The world of SEO is full of tiny details. When combined, they draw a picture of a perfect website. One of those details is crafting SEO-friendly URLs consistent with the best search engine practices.
If you wonder why hyphens in URLs beat underscores, we’ll reveal the secret today. Stay with us to learn the key elements that make a URL look good from Google’s viewpoint and other search engines.
Now, let’s raise the curtain and unveil what’s behind it!
Understanding SEO-Friendly URLs
A URL can be the location of a webpage, image, video, document, etc. The abbreviation means Uniform Resource Locator, which we also call a web address.
SEO-optimized URLs are effortlessly understood by search engines. Typically, they are short and contain keywords. Created that way, they also look appealing to the user’s eye.
Benefits of using SEO URLs
- Better user experience
Well-structured URLs give users and search crawlers a better understanding of the page they visit. A semantically accurate URL clearly suggests what’s on the destination page even before you click on it. That’s why including keywords is better than a bunch of inexplicable numbers, symbols, and letters.
- Improved click-through rates
Definitive URLs that distinctly show what’s on the page gain higher click-through rates (CTR) from search engine results pages (SERPs). Along with the title and description, a URL is the third component of SERPs a searcher sees. Website SEO statistics point out that organic search is accountable for 51% of sites’ traffic. That’s why optimizing those three SERP elements is crucial for CTR.
- Meaningful SERPs
A URL is a minor factor in Google rankings, but it aids search engines in determining the query’s relevance. Friendly-looking web addresses ease the job of search engines in organizing and giving meaningful results to searchers.
Elements of an SEO-Friendly URL
Crafting the perfect URL for SEO requires knowing the key elements it must contain. Let’s see what they are:
Google URL guidelines recommend avoiding long ID numbers but using simple and descriptive words instead. UTF-8 encoding is preferred over non-ASCII characters.
Don’t join words together, as users and search engines will have difficulty reading the URL. A hyphen in between is the ultimate choice (more on that in a bit).
Use lowercase letters since uppercase characters in URLs may lead to duplicated content. If a page exists in both variations—uppercase and lowercase—it might be perceived as two different pages. So, avoid capital letters in URLs just to be safe.
Image source: Moz.com
Back in the day, stuffing the URL with keywords was a popular SEO practice because that was a strong ranking factor. Things have changed since then, and the role of keywords in URLs is not that significant for rankings. However, they should be present in the URL but used naturally and with the thought of the user in mind.
So don’t stuff your page addresses with keywords unless that’s beneficial for the visitor. Be as accurate as possible so that both search engines and users can determine what the page is about.
The URL dilemma with using hyphens or underscores has a pretty simple explanation.
For example, you have an underscore link that looks like this: https://mysite.com/blog/hello_world.
When you publish it as a bare link, the underscore is invisible to the user. That’s considered a bad practice.
In comparison, a hyphen link looks much more accurate: https://mysite.com/blog/hello-world.
Separating URL words with hyphens, rather than underscores, special characters, or spaces, has an SEO reasoning behind it. Hyphens ease indexation and readability and help with user experience. The other alternatives can break the link and confuse the message.
Browsers can read URLs with a maximum length of about 2,083 characters. However, SEO-friendly URLs should be much shorter. How short? That’s a negotiable question in SEO.
John Mueller from Google advises URLs to be shorter than 1,000 characters. He states that search rankings aren’t affected by the URL length. Too long URLs will be cut off in the snippet, and the searcher won’t see all of it.
However, shorter URLs of up to 115 are preferred by SEO specialists since they are easier to remember and more likely to be clicked.
Readability and user-friendliness
Human-readable URLs accurately display where the user will land when they click on a link.
For example, https://mysite.com/blog/solo-traveller-tips is more user-friendly than https://mysite.com/blog/articles/page.php?article_id=1&lang=en.
In the first example, the user understands what’s on the page and is more likely to follow that link. Thus, more traffic comes to the website.
We’ll get into a lot more detail below.
SEO Best Practices for URLs
Creating SEO URLs is an art in itself. Following the best practices is the path to mastering good-looking webpage addresses that users want to click on and search engines understand.
