URLs and SEO: Various Strategies for URL File Names

SMS Text

Quite a long time ago we discussed best practices for URL structure – that old post needs both an update and more details to discuss. So I decided to start a new post summarizing and discussing various strategies for URL file naming.

1. Why do we care?

URL is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects that affect both SEO and usability.

It affects:

  • Rankings (placing keywords in the file path is one of the most effective ways to make the keywords more prominent);
  • Click-through: a “clear”, “readable” URL can be another reinforcement signal for the user to click it;
  • Usability: a good “obvious” URL helps the user understand what the page is about even before entering the page.

2. Keywords in the file name

There is no doubt that keywords in the URL matter (so far they even matter a lot). However this doesn’t mean that you need to stuff your URLs with only keywords. The best practices would be:

  • Keywords in the file path occur naturally;
  • Keywords in the file path help make the URL easier comprehensible and memorable;
  • URLs do not consist of only keywords: here’s a good point expressed by Onreact in his post on top 10 fatal URL design mistakes:

    Recently bloggers tend to shorten their URLs in as much as their posting becomes totally boring. I won’t click /2008/06/27/google if I see only the URLs (like, say, in an email) but I will click google-files-for-bankrupcy

3. Word separators

While Google has become much smarter when it comes to identifying separate words in the file path, a dash is still considered the best choice:

Word separator DisadvantagesExample
SpaceURL encoded as %20 (makes the URL not easy to read). This may also prevent from sharing the URL in some social bookmarking services./word1%20word2
&URL encoded as %26 (makes the URL not easy to read). This may also prevent from sharing the URL in some social bookmarking services./word1%26word2
Comma (,) or period (.) Abused by spammers/word1.word2 OR /word1,word2
UnderscoreTraditionally it isn’t seen by search engines as a word separator (this is slowly changing now)/word1_word2


4. URL length

While it is still considered the best practice to stick to shorter URLs, the factor is becoming less and less important:

  • Usability: Very few people manually type a URL in the address bar. They either use bookmarks or search history (e.g. FireFox / Chrome smart address bar that shows URLs while you start typing the title of the page) or just use Google to find the page again;
  • SEO: Google can handle very long URLs (though it is still rumored that it prefers short URLs, I personally don’t see any big difference);
  • Click-through: Google now breaks long URL in SERPs smartly: it only shows the parts which use the search term or even substitutes the URL with breadcrumbs.

5. Case sensitivity

We have discussed this before: URLs are case sensitive. That being said, if you have two versions of the URL live and linked to (which is only possible if your site is on Windows server), this means that both lower- and higher-case URL versions return 200 OK status when queried. This will cause some duplicate content issues but Google will most likely be able to figure that out (by choosing one of them). What’s more important is that you are wasting plenty of link juice spreading it between the two versions.

It is recommended to always choose lowercase pattern (just because there will always be people who will link to a more traditional, plain-text version) and to use 301 status code to redirect all other (capitalized, upper-case, etc) versions to the lowercase one.

6. URL Extensions

We’ve discussed URL extensions previously and come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter too much if an URL have one or not. There are some pros and cons (listed below) but these are rather minor arguments:

Argument for using an extension: intuitive browsing: seeing an .htlm people may understand that is a page with content, seeing / people may assume that’s a folder. Although there is no direct impact on rankings, an URL extension makes it clear both to a user and a search bot whether this is a page or subdirectory.

Arguments against using an extension:

  • Reduce the overall URL length, which is just better overall. Not that the 4/5 characters that are in the .html or .php really add a lot, but sometimes small things can make a difference.
  • No problems with any technology changes (moving to anew CMS, etc): no need to redirect the old URLs to the new ones.

7. More URL tips:

Ann Smarty

Ann Smarty

Brand amd Community Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas
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,... Read Full Bio
Ann Smarty
Subscribe to SEJ!
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!
  • Brad Barker

    Nice tips Ann. We have 3 major websites, which we are moving to a CMS. Any tips to avoid dup. content issues or redirects?

