Useful URL Structuring Tips That Will Help Higher Ranking

URL structuring has become important for every website to gain good exposure. Structuring a URL is mandatory not just for an enhanced user experience but also for the benefit of pulling good traffic through better search engine exposure. For online businesses, websites are represented with their URLs so it needs to be meaningful, human readable and search engine friendly. The following are some of the tips that can help you in structuring the link addresses.

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1. URLs shall be readable

Use meaningful words in the URL to make it readable. Consumers are more likely to click on a website that makes sense to them. You can replace any abbreviation with words that can be a company name or a keyword for a better understanding of the visitors.

It should not come as a surprise that the easier a URL is to read for humans, the better it is for search engines. Accessibility has always been a part of SEO, but never more so than today, when search engines can leverage advanced user and usage data signals to determine what people are engaging with.

The requirement isn't that every aspect of the URL must be absolutely clean and perfect, but that at least it can be easily understood and, hopefully, compelling to those seeking its content.

2. Eliminate IDs and numbers

Eliminate the IDs, numbers, special characters and codes that are often generated by a blogging or eCommerce platform. It makes the URL look ugly and unworthy to be clicked so remove them now.

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3. Canonicalize URLs directing to a common content.

The URLs that have different structures but direct visitors to a single content may create issues of duplication and plagiarism. Use canonical tags to stay safe and justify uniqueness in the eyes of search engines.

What is URL Canonicalization and how to Use Canonical Tag Properly?

How to Use Rel=Canonical for Content Syndication and SEO

Except you have real good reason to allow the duplicate, you will need canonicalize urls that serve similar content by using either a 301 redirect or a rel=canonical (if you want to maintain slightly different versions for some visitors, e.g. a printer-friendly page).

Duplicate content isn't really a search engine problem and will not result in a penalty (at least, not until/unless you start duplicating at very large scales), but it can cause a split of ranking signals that can harm your search traffic potential. If a Page has some quantity of ranking ability and its duplicate, another Page has a similar quantity of ranking ability, by canonicalizing them, the page where the content is directed to can have a better chance to rank and earn visits.

4. Cover your keywords

You can build authority by covering keywords in the URLs. It can be in the domain name, category or web page name, but making its excessive use may harm the ranking of your website. So, be wise in adding keywords to the URLs.

It's still the case that using the keywords you're targeting for rankings in your URLs is a good practice. This is true for several reasons.

First, keywords in the URL help indicate to those who see your URL on social media, in an email, or as they hover on a link to click that they're getting what they want and expect.

Second, URLs get copied and pasted regularly, and when there's no anchor text used in a link, the URL itself serves as that anchor text (which is still a powerful input for rankings.

Third, and finally, keywords in the URL show up in search results, and research has shown that the URL is one of the most prominent elements searchers consider when selecting which site to click.

Also read:

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5. Harmonize the URL with the page title

In search engine and social media, your URLs appear with respective titles. To gain customers' trust, you need to harmonize them by adding the same text to the URL that is used in the title of the web page.

This doesn't mean that if the title of your piece is web hosting in Nigeria that your URL has to be a perfect match.

The matching accomplishes a mostly human-centric goal, i.e. to imbue an excellent sense of what the web user will find on the page through the URL and then to deliver on that expectation with the headline/title.

It's for this same reason that we strongly recommend keeping the page title (which engines display prominently on their search results pages) and the visible headline on the page a close match as well - one creates an expectation, and the other delivers on it.

We should aim for a similar level of clarity in our own URLs and titles.

Also read: A Complete Guide To Good SEO For Beginners


6. Exclude stop words from the URL

Stop words such as and, of, a, the, but, etc. that are used in the title of a web page can be excluded for shortening the URL structure. The use of stop words is not considered necessary in the URLs. So, you can take into account according to your business specific needs. If you are using WordPress platform, you can use Yoast SEO plugin to automatically remove stop words from Permalink: Cleanup Permalink.

If your title/headline includes stop words (and, or, but, of, the, a, etc.), it's not critical to put them in the URL. You don't have to leave them out, either, but it can sometimes help to make a URL shorter and more readable in some sharing contexts. Use your best judgement on whether to include or not based on the readability versus length.

