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by Tara West on 30th June 2011
URL structure is often something we don’t have too much control over. It might be determined by your CMS, or you might be working on a well established site where making significant URL structure changes would not be an option. This post talks about the do’s and don’ts of URL structure, which might be handy if you are lucky enough to be able to make changes to your site’s structure, or are starting a site from scratch.
Use keywords in your URL. This makes the page seem relevant to both users and search engines. It is the page URL which is displayed on the SERPs and the more relevant this looks, the more likely it is to receive a click. If you use a CMS which creates irrelevant URLs, try to install an application which will let you create vanity URLs where you can choose what they look like, and then place 301 redirects on any previous URLs.
Don’t include data in the URLs which would be irrelevant to the user or search engines, for example a product number.
Avoid using a mix of upper and lower case letters in URLs, as a user may not remember the capitalisation that was used and not be able to find the page straight away.
Ensure all the URLs on your site have continuity. For example, if your About Us page can be located at /about-us, make your Contact Us page URL /contact-us. This means that if the user tries to locate a specific page by guessing the URL from looking at other URLs, they are more likely to find it.
Multiple URL Variations
If your CMS or site creates multiple versions of a URL, for example with .asp or .html on the end, you should deal with these as if they are duplicate content, as this is how the search engines will read it.
Avoid underscores in URLs and use Hyphens instead. Google can recognise hyphenated words as individual words. Imagine if a user searches in Google using the keywords contained in your URL. It would be able to better see your URL as relevant to the search query.
Try to avoid having very long URLs by keeping your folder structure as tidy as possible and relevant. It is also important not to make it too long by trying to stuff keywords into it. Around 3 to 5 words is a good length for a URL. If you’re not sure if your URL looks spammy, you can check with a handy tool from SEOmoz.
Avoid using file extensions such as .exe, .dll, and .bin as the search engines are believed to see these as signifying binary data, and can be ignored when a site is crawled.
Be careful of how sub domains can affect your URL structure. It is thought some kinds can effect whether your URLs will be crawled as part of the site or make your link building more challenging.
Avoid dynamic URLs. This is when a unique URL is created every time a page is loaded. This can often happen with some CMS systems, or when actions on a site are performed, such as a purchase or news letter sign up. Keep an eye out for these and if you have any URL parameters which you do not want indexed, you could try using the function in Google Webmaster Tools which allows you to list parameters that you would like Google to ignore when crawling your site.