    • Mohan Arun L

      As long as you have unique content on these 3 websites, there shouldnt be any foreseaable dup. content issues.

  • Nick Brown`

    Thanks for the update and comprehensive explanation of the pros and cons Ann. URL structure is an underused SEO platform but you covered all angles.

  • Dragon Blogger

    Excellent tips and information, bloggers shouldn’t include the /date/ in the naming structure anyway, cause maybe you want to revitalize an old post and you can’t do that with a post from 2009 or 2008 without it showing obvious in the URL as well. All of my blogs use the variation of “title” in the name which is an easy configuration in wordpress.

  • Mark McCulloch

    As I have been researching SEO for a very long time I was extremely happy when I landed onto your blog today and the information that I may add is second to none but it has also helped me tremendously.

  • Alan Bleiweiss


    Great to see this article – I routinely work with agency clients who push out new sites on a regular basis and where they’re always butchering URLs from an SEO perspective, which then means I have to go in and map out a new spec for them to implement at the code level, or they get clients in yet another industry where the previous methods don’t fully apply so it needs a whole new review/audit and spec.

    So it’s good to see here that my thinking on the topic is not just from my own myopic beliefs.

  • Brant

    Your wrong about underscore. Google, Yahoo, etc have all said they treat underscores like hyphens. Spreading misinformation is never a good thing.


    From 2007.

    • Ann Smarty

      Where did I say they aren’t? I said “traditionally” an note that it is changing. Do you live in the world where only Google and Yahoo exist?

  • David

    Ann once again awesome, is this more wonderful stuff based on the initial ideas from Let’s find 200 Parameters?


    Can we just shoot webmasters who keep adding spaces in, its not Microsoft Word there is no grammar check that will remove it…

  • Yura

    You don’t put dates in the URLs as long as you don’t want to get into Google News. They need additional URL parameters, such as an URL unique ID and potentially a date (as far as I remember).

  • Jim Rudnick

    this article “dovetails” in quite nicely with a recent guest post on our blog….

    so spot-on, Ann!



  • Sandy

    Just for clarity, you don’t mean dash, you mean hyphen. You might want to update your chart to reflect that.

    • Ann Smarty

      Right you are! edited the table

  • Don

    Ann, I see a lot of sites adding an extra subdirectory in the URL structure to get in a primary keyword. Do you find that root/keyword/topic.html much better than root/topic.html?

  • Arrow SEO

    The space separator is the worst to use in filenames. Its good to know hyphens are SEO friendly and looks better as well. Thanks!

  • Steven van Vessum

    Good article Ann. Especially the point about case-sensitive URL’s. Not a lot of people know about that, but using Google Webmaster Tools –> Diagnosis –> HTML suggestions you’ll find out soon enough if you’ve got any duplicate content because of that.

  • Chameleon Copywriter

    Good article, it’s always good to remark the importance of the URL structure. It is worth to spend few minutes thinking about the keywords we want to use in url, as they really affect results in SERP.

  • SEO Agentur

    although obvious and well known, thanx for bringing it to the point again!


  • Barrie

    “seeing an .htlm”? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Good article, as always Ann

  • Shack

    I am about a month into SEO, inactive for a number of years, so I appologize for my lack of recent knowledge.

    You may have answered this, but is it a SEO negative to use a database driven dynamically configured site with links like

    If so, I can redirect which is easy, but causes other problems(double click back and others), or rewrite the ASP for our major landing pages to be pages with out the arguments(a pain but doable).

    What do you suggest?


  • balls

    So Website URL “SPAMMERS” never use hyphens to separate words? Only periods and commas? This seems like a fabricated reason not to use other unreserved characters as word separators.

  • balls

    So Website URL “SPAMMERS” never use hyphens to separate words? Only periods and commas? This seems like a fabricated reason not to use other unreserved characters as word separators.

  • Ehsan

    Nice article, keep going.