7. Limit the number of folders

Folders are used for categorization of products and services, whereas using it more than acceptable times may not seem original. Some of the stores add a folder name for each product attribute, which may give a perception of a deep website. In results, the customer may leave in spite of digging up the store.

It's hard to argue this given the preponderance of evidence and examples of folks moving their content from a subdomain to subfolder and seeing improved results (or, worse, moving content to a subdomain and losing traffic). Whatever heuristics the engines use to judge whether content should inherit the ranking ability of its parent domain seem to have trouble consistently passing to subdomains.

That's not to say it can't work, and if a subdomain is the only way you can set up a blog or produce the content you need, then it's better than nothing. But your blog is far more likely to perform well in the rankings and to help the rest of your site's content perform well if it's all together on one sub and root domain.

8. Use word separators

Word separators are used for adding a long tail keyword, a complete product name or a post title in the URL to make it readable. For this purpose, you can use hyphens and underscores as these are the suggested word separators.

Notably missing is my recommendation to avoid underscores as word separators in URLs. In the last few years, the search engines have successfully overcome their previous challenges with this issue and now treat underscores and hyphens similarly.

Spaces can work, but they render awkwardly in URLs as %20, which detracts from the readability of your pages. Try to avoid them if possible (it's usually pretty easy in every modern CMS).

9. Set moderate redirections

You can set redirections to take customers from one page to another that may help to browse various pages and increase your exposure. Setting a redirection once or twice is acceptable; whereas keeping the customers in a loop of redirection may not help you gain trust and rankings.

If a user or crawler requests URL A, which redirects to URL B. That's cool. It's even OK if URL B then redirects to URL C (not great - it would be more ideal to point URL A directly to URL C, but not terrible). However, if the URL redirect string continues past two hops, you could get into trouble.

Generally speaking, search engines will follow these longer redirect jumps, but they've recommended against the practice in the past, and for less important URLs (in their eyes), they may not follow or count the ranking signals of the redirecting URLs as completely.

The bigger trouble is browsers and users, who are both slowed down and sometimes even stymied (mobile browsers in particular can occasionally struggle with this) by longer redirect strings. Keep redirects to a minimum and you'll set yourself up for less problems.

10. Consolidate the www and non-www URLs

The www and non-www version of your domain name are dealt in separately in search results. So, it is recommended to consolidate the two by setting a redirection from one to the other.

Hope so that above tips will benefit you in refining the structure of the URLs.

How the canonical tag can hurt your search engine rankings

Every website has pages that can be requested with different URLs. This can lead to duplicate content issues with search engines. As you may already now, search engines frown at duplicate content.

What Causes Duplicate Content?

You may have been concerned about this uestion so you now what to avoid and resolve duplicate content issues. Here are several of the things that can lead to duplicate pages with different URLs:

  •     the HTTP and the HTTPS version of a page
  •     the www and the non-www version of a page
  •     index and default pages (index.htm, index.php, /)
  •     pages with and without trailing slashes
  •     URL parameters that do not change the content
  •     URLs with session IDs
  •     faceted website navigation (the same content can be found in two different categories)
  •     alternate page versions (regular, mobile, print, etc.)

Although there is no duplicate content penalty, search engines might pick the wrong version for the search results. The canonical tag enables you to show search engines the preferred version of the page.

What is the canonical tag?

The canonical tag is an HTML element that enables webmasters to prevent duplicate content issues by specifying the "canonical", or "preferred", version of a web page.

Actually, the canonical tag is an attribute of the link tag:

<link rel=“canonical“ href=“http://www.example.com/page.htm"/>

In this example, the canonical tag tells search engines that 'http://www.example.com/page.htm' is the preferred URL for the page, even if the same page is available under several different URLs. The canonical tag can be added in the head section of a page.

When should you use the rel='canonical' attribute?

The canonical attribute should only be used as a last resort. You should try to avoid duplicate content in the first place. Before adding the attribute, try the following to avoid duplicate content problems:

    Use 301 redirects to redirect old pages to their new versions.
    Use the robots.txt file to hide unwanted directories from search engines.
    Use CSS to create print or mobile versions of your web pages.

If your website uses faceted navigation, session ID's, etc. then you should use the canonical tag to show search engines the preferred URL of the page.

