In this first part of our 4-part series on URLs, we’ll give you a broad overview of the role URLs play in your SEO strategy.
What are URLs?
People have been talking about URLs since the advent of the internet (some of us even remember that). But do you know what URL stands for and how they work?
URL is an acronym for Uniform Resource Locator. It’s a specific address used to access resources on the internet, such as websites. It provides a way to retrieve a resource from a web server. The basic structure is:
- A protocol (like HTTPS)
- A domain name (like https://rellify.com)
- A path to a specific page or file on a website (https://rellify.com/article-intelligence-application/)
The role of URLs in SEO
URLs are crucial for search engine optimization (SEO) because they serve as more than mere web addresses. They’re essential tools that search engines use to rank and index content. When created and maintained properly, they help search engines understand the relevance and structure of the content. Well-structured URLs with keywords can significantly enhance a page’s visibility and ranking in search results.
Signal of relevance
Search engines like Google use URLs to decipher the content and relevance of a web page. They look for clear, descriptive, and keyword-rich URLs. So, for example, if you are creating a website for a shoe store in Pittsburgh, you would be better served by a domain name like “pittsburghshoes.com” rather than “thesoleprovider.com.”
A well-structured URL not only informs search engines about the page’s main topic but also helps in its categorization and indexing, thereby improving the page’s visibility in search results. This relevance extends to the URL’s structure, which delineates the content’s hierarchy and connection with other pages on the same site, allowing search engines to build a comprehensive understanding of the site’s overall content and its pertinence to specific search queries.
Clear and descriptive URLs give users an intuitive understanding of what to expect before they even click on a link. This transparency not only builds user trust but also improves navigation, as users can easily remember and manually enter such URLs. Aim for short, snappy and relevant. For example, there’s no need to include the good old “www” at the beginning of a URL.
Good user experience (UX), in turn, is a crucial factor in SEO. Search engines like Google prioritize websites that offer a positive user experience. Websites with user-friendly URLs tend to have lower bounce rates and higher engagement rates, as users are more likely to stay and explore when they find the site easy to navigate and understand. These user behavior metrics are taken into account by search engines, contributing to better search rankings for websites that excel in providing a superior user experience.
Navigation and structure
URLs should be structured to represent site architecture. They effectively mirror the organizational structure of a website. By using a logical hierarchy in their URLs, websites can delineate the relationship between main pages and subpages. This helps search engines and users understand the layout and content grouping. This structured approach not only makes navigation more intuitive but also helps distribute page authority throughout the site.
Breadcrumb navigation is a tool that helps users and crawlers understand a site’s structure and easily find what they are looking for. It’s named for the breadcrumbs that Hansel and Gretel left in the forest as a trail for retracing their steps. Breadcrumb navigation places a list (usually near the top of a web page) that shows the steps between that page and the site’s home page.
For example, a merchant’s website might have a main navigation bar across the top to show the major categories the site covers. If you are on a page for a particular type of woman’s shoe, the breadcrumb under the main bar might say: Home > Shoes > Women’s > Recreation > “Name of shoe (current page).” A user could click on any of those items to return to that part of the site.
It mirrors the URL structure of a website, providing a clear, hierarchical representation of the site’s organization. The breadcrumb trail often corresponds to the URL, reflecting the path taken to arrive at the current page. The URL for our example would be pittsburghshoes.com/shoes/women’s/recreation/platform-sneakers/. The integration of breadcrumb navigation with URL structure helps users and keeps them on the website.
At the same time, it can provide SEO benefits through clearer site hierarchy, keyword alignment, and effective internal linking. Google uses this to assess your content and may show the breadcrumbs in its search results.
Tracking and analytics
URLs can be strategically structured to help track the performance of online marketing campaigns by incorporating tracking parameters, known as UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) codes. These parameters, added to the end of a URL, help marketers track the source, medium, campaign, term and/or content that brought someone to the website.
By analyzing this data, marketers can precisely measure the effectiveness of their campaigns, such as email marketing, social media, or paid advertising. This helps them understand user behavior, campaign performance, and return on investment (ROI). Then, they can make data-driven decisions and fine-tune their marketing strategies for better outcomes.
The evolution of URLs and SEO
As search engine algorithms have evolved, the role of URLs in SEO has become more sophisticated. Initially, URLs were seen only as a way to locate a website or page. However, modern search engines now scan URLs for keyword relevance, structural clarity, and user-friendliness. In fact, URLs are a minor ranking factor for Google.
Algorithm updates have also made it more important for URLs to be clear, descriptive, and reflective of the page content. These updates have also diminished the impact of keyword stuffing in URLs. They shift the focus toward creating more natural and informative URLs.
Importance of consistency and standardization
Maintaining a consistent URL structure is crucial when updating or redesigning a website because it preserves link equity (or link juice) and search engine rankings. Changing URLs can lead to broken links and lost backlinks, which are vital for SEO. Links signal to search engines the credibility and authority of a website.
Consistency in URLs ensures that you retain your existing equity and ranking. Users and search engines can access the site without encountering errors or redirects, thereby maintaining the site’s SEO strength. We’ll expand on this further in “Creating SEO-Friendly URL Structures.”
Overview of the upcoming articles
We’re producing a 4-part series that takes a deeper look at the connection between URLs and SEO, and how to best implement a strategy. Stay tuned for the next installments:
Creating SEO-Friendly URL Structures
We’ll go into detail about best practices for structuring URLs, including the use of keywords, readability, and the avoidance of special characters and URL parameters when possible.
Understanding and Implementing URL Redirects
We’ll explain different types of redirects (301, 302, etc.), their purposes, and best practices for preserving SEO value during website changes.
Troubleshooting Common URL Issues
The final piece in our series will cover frequent URL-related problems such as broken links or duplicate content issues. We’ll also look at how to fix them to prevent SEO penalties.
Use URLs to Boost Your SEO Power
The power of URLs in the realm of SEO is undeniable and often underestimated. As we’ve explored, URLs are far more than mere web addresses — they’re critical tools in:
- Structuring a site
- Enhancing user experience
- Guiding search engine indexing
- Bolstering page authority