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How to SEO in2016
  • On page optimization
  • + User behaviour optimization
  • = Top search engine rankings

The URL and SEO

What is the URL

URLs are the entire text that appears in the address bar (e.g. http://www.thesite.com/folder/a-page.htm). Generally they are made up of two parts:

  • The Domain Name - e.g. http://www.thesite.com/folder/a-page.htm
  • The location (not always there) - e.g. http://www.thesite.com/folder/a-page.htm
  • The page name - e.g. http://www.thesite.com/folder/a-page.htm

The importance of the domain name

The importance of the domain name in SEO has dropped significantly in recent times. It is covered in more detail earlier in this guide on the page Domains & hosting.

The importance of the location and page name

These still do count and should be descriptive. A url that reads http://mysite.com/folder1/article1.htm isn't saying much to search engines whereas http://mysite.com/bicycle-maintenance/repairing-a-bicycle-puncture.htm tells them much more.

Note that URLs are part of your site structuring that helps search engines make sense not just of the page but of the website itself but it carries more weight if it is used in conjunction with other features.

In the above the URL suggests there is a section of the site related to bicycle maintenance and within this section there is a page related to repairing a bicycle puncture. You can reinforce this with, for example, breadcrumbs and the menu structure.

How much weight do they carry

A great deal or none at all! URLs are part of the overall knitting. They need to be backed up by other aspects such as the page title, heading tags and the content of the page itself ... all of which we will come to shortly but without whom the URL is just a ball of wool!

How to avoid canonicalization issues

Often overlooked but important is a way that search engines can suspect you of showing duplicate pages with the same content even though you don't mean to.

Many websites have this issue on their home page (although all pages can suffer canonicalization issues) which can be accessed as:

  • http://www.mysite.com
  • http://mysite.com
  • http://www.mysite.com/index.htm
  • http://mysite.com/index.htm

So there are four pages (and that's often a minimum).

You can solve this in three ways and it is worth using all three:

  • For Google and some other search engines they will take your sitemap.xml as definitive so long as you have not accidently made links on your site which point to the other versions.
  • Use the rewrite rule in the .htaccess file to forward visitors and search engines to the right page (so, for example, anyone who types 'http://www.mysite.com' will be instantly forwarded to 'http://mysite.com')
  • Use the canonical meta tag to tell search engines the definitive page (this says "I know you came here via 'http://www.mysite.com' but please remember this page as 'http://mysite.com')

How to handle dynamic URLs

These help programmers by reducing the number of pages they need to create for content which is often pulled from a database. So a news site may have one actual page for displaying the category headlines but the content will vary depending on what is in the urls.

As an example:

  • www.thenews.com/headlines.php?category=business
  • www.thenews.com/headlines.php?category=international
  • www.thenews.com/headlines.php?category=sports

These are all the same page from a programmers perspective but the content shown in the page will vary depending on the category.

The problem is that the urls to the pages look ugly on search results and are difficult for search engines to read. Luckily with the help of an .htaccess file and a piece of coding called 'mod rewrite' we can change these urls into something more friendly like:

  • www.thenews.com/business-headlines.php
  • www.thenews.com/international-headlines.php
  • www.thenews.com/sports-headlines.php

These urls are much more attractive in the search results, much easier for the search engine to read, and nothing under hand about it. This is exactly the way big sites like Amazon work and it is a vital part of SEO.

I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimisation and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.

If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.

Find me on Google+ or get a quote if you need help.

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