If you do not use the canonical tag correctly, your web page rankings might drop. Here are common errors:

  •     The canonical tag leads to a non-existing page.
  •     You use the same canonical tag with the same URL on all pages of your website.
  •     You put the canonical attribute in the body part of a web page instead of the head part.
  •     The canonical tag links to another website. This is correct when you syndicate your content on other websites. However, you should not use canonical tags with external links if you want to get high rankings for your own web pages.

When you copy pages on your website, make sure that you change the canonical tag. When you develop a new website, don't forget to remove placeholder URLs from the canonical tag.

Use absolute URLs in the canonical tag (https://www.example.com/page.htm) instead of relative URLs (/page.htm). Also, do not use the noindex tag on pages with the canonical tag. That can lead to indexation problems.

Can Google ignore the canonical tag?

The canonical tag is not a directive. That means that search engines can ignore it. In the past, Google said that they see the canonical tag as a strong recommendation. If the linked pages aren't a close enough match, Google might ignore the tag.

How to check your website for canonical tags

Use a website audit tool like SEOprofiler to check your web pages for canonical tags. In addition to the canonical tag, the website audit tool checks many more things that can influence the position of your web pages in Google's search results.

Google recommends self-referencing canonical tags

The canonical tag help webmasters to show Google the preferred URL of a web page. Some people only use the canonical tag when there are duplicate pages that show the same or similar content. Other people include a self-referencing canonical tags on all pages, even if there is only one page with that content. In a webmaster hangout, Google’s John Mueller said that they recommend self-referential canonical tags:

“I recommend doing this self-referential canonical because it really makes it clear to us which page you want to have indexed, or what the URL should be when it is indexed.

Even if you have one page, sometimes there’s different variations of the URL that can pull that page up. For example, with parameters in the end, perhaps with upper lower case or www and non-www. All of these things can be cleaned up with a rel canonical tag.

A self-referencing canonical tag can also help when someone scrapes your content. If the scraper also publishes the unchanged page with the canonical tag, Google will be able to identify the original page.

How to Redirect a site to non-WWW and to WWW

The following tutorial will show you how to redirect your site's domain from non-www to www or vice versa. Redirecting one to the other is useful for SEO. Technically referred to as canonical urls, it helps resolve your domain name to one url. If you go to https://todhost.com, you'll see the URL changes a bit once you click enter. It goes to the www version. In order words, it goes to https://www.todhost.com. It's a subtle change and it's usually not noticed by users.

So why have they done this? It's because, technically, the two are different domains but they have the same content. Without the redirect, they end up with duplicate content. With the redirect, they only have one site, so only one set of content.

With only one set of content, they guarantee they won't be penalized by search engines or have their ranking split.

Read also: Fixing Your Website Mobile Friendliness With The Robots.txt File

Using The .htaccess File

To move your site to www, find your .htaccess file using your host's file manager or an FTP client.

Within it, look for the following code

RewriteEngine On

If the code isn't there, insert it at the top of your file.

Then, to redirect non-www to www, use the following code directly below RewriteEngine On:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^yourdomain.com [NC]RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.yourdomain.com/$1 [L,R=301]
For www to non-www, use:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.yourdomain.com [NC]RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://yourdomain.com/$1 [L,R=301]
If you're on a Windows IIS server, the above code won't work for you.

On an IIS server

On a Windows (IIS) server, find your web.config file and make the following rule changes to your rules tag:

Redirect non-www to www

configuration
system.webServer
rewrite
rules
rule name=Redirect to www stopProcessing=true
match url=*
conditions
add input={HTTP_HOST} pattern=^"yourdomain.com"
/conditions
action type=Redirect url=http://www.yourdomain.com/{R:0}
redirectType="Permanent"
/rule
/rules
/rewrite
/system.webServer
/configuration

Redirect www to non-www

configuration
system.webServer
rewrite
rules
rule name=Redirect to non-www stopProcessing=true
match url=*
conditions
add input={HTTP_HOST} pattern=^yourdomain\.com
/conditions
action type=Redirect url=http://yourdomain.com/{R:0} redirectType=Permanent
/rule
/rules
/rewrite
/system.webServer
/configuration

Afterward, check your site, including some internal pages, and try different www and non-www combinations of your domain to see if the redirect is working as expected.

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