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How to seo your URLs

Using your URLs correctly can make all the difference in rankings as search engines like Google use them in part to understand what a web page is about. Here I'll cover how to make urls that search engines love.

What is the URL

URLs are the entire text that appears in the address bar (e.g. https://howtoseo.link2light.com/folder/a-page.htm). Generally they are made up of two parts:

  • The Domain Name - e.g. https://howtoseo.link2light.com/folder/a-page.htm
  • The location or folder (not always there) - e.g. https://howtoseo.link2light.com/folder/a-page.htm
  • The page name - e.g. https://howtoseo.link2light.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 Domain names & hosting.

A keyword or two in your domain name will help a little but it is not the heavy weight factor it once was and not a reason to move to a new domain if you have a well established website.

The importance of the location

I generally don't use them but each website needs to have its needs individually assessed. In a URL like http://allthingsbikes.com/bicycle-maintenance/repairing-a-bicycle-puncture.htm the 'bicycle maintenance' element might make sense if there is a lot of content on the website under a category 'bicycle maintenance'. You're getting an important keyword repeated over and over again.

Don't assume it is anything more than this. Google will not use the URL to understand the structure of your website (as it is too easy to game). It will look for other factors such as breadcrumbs correctly marked up with structured data (something I'll cover later).

The only point to make here is that if you do use them they should be descriptive of the content - A url that reads http://mysite.com/folder6/article183.htm isn't saying much to search engines and so including the location element is pointless.

Optimizing the page name

This is the critical part of the url (in Wordpress it is called the permalink) but only if it is used to reinforce the other content. Lets say our page name was repairing-a-bicycle-puncture.htm then:

  1. Your <title> tag (which I'll cover later) should be something like 'Repairing a bicycle puncture'.
  2. Your <h1> tag (which I'll cover later) should also be something like 'Repairing a bicycle puncture'.
  3. Your main content should include this phrase (or something similar to it) early on in the content.
  4. Your main content should include words related to this phrase that search engines would expect to find there like 'tube', 'glue', 'patch', 'hole'.
  5. If you have an image of a puncture being repaired it should have an ALT tag (also coming up later!) describing this
  6. etc.

In other words on any given page multiple factors should reinforce each other and one of those factors is the URL so don't let it go to waste and make sure it matches up closely, or is even identical to the content of the <title> and <h1> tags which we'll look at in the next sections.

Never waste an opportunity

Always use your url, title tage and h1 tags. I don't know how many websites I see everyday where the url is something like 'contact.html' and that's also the main title on the page. What a waste.

Lets say you were a London plumbing firm called 'Ali and Sons'. Well then your contact page title should be 'Contact the London Plumbers Ali and Sons' and your url would be something like contact-london-plumbers.html.

Whatever your website is about don't let one url or page title go to waste. Google looks at your website as a whole and the more consistancy to one theme that it sees the better each indivdiual page is going to rank.

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 could be accessed as:

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

Finding the canonical url

Go ahead and try it on your website to see if they all show the same page. From Google's perspective, unless you take a little preventative action, it could look like you are trying to make your website look bigger than it is by presenting the same page four times.

You can solve this with a canonical meta tag - a line of code on your website that says to search engines "Whatever URL you used to find this page please remember it as ... "

In code form the canonical meta tag for this page would look like this:

<link rel="canonical" href="https://howtoseo.link2light.com/how-to-seo-your-website_urls.php" />

To check if your website is using the canonical meta tag:

  1. Find a blank space on the page and right hand click.
  2. From the small popup menu that appears left hand click on 'View Page Source'.
  3. Eeeeek!? Don't be phased. Hold down Ctrl and F at the same time and look for a small search box that will appear in the bottom left or top right
  4. Type in 'canonical' and see if you can find code similar to the one above.

If you are missing yourcanonical meta tag then in WordPress the Yoast plugin will add it for you and similar plugins and modules exist for other platforms.

How to handle dynamic URLs

These look like this:

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

They tell the server to load a page (headlines.php) and populate it with information from the database marked 'business' or 'international' or 'sport'.

They are used by programmers because they massively reduce the work needed to create websites by reducing the number of pages which need to be made. That means less cost to people like you to get up and running. Basic WordPress is no more than around a dozen pages. Your blog could have thousands of pages of content but they are all being presented on a handful of pages in code terms.

One for the home page, one that displays articles or blog posts, one that lists articles or blog posts and one for static pages like the one where you put a contact form.

But dynamic urls can start to become pretty ugly ...

https://www.thenews.com/headlines.php?category=business&year=2020&country=unitedstates&state=floria

Or worse still they can be very undescriptive

https://www.thenews.com/headlines.php?category=3&year=4&country=11&state=39

Luckily many platforms allow you to do this without technical skills. You'll find WordPress gives you some control in the Permalinks settings. If not 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:

https://www.thenews.com/united-states-florida-business-headlines-2020.php

But with .htaccess you are likely to need some techie help.

I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimization 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 Facebook or get in touch if you need help.

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