When it comes to SEO, your website URL or domain URL is the foundation of your website. It is what people see in their browser address bar when they are on your site. The URL structure you choose for your site can have a huge impact on how high in search engine rankings you’ll be and how much traffic will come to your site.
In this piece, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about URLs so that you can make an informed decision on how to create the best URL for SEO.
What is a website URL?
A website URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is a unique identifier which helps to link to or locate a specific website, file, or resource on the Internet.
All URLs have different parts that help us understand where the link is going so we know what file or resource it will be taking us to when clicked.
The main parts of a website URL include:
1. Scheme – The scheme is the first part of a website URL and tells web servers what protocol to use when accessing that resource. Presently, most sites use the “Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure” (also known as “HTTPS”), which means all communication between your browser and website is encrypted.
You can think of it as a street address that leads you to a specific location.
Other common schemes are “File Transfer Protocol” (FTP), which is used for transferring files over the Internet, and “mailto,” which is a way of allowing users to email a certain address by clicking on the link.
2. Second Level Domain (SLD) – This is the unique name (domain name) that identifies or differentiates your site or organization from others on the Internet.
3. Top Level Domain (TLD) – This is the extension at the end of a website and is generally written in lowercase letters. For example, the URL format will include .com, .org, .info, etc., at the end.
Let’s take “mywebsite.com” as an example. “mywebsite” is the SLD while “.com” is the TLD.
4. Subdomain – The subdomain is an important part of a website URL that exists as a subset of the main domain. The subdomain is usually represented as “www.” However, it can also be a way of grouping websites into different parts to tell the web server which page you are trying to access.
You can think of your website URL as a house and the subdomains represent different rooms in that house.
For example, “blog” could be a subdomain under mywebsite.com’s root domain (mywebsite) so that when we type in “blog.mywebsite.com,” it directs us to the blog homepage rather than the general homepage.
5. Subdirectory – A subdirectory is a way of grouping related content on your website together and telling the web server which section of the webpage a resource will be located in.
For example, if you have an e-commerce site with product pages for each item in your shop, then those individual products would all live under one root domain. The website URL will be represented as “mywebsite.com/products” (the word “products” in this URL format could represent whatever category name best suits the type of items being sold). You can also have a subdirectory nested within another, and so on.
Think of it like a filing cabinet or drawer where you keep different types of folders – one for documents, another for photos, etc. Within the “photos” folder, you can have different subfolders named “family pictures,” “graduation,” “beach party,” etc.
Let’s say we have a website about food recipes at “mywebsite.com.” Within that website, there might be different categories to separate posts by meal types, oven types, etc. Each of those categories would live under the root domain URL as a subdirectory.
So, “mywebsite.com/recipes” would be an individual page about recipes, and “mywebsite.com/oven” can point to a page that tells you how each different oven type works and what they’re all good at cooking. In addition, the website URL “mywebsite.com/recipes/weight-loss” can be a subcategory in the recipe page that talks about recipes for weight loss.
How to create the best URL for SEO
Website URLs can be a little bit difficult to understand sometimes. There are different conventions for how they’re written, and there’s more than one way of writing them. However, what matters most is creating the best URL with the proper structure that is well received by search engines.
Many website owners make the mistake of thinking that a URL can be anything they want it to be. They use any structure and any term they feel like in their URLs because they underestimate its importance in driving traffic. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t always see things like a human does and might not rank your page as highly if you don’t follow its guidelines.
What makes a website’s URL structure so important?
The right URL format or structure is vital to your website being discovered. It helps Google determine what your website is about and helps people understand what they can expect to find when clicking a link.
When someone searches specific keywords, Google crawls the Internet to provide relevant results for the searcher. When structured correctly and optimized, search engines are able to deliver your web page(s) to the searcher as a relevant result.
Also, by using the right URL structure, you are saving potential visitors from confusion. This is because it helps them understand how to navigate your website and know where they are when browsing.
When done correctly, the URL format you choose should reflect your website’s content and organization. For example, if you own an online store that sells clothing and accessories, your website URL should accurately reflect the products you sell.
When visitors are going through your website and find themselves looking at a URL format that says “mywebsite.com/men/shoes,” the person can easily understand that this is the men’s section in the shoe category.
A good URL structure also helps search engines to easily make connections between pages on your site. It can understand that “Air Jordans” belongs to the shoe category with other shoes, even if the “shoe” keyword is not mentioned in the product name.
Tips for creating an ideal URL structure for on-site optimization
Customize your website URL according to the content on a particular webpage
One big mistake a lot of website owners make is to allow for automatic URL generation. These automatically created URLs often do not make sense, which can decrease the page’s ranking on search engine result pages (SERPs).
It is best practice to manually create domain URLs that are relevant to the page’s content and are descriptive in nature.
Also, make sure your URL structure is logical and does not contain unnecessary parameters (which can hurt SEO).
Follow a structure based on how your website is organized
Select the most relevant and intuitive categories and subcategories for your website, and use a hierarchical structure to create the perfect domain URL. This can be tricky at times because some website owners go overboard by adding too many categories. Ensure that what you choose does not complicate things for visitors.
