my name ‘johngwalter’ into ‘john-g-walter’ to help list this URL to searchers looking for any combination of my name? And is case-sensitivity an issue?

  • http://www.seosmarty.com/ Ann Smarty

    @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.

  • http://johngwalter.com John G. Walter

    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.

  • http://www.acumenfund.org Brian

    Thank you Ann. Do you know of any good resources to determine the best initial URL structure for a blog? For example, which is better – http://www.xyz.com/blog or blog.xyz.com?

    Thank you for the useful info above.

  • https://www.searchenginejournal.com Ann Smarty
  • http://www.bailmeoutcoupons.com Tam

    Hi Ann,
    I don’t see google index most of my url
    on this page http://www.bailmeoutcoupons.com/coupon-code/discount-stores.html
    Is this because most of the url are too long ? Here is one of the sample url
    http://www.bailmeoutcoupons.com/coupon-code/stores/Samsonite-Company-Store-Coupon-Codes-Deals.html

    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 ?

    Thanks
    Tam

  • http://www.facebook.com/moosa.hemani Moosa Hemani

    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)

  • http://www.toporganicseo.com Sahil

    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

  • http://www.insegment.com Boston SEO

    Nice tips Ann. I was told dashes were better than underscores, but never thought much into it. I think I am going to have to bookmark this article.

  • Brian West

    Any preference by the search engines for ending your urls in a slash (e.g. http://www.something.com/page-name-no-extension/ vs. a file extension (e.g. http://www.someting.com/page-name.html /.htm, .apx, .php etc.)

    Thanks!

  • Dan L.

    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. homepage.com — homepage.com/page/ — homepage.com/page/category/ — homepage.com/page/category/article.html

    2. homepage.com — homepage.com/page/ — homepage.com/category/ — homepage.com/article.html

    3. Something else?

    Thanks in advance,
    Dan

  • http://www.helicontech.com Andrew

    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 homepage.com-page-category-article.html, I did it for my website with LinkFreeze.

  • bathroom_suites

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

  • bathroom_suites

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

  • JosephWilson

    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.

  • Kadia Kartik

    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.
    .

  • http://konccepts.com Som

    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 ( http://submit-url.konccepts.com ) 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%)

  • http://indiadetectives.com/ capt. giri

    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

  • http://peepdb.com Mike

    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!
    http://www.peepdb.com
    The People Database

  • athira

    I have a website my url will be like this http://www.legacy.com/womens/tops/

    for seo purpose may i wan to change like this http://www.legacy.com/womens_tops_in_uk.php i waqn to add .php at the end

  • thiru

    Great info about the URL Structure. I will follow the guidelines in my website.

  • riyaj

    Well information about url is too god but still I’m confused how to used url in proper way because a website I have
    http://www.crayoninfotech.com/. still not getting such good traffic.

  • http://maycart.in syed

    One more question, what if we use, .aspx or php or jsp in the end..will it effect anything or it is just static url?

  • http://www.clarkseo.com Washington Porter

    Great post concept. URL structure is the start of building a good SEO campaign. I agree, dashes are better. Shorter is better. Good luck out there!