Thursday, November 3, 2011

SEO Friendly URLs

Every website owner concerned even a little bit about search engine optimization eventually asks himself one question: "Are my URLs SEO friendly?". And then most of the people who ask themselves that question go on and start changing their URL structure, completely forgetting about the other important aspects of SEO. Contrary to some webmasters beliefs, most of the websites already have good URLs and making them "better" doesn't make that much of a difference.


Making your URLs SEO friendly before launching your website is great and it is not a waste of time to put a little effort into that because you will have more time for other important things like link building and creating content later. However, changing your existing URLs when your website has been online for some time is not recommended. Most of the times it takes too much time for Google to process the changes and you might get errors or lose ranking permanently for some of the pages.

If your URLs are not that bad, there is no point making them slightly better, because the process takes time and carries risks.

Here are some of the cases when you might want to consider changing your URLs slightly:

1. Keywords

We all have seen URLs like this one:

If yours look like the one above, that doesn't mean Google can't read it. The problem with this type of dynamic URLs is that there are no relevant keywords present, they are usually longer and not very user-friendly. This type of URLs need changing in terms of SEO.

Let's say your URL looks like this:

But then you see this URL structure:

So which one is the best one? Well, from my point of view, it all depends on one thing – the website's status. If your site is still under construction, then I would advise you to make your URL structure like the second one. If your blog has been up and running for quite some time – leave everything as it is. The difference is not huge after all.

2.  Structure

The URL structure is also not that important as some people think. They believe that the URL structure should represent the site structure but this is not the case at all.

For example this URL:

is not really better than this one:

The amount of internal link juice depends on how many steps from the home page a certain page of the website is. Let's also explore the other case where the first URL is better than the second one. Let's say the first URL is 2 steps from the home page and the second one is 7 steps from the home page. In that case the longer version is better in terms of getting internal link juice. If you are concerned about user experience, you might want to go with the first URL since visitors will be able to understand where they are on your website. However, this URL is longer and the most important keywords are located at the end.

3.  Length

How do you know that your URL is too long and can the length actually cause any problems? Well, it is true that some browsers have limits (like IE for example). The maximum URL length allowed when using IE is 2,083 characters which is more than enough and you will probably never reach that limit so there is nothing to worry about. However URLs that are too long have their disadvantages:

–                    Some social media applications might cut off the URL.
–                    There is a chance the URL will get cut off when people copy and paste it.
–                    These URLs are hard to remember.
–                    Long URLs hurt click-through rates and usability

So what can you do in order to shorten your URL?

Let's say it looks like this:

As you can see there are some repetitions here which can be avoided. Try to lose the parts that don't add any meaning at all to the URLs. For example, a better URL would look like this:

This is much better not only for SEO purposes but also for the viewing pleasure of the users.

4. Stuffing Keywords

Covering more than one phrase or keyword in the URL more than once is just wrong. Here is an example:

If your URL looks like that, you're doing it wrong. As you can see this looks spammy from the moment you look at it. You might get away with it as far as Google is concerned but even if you don't get a penalty, take a look at your URL and ask yourself if you like it. You might be covering more than one keyphrase but that also means the amount of attention those keyphrases get is also less. Try to focus on the important things and not just stuff keywords in an attempt to get more attention quckly.

5. Tips And Advice

As I said, changing every URL of an established website is risky but if you want to do it after all, make sure you do it properly. Here are some of the things that are really important when changing your URLs:

–                    301 redirects
–                    On page links update
–                    New XML sitemap
–                    Old XML sitemap

First of all, updating all of your on page links is crucial if you have proper 301 redirects. These links are most important to the search engine spiders and as hard as this seems you need to update them all.

Having a new XML sitemap is logical but why keep the old one? Well, you only need to keep it for 2-3 weeks, then you can remove it. The reason is that it might take longer for the crawlers to process the new URLs you are using if you remove the old ones. However, leaving the old sitemap on your website, lets crawlers go through the old URLs and get redirected to the new ones. If your 301 redirects are working correctly you have no reason at all to worry about duplicate content. Removing the old sitemap is still okay but it might take some time for the spider to process your website's new URL structure.

Whatever you decide, keep in mind that this is a risky operation and make sure it is totally worth it before doing it.
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