It's an oft-overlooked element of your webpage; the URL. While you may think you don't need to pay attention to it, or maybe you feel like it doesn't really matter, the truth is that people are using this valuable piece of information all over the place. And if you take away anything from this article (you should take away several things), know that just by making a little bit of effort into how your structure your URLs, you can increase their validity and trustworthiness exponentially - which equates to more views for whatever content sits behind them.
By now I'm sure you're thinking "Wait…what?" so let me explain. There are three important places where URLs play key roles in modern internet society: Search Engines, other websites, and social media. I'll tackle each of these in order:
Search engines like Google and Bing use the URL as a determining factor for how other websites will rank against your webpage. Not only does it give your webpage an identity on the internet, but more importantly, helps search engines understand about what your webpage is actually about. If you structure your URL poorly (like this example), both search engines and people alike will have a very different understanding about what you're talking about than they would if you had used this kind of structure: articles/are-twitter-and-facebook-going-to-make-you-stupid/. See? Now people know that we're writing specifically on the detriments to using Twitter and Facebook for news, while search engines know that your content is specifically focused on how social media affects the brain. You want both of these to be aligned or else you'll see some funky side effects - like if I wanted to link to the article, but had set up my blog incorrectly, this is what it would look like: See? Not good at all! And now we move onto the next point: Websites use URLs as a means to refer to content. If you don't think so, here's an easy example: Have you ever heard of someone linking to a Wikipedia page and having their readers completely miss what they were talking about because they linked directly to the URL instead of letting the reader click through themselves? This happens all the time! People link to URLs and don't even think about what they're saying - if it isn't obvious in the text, then there's a problem. Let me give you an example from my own website : In this article I wrote on an independent wrestling company called Chikara, but I didn't do a very good job of explaining to my readers where they could watch the videos. So instead of linking directly to the video page or even hinting at Wikipedia (wherein viewers can find links to full episodes), I simply wrote "Watch their stuff here," not expecting people to click through.
It didn't take long for me to be flooded in comments asking how exactly they were supposed to watch all this wonderful content…I had created a URL with no home. Fortunately I was smart enough to create the structure you see above, but if I had structured it like this: articles/the-wonderful-world-of-chikara/, then people who wanted to know how to watch would have been left high and dry AND my credibility as an author would have dropped through the floor due to me not understanding what URLs were for. Lastly comes social media, which is really where URLs are getting their power nowadays - especially Twitter. When you build up your own platform on Twitter (or Facebook or Tumblr) you want other users to follow you because the more followers you have, the more powerful your voice becomes. But what's going to encourage someone else to click that "Follow" button? You have to offer them something, or give them a reason. The best way to do that is to use your URL as an introduction into what you're about and then using your Twitter name as your "handle." So I might feature this on my social media:
And now we come full circle - if someone clicks on it they'll be taken back to the blog and can see what my website has written about. This makes my website's content more easily accessible and readable so people can understand why I think the things I do. It also helps search engines understand what the article is addressing by associating with other articles on my site so it will rank higher than those of competitors who haven't such a tactic. So now that you know what URLs are best for, here's how to write one that will work for you:
Write out your article as if it were the only thing on the internet. What would entice someone to click through? Where is it hosted so they can go there right now? Is it obvious in context or does it require an explanation? Set up your permalink structure with this at its core and then build around it so readers know where they're going before they even get there. Use your URL as a marketing tool by having your Twitter name at the end of your link - people who don't know who you are will become intrigued by clicking on it and see what kind of content you share. And lastly, encourage sharing! When people share your content they are not only spreading the word of who you are, but they're telling their friends to click through and read what you wrote - this is how entire online empires get created.
So there you have it - URLs are important for everyone's sake, so make sure yours works with all its might! If you ever need help figuring out your URL structure or linking to specific posts on your website feel free to contact me
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