Just like in the real world, first impressions are defining moments in the internet realm. They shape our perception, guide our decisions, and influence our behavior.
And when it comes to your online persona, its most visible face is not the carefully manicured “About Us” section of the site. Like it or not, Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) are one of the first things that both customers and the omnipresent Google notice.
They are gateways directing people to desired destinations (resources) and help in establishing an effective site hierarchy. So, if you fail to plan this aspect ahead of time, you will encounter many headaches correcting your mistake later. On the other hand, opulent rewards are waiting for those ready to make the most of URLs. Here is how to flesh out site architecture, score massive SEO points, and boost your ranking.
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The big technical picture
We all know that websites should be teeming with helpful information, but the million dollar question is how to structure content and semantically connect different categories and subcategories. While we cannot offer you a magic formula for mastering this fine art, we will give you some pieces of advice. For now, you need to know that moving and tweaking existing resources is always easier than putting together new URL hubs from scratch.
And like it or not, you have to face the technical SEO, which is perhaps the most dreaded aspect. But, there is no viable alternative for those who really mean business. You can have one of the most beautiful website designs of 2018, killer products offered on your pages, and still fall short of your SEO and business goals. Google is not keen on dealing with conflicting paths and users do not want to be stuck in an endless redirection loop.
To avoid this digital hodgepodge, know that SEO friendly URL structure is a perfect blend of usability and accessibility, with SEO as a binding ingredient. There are several key characteristics that such an URL should have: It is static, consistent, future-proof, comprehensive, and easy to read. Moreover, it includes keywords, is rooted in data, and available to search engines. Do not fret because we will cover most of these qualities in the article.
Core SEO workings
First off, it is in your best interest to enable users and crawlers to find your pages fuss-free. In other words, to take your visibility to the next level, you need to use suitable SEO techniques. Do detailed research and implement the right keywords and relevant terms. These terms should sit close to the root domain and communicate the purpose of the specific page, be it administrative, transactional, or informational.
By just looking at the URL, users should be able to discern where they landed. There is really no need to overwhelm them with superfluous terms, characters, prepositions, and conjunctions. Therefore, strip it down to the essence. Shorter URLs that do not dilute the basic meaning are preferable anyway. Also, make sure there are no keyword repetitions— this is considered a spammy SEO practice.
In general, a string of URLs stems from the main domain and flows to categories, then sub-categories, and finally product pages. The latter section should occupy the same level in the website’s hierarchy, but there is one pitfall to be aware of here. Blatantly pushing product pages can do more harm than good. It is a case of an SEO tunnel vision, even when eCommerce organizations are in question.
Tying it all up
It is crucial to understand that search engines index two different visions of your domain. One is a www and the other is a non-www version. The common practice among SEO experts is to use 301 redirects to point one version of the website to the other. The objective is to inform search engines that a particular URL has been moved to a new destination.
If you, for whatever reason, cannot redirect, designate your preferred version via Preferred Domain option in Google Webmaster Tools. Otherwise, establishing links between them is recommended. Along the similar lines, when you have multiple versions of the same page, you can take advantage of canonical tags. Their role is similar to 301 redirects: they tell Google which is your preferred version.
Essentially, this enables one to tie the SEO value of different URLs and attach it to a single URL that will be shown is search results. That way, identifying duplicate pages leads to consolidation of their properties. All types of websites can increase the SEO-friendliness of URLs with this tactic, although online retailers might stand to benefit the most.
Handling content matters
In terms of URL content, you have to heed what is stated in Google’s Search Quality Evaluators Guideline. In this pivotal document, you have guidelines regarding the main content and supplementary content. The former refers to lead pages in sections of your site, ones that anchor your categories. On the other hand, supplementary content is related to additional information, which facilitates user navigation and decision-making.
Tools like the Moz Keyword Explorer also come in extremely handy here. They group keywords together and provide you with an estimate of each keyword’s search volume. You can export your keyword list there and then filter terms until you decrease it to a shortlist of highest-volume topics. Once you do that, you will be able to make informed decisions and cherry-pick topics for the main categories and supplementary content.
To maximize chances of success, assess your structure from users’ perspective: what could add the most value to their experience. At the same time, get back to your business priorities, take into account ranking metrics, and be realistic about your content production capabilities. Combination of all these factors is what profoundly shapes your URL hierarchy, topical authority, and site’s visibility in search engines.
When the content aspect is sorted out, you can finally work out an XML sitemap. It is a list of all your URLs, which helps search engines find your pages and single out canonical URLs. So, do yourself a favor and include only pages that you would like to pop up in search queries.
Get ahead of the game
From an SEO standpoint, there is quite a bit of ground to cover. The trickiest part is establishing a site-wide hierarchy for the long-term SEO game. Thus, there is no other option than to grasp technical SEO terms and start planning how to lay out the URL structure in advance. Determine how and where to consolidate the value of different URLs. Follow a consistent logic and your business goals whenever making such decisions. Set your site up for reaching new SEO heights in 2018 and beyond.
There are no quick fixes and one-size-fits-all solutions, but one thing is certain: your efforts today will pay dividends in the long run.