For example, the URL format, “mywebsite.com/men/shoes” is ideal; rather than “mywebsite.com/men/shoes/sneakers/nike/plimsoll/lace-up/white-coloured”.
Your domain URL should be short and simple
The best URLs are short, simple, and easy to remember. This allows your visitors to easily search for you without going through their history or a long list of bookmarked sites in their directory—thus improving the user experience.
In addition, shorter website URLs rank higher on search engines since they are easier to understand and more relevant. Ensure that you leave out unnecessary words, avoid using a particular keyword more than once, and refrain from keyword stuffing.
Your primary keyword should be part of your domain URL
Select a primary keyword for every webpage on your site, and make sure that it is present in the URL. It should be something that gives a short and clear description on a particular page.
For example, if you sell shoes online, your primary keywords should be “shoes” or “sneakers.” Also include secondary keywords such as brand names, types, or any relevant term from the headline, in the domain URL to improve its relevance for search engines, e.g., mywebsite.com/men/shoes/nike-running-shoes.
Make use of hyphens to effectively space keywords
Your URL structure should include a combination of alphabetical characters and hyphens (-) to separate words. This allows you to add more keywords, increase relevance for search engines and improve readability.
For example: mywebsite.com/best-running-shoes/.
Try to avoid using stop words and pronouns in your website URL
When we talk about “stop words,” we refer to words like “the,” “and,” but,” “for,” “it,” “your,” “our,” etc., which provide no value to the URLs’ relevancy for SERPs.
Search engines don’t pay attention to these terms, so you shouldn’t as well. They can be ignored since they are not crucial in determining a page’s ranking, allowing you to include more relevant keywords instead.
Yes, these are words we use in our everyday lives, but try to avoid them as much as possible. There are times where stop words are necessary to help readers understand what your website URL is saying; however, if your slug makes sense without them, leave them out.
Use canonical tags when necessary
Canonical tags refer to the process of telling search engines which version of a particular page is the original and which must be indexed. This can help you avoid duplicate content issues since it allows you to point out which web page has priority over others with similar or identical titles.
If you have several different URLs that lead to the same webpage, it can weaken your SEO. But by communicating to Google using canonical tags, search engines will know which one should be given more weight and rank it accordingly on SERPs.
URL masking or domain masking is the practice of hiding the real destination URL by displaying a different web address to human visitors while allowing web servers access to the true destination.
When a URL is masked, visitors in a particular domain will be directed to a new destination, but the URL in the address bar will remain unchanged.
Different web pages are viewed as having duplicate content by search engines
Search engine optimization experts advise that you should not use URL masking because it can cause search engines to view different web pages as duplicates. Thus, they may not index masked URLs, resulting in decreased traffic to website and visibility.
Poor user experience and lack of trust
It is not advisable to mask URLs because, ultimately, users can get confused and find it difficult to navigate your site.
Also, when the URL in the address bar does not change on a new page, your visitors might become suspicious, as scammers often cloak links to hide malicious content. The resultant effect will be complete distrust of your site.
Difficulty in bookmarking and sharing your site
The practice of URL masking can prevent your visitors from bookmarking and sharing your site. When a visitor attempts to save a relevant page, they end up saving the homepage instead. This is definitely something that can cause frustration to users, as it takes away their ability to control their browsing.
Advantages of URL masking
Hide affiliate links
Many affiliate marketers use URL masking to cloak affiliate links, as having affiliate links can turn off their target audience. Visitors don’t usually trust affiliate links, as they are well aware that these links are for financial purposes where marketers use this method to improve their chances of making sales.
It can also be used by webmasters to assist in the migration of one domain to another. This helps companies avoid losing ranking while giving their site a fresh start on a new URL.
Shorten complicated links
Long and complicated links are usually cumbersome for the brain. Rather than changing the domain name, marketers often use URL masking to create shorter versions that are easier for visitors to remember and share.
Hide free web hosting domain URLs
For those making use of free domains like blogger.com, wordpress.com, etc., URL masking can be used to customize the web address so that it appears like the site has its own domain.
Alternatives to URL Masking
URL masking is a controversial topic. However, you do not need to use it to achieve the same results. Here are alternative methods of achieving domain URL customization while protecting your site’s SEO.
A 301 redirect is an HTTP response code that tells search engines that the requested page has permanently moved to a new location. This allows you to retain your domain name’s ranking ability by directing visitors through the redirection process.
It also means that users can continue to access the original page through their bookmarks, which will be updated with the new location.
A 302 redirect is an HTTP response code which means that the requested page has temporarily moved to a new location.
This is also known as a “soft redirect” because, unlike a 301 redirect, it will not pass on any link popularity or ranking ability from the old URL.
It can be used when you are resolving a technical issue with the original page or to retain SEO value while changing domain names.
Your URL is one of the most important parts of a successful website. It is a big factor in identifying your brand with search engines, so you need to find out what method will work best for you, keeping both your visitors and SEO in mind.
In this digital landscape, it is vital to keep up with the trends and technologies while maintaining a website that is both user-friendly and optimized.
If you need assistance with this or any other aspect of web optimization that we’ve discussed today, please don’t hesitate to reach out! We’ll happily answer any questions you might have about creating the best domain URLs so that they work as best as possible for your business needs.