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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.

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

A keyword or two in your domain name will help a little but it is not the heavy wieght 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 will turn on its merits. 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 in there but there are many other better ways to explain your website structure to search engines which we will 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/folder1/article1.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 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'.
  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.

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

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

You can solve this wiht 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 but the 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.

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