Thank goodness for all the “little guys” (I really wouldn’t call them little guys because a lot of them know more SEO than some of the people at “the top”) who have put in the time and hours to make SEO less of a guessing game and actually more of something that can least be measured in terms of positives and negatives.
Why URL Structure is one of the absolute first things you should think about (if not the first)
Whether you are a seasoned SEO or just someone that is getting into the game – or just someone curios about URL structure for that matter – making sure that your URLs are set up the right way right at the get-go can save you a lot of headache in the future. It can also help you earn higher rankings in the search engines.
Who are URLs for?
I’ve read in places that URL structure is “for humans and not for search engines.” While the former is definitely true, the latter is definitely not true. URL structure should also be done with the search engines in mind – as long as you are not trying to “game them.”
i.e. your URL should not look spammy like this keyword stuffed example:
Another note: One more reason that you should keep the search engines in mind when you are designing a web site or hiring a company for custom web design is that you don’t want to be absolutely kicking yourself in the butt without even knowing it because of bad or frowned upon techniques.
In fact the main reason you want to get your URLs right in terms of the proper keyword use and SEO purposes is because then you don’t have to stress much on the content or anything else. You can focus on writing for readers and making dynamic pages, while letting your URL, title, and meta data do all the SEO work for you!
Short & Sweet
Make sure your blog – if you have one – understands this practice. Moz suggests 115 characters or less with your URL structure (they also reccomend 70 or fewer characters in the title – however they can be a little bit anal about a few things). Blogs, and automatically generated URL alias, can be the biggest offenders of this rule.
You can make your URL’s short and sweet by reducing directory length, as well as making sure you do not repeat keywords unnecessarily. I repeat: Try as best as you can not to repeat keywords that have already been mentioned somewhere in the URL.
Another Advantage of Short URLs
Have you taken a look at Google AdWords lately? The shorter your URL (I am talking about extensions not just the actual domain name) the more likely you are going to get a high quality score on certain keywords from Google AdWords. You can’t put a URL that is 3 directories deep and has 10 different words in the extension now can you?
Having a short, but keyword optimized URL is a great way to make sure that you are getting a high quality score through a highly optimized landing page that is relevant to your ads.
What about these little things called under_scores?
Underscores get ragged on a lot – and a lot of it I think is undeserved. The thing about using underscores in your domain name is that you really have to use them at only opportune times otherwise the strategy may back fire on you. Google publicly recommends that you use hyphens instead of underscores as does Matt Cutts – the head of Google’s web spam team. It totally makes sense for them to do this, because in the long run it prevents a lot of people from kicking themselves in the butt with their domain name structure.
So what exactly is the difference between using underscores and using hyphens?
To answer this question, you have to understand how Google reads the URLs, which may or may not be different from how other search engines read these types of URLs. To put it in simple terms, hyphens are read as more of a broad match, as underscores are read as more of an exact match or a phrase match. In other words, the sequence of the keywords really matters when you use underscores but not as much when you are using hyphens.
Take a few minutes out of your day right now and start Googling book titles or movie titles. In fact Google about 10-20 of them and you will begin to notice something: All the results at the top of the page will have underscores of the movie or book title. That is because underscores are best used when you know that 80%-90% of the time the sequence of the keywords is going to be the same.
This is useful for a lot of different types of keyword variations, and not just book and movie titles. Localities would be another example. For instance, if you had a city-state combination in your URL you might want to consider using something like www.example.com/detroit_MI and so on and so forth.
So we have seen the different formalities of URL structure. We have learned that your URL structure can have exponential effects on positioning in the SERPs for everything from AdWords quality scores to organic search visits. Let your URL structure work for you – not against you!