URL Naming Best Practices

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The URL of a webpage is an important factor as far as search engine optimization is concerned. Right after the title tags and meta description, a meaningful URL is considered a strong signal towards the “intent” of a page because, apart from Anchor text, a URL is the only parameter that can be used to “judge” a page before visiting it.

Looking at domain.com/store/sports/football.html, a user can conclude that the given website is an ecommerce store that sells soccer products. However, domain.com/web/pages/6389.html conveys nothing; the reader has to click through and discover what the page is all about.

Some best practices are shown below that webmasters should keep in mind when naming the URLs of their webpages.

Follow KISS

As far as SEO is concerned, the KISS (keep it simple stupid) ideology has always worked wonders because this practice inspires you to focus on the main thing, rather than worrying about unnecessary details and technicalities that can complicate matters for no good reason.

A good URL is meaningful; a great URL is obvious. The words that directly associate with the meaning and purpose of the page are the best choice on most occasions. Consider an ecommerce store that sells garments. Typically, you would want to create three sections, Men’s, Women’s, and Children, and then create the entire URL tree, following a top to bottom hierarchical approach.

So in this case, the URLs of the store should read like domain.com/men/shirts.html or domain.com/women/skirts.html. These URLs are short, easy to remember, and clearly define the purpose of the page. Anyone reading the URL from the browser’s status bar will have a clear idea about the content of the page, and it would encourage him/her to click through and visit your page.

Another advantage is that you don’t get unnecessary, irrelevant traffic that isn’t targeted. For example, if your page URL is domain.com/women/skirts.html, it is expected that you will get very few hits from male visitors. However, if the URL of the same page is domain.com/wearables/page001.html, you will get hits from both male and female visitors, and a portion of the traffic will bounce off. This can cause “visitor dissatisfaction” because you haven’t clearly defined the purpose of the page and your customers are “discovering” the intent of the page rather than “knowing it beforehand.”

Static URLs Are Preferred

Dynamically generated URLs are by no means weaker than their static counterparts. It’s not that search engines have some sort of “hatred” with URLs that have &, ?, other special characters, or session IDs embedded within them, but search engines may have a tough time interpreting a dynamically generated address. The worst case is when the address of a given page keeps changing at regular intervals. Your website may lose valuable Google juice because a redirect from an old address to a new address always results in loss of PageRank (by a very meager amount, but it does).

Stick to static URLs whenever possible because a human visitor will remember it, and a search bot can interpret it more easily. However, if you must use a dynamically generated URL, ensure that the number of dynamic parameters are minimum, and the address doesn’t change by a huge fraction every other day.

Avoid Numbers, Dates, and Unnecessary Jargon

Webmasters have this confusion that having dates in a URL adds authority to the page. This is nothing but a myth. Dates, year of publication, or a random five digit number adds no such “search engine alchemy.”

When you use numbers or dates in a URL, it dilutes the overall value of other keywords you are using in the URL of a page. For example, domain.com/2006/04/16293/web-hosting.html will have relatively less URL value than domain.com/web-hosting.html. The logic is that when search engines evaluate both URLs, some of the URL value will be shared and wasted by the unnecessary numbers 2006, 04, 16293. Also read: 6 Ways to Increase Rankings of Blog Posts.

Use Hyphens to Separate Keywords

Always use a hyphen (-) to separate keywords in a URL. Avoid other separators, e.g., underscore (_) or a plus sign (+) or a weird combination of special characters. Search engines have their own algorithms to figure out separators, so using an underscore will not cause a loss in the SEO value of your page, but a hyphen is considered the best choice for separating words. I don’t know a single reason why anyone would want to use any other separator besides a hyphen.

Using Subdomains Is a Really Bad Idea

Some publishers think that if they use subdomains, they will get a “natural” SEO advantage from Google. For example, sports.domain.com will have a larger impact than domain.com/sports/. Let me tell you that this is, again, a very costly myth, and there are situations when this might result in a disaster.

A subdomain is considered a separate website, a completely separate entity from the root. Search engines do not reward you for hosting a page or a bulk of pages in a subdomain. Hence, changing the page domain.com/wearables/women/casual/tops.html to women.domain.com/casual-tops.html  won’t guarantee an improvement in rankings.

“But the latter is more concise and reader friendly.”

True. But you must find out the reason why the latter one is more concise and not presume that subdomains are “better.” In the second example, all the folders have been removed, and the page has been moved to the root of the subdomain, which makes it more memorable. Although the second example looks more promising, search engines won’t consider it as a part of the main domain.

