Which is the best URL structure for SEO and the UX?
Our article today tries to deepen a topic that is much debated in the international SEO community, namely the search for the best structure of the URL, the one that could provide better results in terms of placements on Google.
What is a URL: complete address of a site
Let’s start with the basic definitions on the URL and the standard structure that you can use, encoded by Internet Dad Tim Berners-Lee in the IETF RFC 3986 document. First of all, URL is an acronym for Uniform Resource Locator and is the sequence of characters that uniquely identifies any online resource, such as a page, image or file, also identifying the file structure of any site and representing the full address of a site.
The standard structure of URLs
There are essentially eight parts to each URL, including mandatory and optional elements: the first portion is represented by the protocol, which describes the system used to access servers. The current standard is http:// or https:// (where the “s” stands for more “secure”, as we said in the article on website migration), but there may also be paths such as mailto: (which automatically directs to the email client) or ftp: (to manage file transfer).
Url, meaning of the parts it is made of
The :// string follows which is a simple separator between the protocol and the remaining part of the URL, which is usually the host or, less frequently, the username. Until a few years ago, immediately after the protocol there was the possibility to specify the authentication credentials to access the online resource: the string username:password@ has been progressively abandoned because it risked to open the way to phishing (credentials were sent free to the server, without encryption, and the path could lead to pages other than those expected), and today this feature is disabled, although some browsers including Firefox keep it active, however reporting potential dangers to users.
The Url address, characters or numbers
In the most common formulations, after protocol and :// we can findd the indication of the domain name of the host, that is the address of the server on which the resource resides, that a software automatically converts in IP address making use of the DNS service; in other cases, the numerical IP address can be directly displayed, but this solution is rarer.
The elements completing the site address
Typically, the standard URL path stops at these parameters, but there are also four other optional elements that can be added to the Web address: the port (of the service to forward the request to, usually omitted because reference is made to standard ports associated with the protocol); the path (pathname) within the server file system to identify the requested resource; the querystring, a character string, separated with a ? symbol , which allows one or several parameters to be transmitted to the server; the fragment, which indicates a part or a location inside the resource.
Why to take care of URLs for a site’s SEO
As we said also in our study on the 200 ranking factors, even the structuring of the address of the pages can have an influence on the ranking on search engines, and therefore it is necessary to evaluate various aspects when thinking about the standard to be applied to the pages of your site.
The importance of Urls on ranking and user experience
Url address and ranking on Google
As for the ranking, leaving aside speeches on a direct relationship between URL optimization and placement on Google, there is still an element not to be overlooked, that of the best readability: the easier it is for Google to read and interpret the URL, the more it will be easy to determine the relevance and therefore the placements for a search query.
In practical terms, then, it is believed that using Urls that contain keywords can be a system to improve the visibility of the site in searches, but you should not make the mistake of making unnecessary paths just to insert keywords in the string.
The relationship between Url and UX
Similar is to speak about user experience, because a well-structured URL provides both search engines and humans easy to understand indication on the content of the target page, and for this reason it is preferable to realize a readable url (human-readable) and semantically accurate, able to give a clear idea of the topic of the page and what awaits the visitor who clicks on the link.
The Url as anchor text
Lastly, a well-written URL can be more easily copied and pasted as link in forums, blogs, social media networks or other contexts, becoming an ideal anchor text.
What are the talking or SEO friendly URLs
The structures of URL that comply with the parameters described above are called SEO friendly or talking Urls: this definition concerns all the addresses that describe in clear way and with true words the actual content of the page of reference, allowing the user (and the search engine) to know immediately what kind of information to expect.
For the SEO of a site, a talking URL can:
- greatly ease the user’s search
- help to give more weight to the ranking in Google SERPs
- optimize page traffic, encouraging increased visibility and number of clicks.
Tips for the management of talking URLs
In order for them to be effective, talking Urls must always be short, but descriptive; we can use keywords that are central to the topic or otherwise terms that specifically refer to the content of the page and are clear and easy to understand.
The goal is to have a concise address – the length recommended by the best practices is between 50 and 60 characters, not exceeding 115 characters so to avoid problems (without reaching the excesses recounted by John Mueller!), clear and relevant, that may serve the user to immediately understand its correlation with the content he is interested in.
Again, our reference must be the user even before the search engine, trying to ensure easy accessibility and a good level of experience to those who discover the site among the results of a Google search. It is believed, in fact, that a URL builded far from the content on the page or loaded with parameters and not readable characters could worsen the bounce rate and discourage the permanence of the readers on the pages.
The SEO best practices for URLs
Here are, then, some SEO best practices for the management of Urls:
- Keep your addresses as simple, relevant, convincing and cared for as possible: this is the key to convince both users and search engines.
- Although, as mentioned, in Urls you can include numbers and ID codes, the best practice is to use words that people can understand.
- Urls should be definitive but concise: by simply reading the URL a user and a search engine should understand what to expect on the page.
- To make it easier to read, use dashes to separate words. It is recommended to avoid underscores, spaces or other characters to separate the words: but if on a site there are all Urls with underscores, it is not recommended to change them during work.
- Use lower case letters, also because in some cases upper case letters can cause problems with duplicated pages.