You’ve got big plans for your website.
You (or your content writers) are writing furiously. You’ve picked your target keywords.
And you’re feeling good. But then, your first roadblock: URLs.
You have to create URLs for all those wonderful pages and posts you’re publishing. And you don’t want to make a mistake that will harm your SEO efforts.
This guide is for you:
URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator. But you don’t have to care about that.
It’s a web address. Simple.
It’s how your web browser (Chrome, Firefox, etc.) displays the webpages you try to see.
The URL tells the browser where to find the web resource at hand, whether it’s an HTML file, a video or something else.
Much of SEO is guesswork. Based on anecdotal evidence and a handful of studies, we try to understand what Google prioritizes in its algorithm.
That’s not the case for URLs, though. We know Google considers URLs a ranking factor (meaning they’re important for SEO).
How? Because they said so. Specifically, they wrote all about it in their SEO Starter Guide.
It’s pretty simple if you think about it:
Google depends on URLs to list their search results. The URL is one of the first things Google “reads” when it encounters a webpage.
Of course the URL is going to affect SEO.
Great — so how can you take advantage of that? By following these best practices for SEO-friendly URLs.
Learn more about our On-Page SEO Service.
Follow these best practices, and your blog post and landing page URLs will be in great shape:
You’re probably using WordPress as your website’s content management system (CMS). But even if you’re using another CMS, you need to pay attention to this:
Your CMS does not know how to make SEO-friendly URLs.
Almost every CMS will automatically generate a URL when you’re building a new post or page.
Sometimes, it’ll be some kind of nonsense: https://YourSite.com/post/12n233bvvmk4/
Other times, it’ll be based on the publishing date: https://YourSite.com/page/10-04-22/
You’re getting closer if it’s basing the URL on the title (H1) of your content: https://YourSite.com/title-of-the-page-you-are-publishing/
But even then, it’s not good enough. You’ve got to get custom with your URLs to make them SEO-friendly.
Usually, there will be a little box somewhere in your CMS where you can change the URL slug (the part that comes after your domain).
Find it. Use it.
In case you don’t already know this:
Most of the content you publish on your website needs to target a particular keyword. That’s a word or phrase you would like it to rank for in search engines.
You need to know the keyword you’re targeting as you’re creating the content.
And when it’s time to create the URL, you need to use that keyword.
Let’s do an example:
You’re writing a landing page to target this keyword: Austin car accident lawyer.
The title in this case is easy. It’s just your keyword. So, the H1 is “Austin Car Accident Lawyer.”
What’s your URL? It should look like this: https://YourSite.com/austin-car-accident-lawyer/
Not https://YourSite.com/car-accident-lawyer/. Not https://YourSite.com/austin/. Because those aren’t your keywords. Your keyword is “Austin car accident lawyer,” so you need all of those words in your URL.
It’s a good idea to get your keywords into your URLs. But don’t go overboard.
In the time of the SEO ancients (circa 2000 A.D.), people liked to jam their keywords everywhere.
They’d stack keyword on keyword on keyword. They’d even double up in their URLs: https://YourSite.com/austin-car-accident-lawyer-austin-car-accident-lawyer/
It worked. But that was then.
Now, Google really doesn’t like that kind of behavior. It’s called keyword stuffing, and you should not do it.
That applies to your URLs, anchor text profile, content — everything. Just don’t do it. You’re only going to get yourself in trouble with Big G.
You wrote an incredible blog post for a family law firm website. It’s called “47 Reasons to Hire a Divorce Lawyer.”
You publish it with this URL: https://YourSite.com/47-reasons-to-hire-divorce-lawyer/
All good. But then, you think of another incredible reason to hire a divorce lawyer. If you add it to your blog post, your URL is now incorrect.
And you can’t just change URLs for no reason. That can cause all kinds of SEO trouble.
So, you’re stuck with 47 reasons.
All kinds of great blog post titles have numbers in them. Other common examples include years, such as “The Ultimate 2022 Income Tax Guide.”
What happens when you update the guide for 2023?
What’s the solution?
It’s simple: Leave the numbers out of the URLs. That way, you can add list items and change dates without breaking your URLs.
As a general rule for SEO-friendly URLs, shorter is better.
Google hasn’t said anything about this, but lots of SEO experts agree that URLs of three to five words are generally best.
For landing pages, this usually isn’t an issue. But blog post titles can be a bit longer.
For those, shorten as much as you can while still preserving the basic meaning of the title. You should still be able to tell what the content will be (basically) about by reading the URL.
These are stop words: a, an, the, but, and, or and so. Leave them out of your URLs.
This one is really easy to implement. Just skip the stop words when you’re writing your URLs.
So, if you have a blog post with this title: “A Brief Guide to Car Accidents and Liability”
Write this URL: https://YourSite.com/brief-guide-to-car-accidents-liability/
Notice what’s missing? We left out “A” and “and.”
To be clear, Google isn’t going to penalize you if you use these words. It’s just that search engines are programmed to ignore them.
If you include stop words in your URLs, you’re adding unnecessary length to them.
This is kind of like the rule about stop words in URLs, but it’s a little more serious.
That’s because special characters — like !, @, #, $, %, &, * and similar — are encoded.
That means they show a string of symbols and numbers when they’re not used in their intended environment: an HTML document used to display the content of a webpage.
So, when you use them in a URL, they make that URL very hard to read and understand.
That makes Google angry. And you won’t like Google when it’s angry. Just kidding. But still, it’s best to leave special characters out of your URLs.
It’s a pretty good idea to be specific all the time. That goes double when you’re writing SEO-friendly URLs.
Please, please don’t do URLs like this: https://YourSite.com/lawyer/
If that page is titled “Minneapolis Personal Injury Lawyer.”
Be specific: https://YourSite.com/minneapolis-personal-injury-lawyer/
(As an added bonus, this helps you remember to work your keywords in, too.)
Some website themes allow you to add “categories” to pages and posts. These influence the structure of your URLs.
Here’s how it works:
You add categories like Car Accidents, Dog Bites, Slip-and-Falls and so on.
Then you tag each blog post with one.
When you do that, the category goes immediately after your domain and before the slug.
So, if you had a blog post titled “What to Do After a Dog Bite” and you tagged it with “Dog Bites,” your URL would look like this:
There’s nothing technically wrong with that. But it does make your URLs longer. (Remember our rule about short URLs.)
The other problem is that it can be limiting. What if you write something that doesn’t fit into those categories?
You might waste time trying to create more categories, and the potential SEO benefit is minimal to nonexistent.
So, add categories if you feel strongly about having them. But if you could take them or leave them, leave them.
With all the URL examples we’ve done so far, you’ve probably noticed words in URLs are separated with hyphens.
Not underscores. Don’t do that.
You’ll see it from time to time. It’s usually on really unprofessional websites. There’s a reason for that.
Hyphens are the industry standard for URLs. Use them to separate each word in the slug. There’s no reason to deviate from the norm that even Google uses in its URLs.
URLs Aren’t Everything. But They’re Something – and They’re Pretty Important.
You’re not going to smash your competition on the strength of your URLs alone.
(That’s what backlinks are for!)
But URLs can give you an edge over your competitors. If they’re not paying attention to SEO-friendly URL rules and you are, you’re that much better off.
Learn more: Internal Linking For SEO: Best Strategies