Result: a loss in Google juice or PageRank/ Anchor text value because the subdomain is now a separate entity that is as good as a fresh domain.

Not More Than Five Keywords

You can, of course, use 13 words in the URL of a page, but after four or five words, search engines won’t consider the rest of the words for evaluation. My advice is to use as few words as possible. The lower the number of words, the higher the relevance of each word, and the higher the number of words, the lower the relative value given to each keyword.

For example, you should rename domain.com/women-wearables-shorts-spring-collection-fashion-japan.html to domain.com/japan-spring-women-fashion.html. The latter is easier to comprehend, and you’re not losing any value because of a long string of characters.

Also, remember to put important keywords up front without disturbing the meaning and intent of the page. The combination of words should convey a meaning, and the best possible scenario is when you can put the most important words in the beginning.

The best URL is the one that describes the intent of the page and is clear, short, and sticks in the visitor’s mind. Exact match URLs are a good bargain, but considering the non-availability of exact match domains, don’t stress too much about the name itself. Try to create a healthy balance between the structure, permalinks, and the naming convention of the different pages of your site, and you should be in pretty good shape.

Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel has over 12 years of digital marketing experience and has helped hundreds of clients increase web traffic, boost user acquisition, and grow their businesses. He’s currently the VP of Marketing at When I Work, the top rated employee scheduling software. In addition to his role at When I Work Sujan co-founded ContentMarketer.io and wrote the book on Growth Hacking titled 100 Days of Growth.
Sujan Patel
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  • AJ Mihalic

    Are you sure subdomains always completely different? Do you have experience with manually penalized sites just moving their content to a subdomain and recovering?

    Also, dates and/or numbers are recommended for publishers who want to show up in Google News. Plus dates associated with an article are useful to give context, so including them in the url is consistent with that approach.

    Search Engines really have a limit on the number of “keywords” they will “consider” in a domain name? I mean, that’s an obnoxious url anyway, but that seems like an arbitrary rule/signal. What is the source of this information?

  • AJ Mihalic

    Aaron Wall thinks subdomain treatment is arbitrary:

  • HGN

    Just want to follow the comments :-J

  • http://www.seopro.co.za Brendan Irwn

    Some good info in your article Sujan

  • http://amyedixon.wordpress.com Amy E. Dixon

    Just curious, I understand your shortening of the URL in the last section:

    “For example, you should rename domain.com/women-wearables-shorts-spring-collection-fashion-japan.html to domain.com/japan-spring-women-fashion.html. The latter is easier to comprehend, and you’re not losing any value because of a long string of characters.”

    But why did you order the words that way? Why not “/women-fashion-spring-japan”? Wouldn’t that be the more meaningful order since the URL is featuring women’s spring apparel (I’m assuming.)

  • http://www.socialbullets.com Social Bullets

    Good post. One more thing about extensions. Besides adding no value other reasons you should not use extensions in URLs are: – You give away the server-side technology that was used to build your website. From a security point-of-view it is always best to give your users as few clues as possible about what’s going on behind your site. – Cool URIs don’t change. Technology does. When Microsoft introduced ASP.NET technology I have seen plenty .asp URLs break because the new extension to these pages suddenly was: ‘.aspx’. Now, whether you completely remove file extensions or whether you simply use .html (because you are serving HTML pages in the end, and images etc also have proper extensions) is another discussion.

  • Erum

    Very Information Article ! But one question. Can you please tell me why big websites like Amazon have dynamic URL ? or are they so authoritative that they don’ t need to worry about SEO? for example http://www.amazon.com/bedding-bath-sheets-towels/b/ref=sv_hg_4?ie=UTF8&node=1057792

  • Chinna Botla

    Hello Sujan,

    Thank you for sharing such a informative article. its really nice. but as per my knowledge with keywords in sub domain name will give good weightage for the keywords. but you said no. Could you please clarify this.

    Chinna Botla

  • http://www.schedulebase.com Rich

    Thank you for the information. I’ve been looking for some valuable information pertaining to keyword usage within a URL. We have several pages that are going to be industry specific stemming from a root software scheduling page and I wanted to verify the amount of keywords that are given credit or evaluated.


  • Anonymous name

    i disagree with your “Use Hyphens to Separate Keywords” section. No one is typing urls these days therefor writing a minus (-) to separate words is less readable than an underscope (_) especially if the link is underlined anyway.