SEO best practices for URLs

SEO best practices for URLs

20.Sep.2021

As your website evolves, you may want to consider changing the URLs of your pages. SEO best practices for URLs involve more than just adding a 301 redirect or not. Below we break down what we do and don't recommend with reference to some good and bad examples:

Don't: Change the structure unnecessarily

If you're using WordPress and your blog is set up correctly (meaning categories are helpful to users), then there's no need to go back in and add posts under new,

As your website evolves, you may want to consider changing the URLs of your pages. SEO best practices for URLs involve more than just adding a 301 redirect or not. Below we break down what we do and don't recommend with reference to some good and bad examples:

Don't: Change the structure unnecessarily

If you're using WordPress and your blog is set up correctly (meaning categories are helpful to users), then there's no need to go back in and add posts under new, less-helpful categories on an ongoing basis. Google will continue returning newer content regardless of where it lives on your site. By doing this, someone who types "baking chocolate chip cookies" into Google might get results from last year about our favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe rather than the most recent post about how to make perfect chocolate chip cookies. We can tell you firsthand that this is confusing for your site visitors and over time, it makes your site look less useful and relevant because the content on your pages isn't organized in a helpful way.

Don't: Create unhelpful URLs for new pages, especially when they use session IDs

Now that we've got this great new recipe for pumpkin bread, let's go ahead and create a page on our site about it. But before we do...let's think about what the URL of that page should be. There are two ways to get there:

That "session ID" bit at the end of these URLs ( random set of letters and numbers) makes these URLs less user-friendly and more obscure. It also doesn't help us with SEO since Google can't read or return that information (and neither can other search engines), so this kind of URL does nothing to enhance our site's discoverability. The same thing goes for any other type of ID we might add:

Don't: Change the order of words in a phrase

If you're selling dark chocolate and you want to create an about page , it may be tempting to create a URL like:

But if someone is searching for "dark chocolate" chances are they're looking for what you sell, not how the term is spelled out on your web page. So, don't get cute here - stick with something clear and descriptive, like:

Don't: Leave the default URL structure in place if you're not going to use it

Let's say we've set up our website and created a number of pages that share a common base. We may have titled these pages with words relevant to what is contained within, so no additional description is necessary. Here's an example:

At some point we may decide we want to delete one or more of those kinds of pages - maybe they weren't as relevant as we originally anticipated. If this happens, don't just leave the old base URLs in place without another descriptive page title. If someone tries to find these pages again in 5 or 10 years when your site has changed focus, they will be stuck going through a list of every page that shared the same base URL. So, don't just get rid of them - update these URLs to reflect what is on that page currently:

Do: Use keywords in your URLs

As we said above, search engines look at words and phrases found on web pages when ranking pages in search results (there's more info about this on Moz ). You want to make sure you're using some of the keywords and phrases people might be searching for when looking on your site. If you're always talking about "bananas", someone may not find your information on bananas again if they happen upon a different site while searching (and there goes our opportunity to show up for such a relevant term!). Adding the word banana into the URL makes it easy for people to find you, and it can even help Google crawl your site better since the word is contained in the URL.

Do: Keep URLs simple and descriptive

We want to make sure our visitors don't have trouble finding what they're looking for on a page - whether they've been here before or not! Adding additional words only makes the URL more complicated, so avoid this by sticking with what's relevant. Sometimes a descriptive title isn't necessary if a page contains information about just one thing, like recipes for applesauce . In that case, the simpler URL is probably best:

Don't: Use session IDs at all (unless absolutely necessary)

The other problem that often arises when creating URLs doesn't happen until we're trying to link between pages (this is called internal linking ). If we don't want to use the default URL structure, we probably created something more specific for each page. But what happens when we decide one of those URLs needs to be changed?

If someone linked to that wrong URL with an outbound link, it can affect their SEO (link juice), not to mention how users might click on it and see an error page instead of the content they were expecting! This is why you should avoid creating session IDs in your URLs whenever possible. And if you must use them, always try and leave a nice redirect at the old URL so that any visitors who got there will still reach the intended destination.

less-helpful categories on an ongoing basis. Google will continue returning newer content regardless of where it lives on your site. By doing this, someone who types "baking chocolate chip cookies" into Google might get results from last year about our favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe rather than the most recent post about how to make perfect chocolate chip cookies. We can tell you firsthand that this is confusing for your site visitors and over time, it makes your site look less useful and relevant because the content on your pages isn't organized in a helpful way.

Don't: Create unhelpful URLs for new pages, especially when they use session IDs

Now that we've got this great new recipe for pumpkin bread, let's go ahead and create a page on our site about it. But before we do...let's think about what the URL of that page should be. There are two ways to get there:

That "session ID" bit at the end of these URLs ( random set of letters and numbers) makes these URLs less user-friendly and more obscure. It also doesn't help us with SEO since Google can't read or return that information (and neither can other search engines), so this kind of URL does nothing to enhance our site's discoverability. The same thing goes for any other type of ID we might add:

Don't: Change the order of words in a phrase

If you're selling dark chocolate and you want to create an about page , it may be tempting to create a URL like:

But if someone is searching for "dark chocolate" chances are they're looking for what you sell, not how the term is spelled out on your web page. So, don't get cute here - stick with something clear and descriptive, like:

Don't: Leave the default URL structure in place if you're not going to use it

Let's say we've set up our website and created a number of pages that share a common base. We may have titled these pages with words relevant to what is contained within, so no additional description is necessary. Here's an example:

At some point we may decide we want to delete one or more of those kinds of pages - maybe they weren't as relevant as we originally anticipated. If this happens, don't just leave the old base URLs in place without another descriptive page title. If someone tries to find these pages again in 5 or 10 years when your site has changed focus, they will be stuck going through a list of every page that shared the same base URL. So, don't just get rid of them - update these URLs to reflect what is on that page currently:

Do: Use keywords in your URLs

As we said above, search engines look at words and phrases found on web pages when ranking pages in search results (there's more info about this on Moz ). You want to make sure you're using some of the keywords and phrases people might be searching for when looking on your site. If you're always talking about "bananas", someone may not find your information on bananas again if they happen upon a different site while searching (and there goes our opportunity to show up for such a relevant term!). Adding the word banana into the URL makes it easy for people to find you, and it can even help Google crawl your site better since the word is contained in the URL.

Do: Keep URLs simple and descriptive

We want to make sure our visitors don't have trouble finding what they're looking for on a page - whether they've been here before or not! Adding additional words only makes the URL more complicated, so avoid this by sticking with what's relevant. Sometimes a descriptive title isn't necessary if a page contains information about just one thing, like recipes for applesauce . In that case, the simpler URL is probably best:

Don't: Use session IDs at all (unless absolutely necessary)

The other problem that often arises when creating URLs doesn't happen until we're trying to link between pages (this is called internal linking ). If we don't want to use the default URL structure, we probably created something more specific for each page. But what happens when we decide one of those URLs needs to be changed?

If someone linked to that wrong URL with an outbound link, it can affect their SEO (link juice), not to mention how users might click on it and see an error page instead of the content they were expecting! This is why you should avoid creating session IDs in your URLs whenever possible. And if you must use them, always try and leave a nice redirect at the old URL so that any visitors who got there will still reach the intended destination.

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