This article will talk about the SEO best practices for URLs. You will learn what a URL is, the best practices for category structure, and how to improve click-through rate from search results.
What is a URL?
URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator and acts as the location of a web document. Enter a URL in the address bar of your browser and it will take you to your desired webpage.
To look closely, you can break URLs down into multiple parts. For example, the URL below represents a webpage on Semrush that has four basic parts.
Protocol is the system used to transfer text and information across the web, and the most common forms are HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) and HTTPS (HTTP secure).
Domain name is the name of the website, such as eBay, Expedia, or Semrush.
Top-level domain (TLD) refers to the text following the “dot” in the URL, such as .com, .gov, or .org. Top-level domains classify the domain as a type (educational, commercial, governmental) or by geographic location such as .uk, .au, .ru, etc. Authoritative TLDs such as .gov and .edu in a website’s backlink profile can positively impact SEO.
The path is the text following the TLD that indicates a specific location (usually a subfolder, category or landing page) on the website where the page is located.
URL parameters are additional elements of a URL that are used to help filter or sort content on a website. They can be identified with a question mark (?) and then an equal sign (=) and a number.
Common uses for URL parameters include:
Sorting pages of a gallery
Sorting pages of items in an ecommerce shop
Search results on a website’s internal search engine
UTMs for tracking campaigns
Here are some examples (the parameters in the URLs are marked in bold):
A search parameter after making a query in the Semrush Knowledge Base: https://www.semrush.com/kb/search/?q=troubleshooting
A search parameter after making a query in the Semrush Organic Research tool: https://www.semrush.com/analytics/organic/overview/?searchType=domain&q=reddit.com
A pagination parameter after going to the second page of a category of items on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/c/clothing/mens-clothing/shirts-and-tees?ref=pagination&page=2
Basics of Managing URL Parameters
There are cases in which multiple URLs with different parameters could lead to duplicate content, which Google explains here.
This is the example they use to show 3 URLs on the same site that show the same content:
Static, non-parameterized page
URL uses parameters category and color to deliver the same content as non-parameterized page.
URL includes parameters to limit the number of results, and a session ID for the user to show the same content.
If this is the case with your website, you can inform Google which parameters to crawl and which to ignore via their URL parameters tool.
Avoid Crawling URL Parameters in Semrush Site Audit
Similarly, you can tell Semrush’s Site Audit tool to avoid auditing specific URL parameters on your site that you don’t want crawled.
This will save your account some of your crawl limit budget, while also helping you avoid receiving a duplicate content issue because of your URL parameters.
For more details, read Configuring Site Audit on the Knowledge Base.
This post from Search Engine Journal goes deeper into URL parameters and avoiding duplicate content if you’d like to learn more.
URLs in SERPs
URLs will appear below the page title in the search results
Longer, confusing URL strings can be unattractive and distracting to potential website visitors and discourage clicks.
URLs are also the location of all of your inbound links, which search engines crawl to identify the most important pages of your website.
How to Make Your URL Structure Work for SEO:
There are plenty of ways to improve your URLs for SEO. Usually, the best way to plan out effective URLs is to keep in mind the big picture of your website. The structure of your site folders and categories will eventually influence your future URLs.
1. Plan your categories based on search
To make your URLs appeal more to searchers, they should be named with your keywords in mind. This means asking yourself important questions about the main categories on your website. When judging your categories, you should ask yourself:
- Are they directly correlating to your business’ products/services?
- Do they relate to popular searches?
- What phrases are people using to search for your competitor’s services?
If you know how people search for your services, you can structure your categories and URLs to target common search language accordingly.
2. Keep it simple
With URLs, the simpler the better. This starts with simple categories but continues with deeper pages on your site. Simple often times means short, and shorter URLs are easier to read and potentially less confusing. If you can read the URL out loud, then it's probably simple enough for strangers to read quickly and understand.
According to Brian Dean and John Lincoln, SEO friendly URLs should have 1-2 target keywords and 1-2 folders. Anything more can become confusing or hard to read. Therefore, you should create folders should with descriptive names and avoid “dynamic URLs,” or URLs with long strings of numbers at the end, whenever possible.
The easier to read, the better.
So, let’s sum things up.
SEO-friendly URLs Will:
Include your keyword
Be descriptive and meaningful
Easy to read
Use relevant categories/subfolders
Contain around 3 to 5 words if possible
Helpful Online Tools for Checking your URLs
So, to check if the URLs on your website are working or not, use the following online tools.
Semrush On Page SEO Checker — This Semrush Project tool checks if you have a keyword in your title and meta tag and offers suggestions if you don’t. Just enter a target keyword and this tool provides you with a detailed list of actionable, tailor-made on-page SEO tips for each page of your website.
SEOmofo — This SERP view generator lets you enter your URL, title and description to manage the number of symbols and preview your article’s appearance on SERP. This can be helpful as you test out your ideas for category pages.
For more similar tips, check out our on-page SEO checklist and see the video below.