Keyword Research for URLs
The #1 thing you should know about keywords in URLs is that you should write them in a way they’re helpful to the user. Don’t force them too much, and do your research first. That’s how you’ll get user-friendly URLs.
Here’s where to start:
Utilizing keyword research tools for URL relevance
Writing URL structures is part of the SEO strategy. If you’re just starting your site and don’t know which keywords to put in your URLs, look at what your competitors are doing. Begin with the highest-ranking sites for your target keywords. Further, explore their website structure and takes notes so that you can make yours better.
The best way to employ keyword research is through SEO tools, such as Ahrefs, SEMrush, Ubersuggest, Google Keywords Planner, etc. They show keyword difficulty (how high the competition for a word is) and monthly search volume.
Ahrefs Keyword Explorer, for example, displays the top ten competitors when you type in a keyword. If you have an idea who they are, you can place their URL in the Site Explorer and see what keywords they rank for. These are the words you can also use when creating web pages and blog posts.
Analyzing search intent to align URLs with user expectations
Using keywords on your website is not a random endeavor. Keywords in URLs must be consistent with users’ search intent. Placing them there has to mean something and align with their expectations of the page. The URL must correspond to what the page displays; otherwise, users will exit quickly, and that’s a negative SEO sign.
When ranking results, search engines take into consideration the relevance between search intent and the website content based on a keyword entered into the search bar. That’s why it’s important to respond to search queries with relevant information that corresponds to the user’s primary intent in the best possible way.
URL Structure Optimization
Think about your URL structure before starting to build a website. It makes SEO optimization much smoother if your initial site architecture makes sense to users and crawlers.
Reflect the content accurately with descriptive URLs
Definitive and concise URLs must suggest what’s the page content. From a user’s perspective, that will make them click faster as they immediately see what awaits them on the page.
From an SEO perspective, short and descriptive URLs are better as they improve click-through rates.
Incorporating primary keywords in the URL while maintaining readability
One of the best URL practices is to incorporate your primary keyword. This is the word or phrase users search for that must also be present in your page content. That’s how you match their search query. If that’s a long-tail keyword (a more specific longer phrase of 3+ words), use hyphenation to separate the words and to improve readability.
Removing unnecessary parameters and dynamic elements from URLs
URL parameters are elements that help with tracking or organizing website information. They start after the “?” part of a URL.
Image source: Semrush.com
It’s preferable to avoid URL parameters (unless they are part of a UTM code) as they can create duplicate content.
Additionally, SEO prioritizes static URLs because they rank better and generate higher CTR. Dynamic ones are presumably hard for search engines to understand. They contain values assigned to URL parameters. Here’s how both types look:
Need help with click-through rates (CTR)?
JotURL Branded Links is the right tool for you. It increases CTR by up to 65%. With customized brand links, businesses drive higher conversions and enhance user experience.
The benefits of using JotURL’s tailored links include the following:
- SEO-friendly links: JotURL’s branded links are optimized for search engines. This leads to better rankings and visibility of the page.
- Increased shares: Customized brand URLs are more likely to be shared, which leads to better SEO content exposure and reach.
- Click-through rate boost: Brand links look more secure to users. That’s why they attract more clicks, resulting in higher CTR and traffic.
- Build link trust: Tailored links establish trust in the brand’s reputation and make it more recognizable across all online platforms.
With JotURL’s brand links, businesses can also witness a conversion rate boost of up to 34% and mobile app downloads increase by up to 74%. In addition, the customized nature of branded links helps you bypass email spam filters. Empowering your brand awareness strategy with this toolkit will make you stand out from the crowd and enhance your brand reputation.
Start creating memorable and secure links with JotURL and get the brand recognition you deserve. Grow your online presence in a user-friendly manner.
Hyphen Usage and URL Readability
In the world of SEO, every small detail adds up to the bigger picture. Something as tiny as a hyphen makes a difference in URLs’ readability.
Let’s see why.
Applying hyphens for better readability and search engine understanding
The king of URL word separators is the hyphen. It outranks all other competitors as it contributes to the readability, user-friendliness, and comprehensiveness of URLs. It’s also the master behind proper indexation, visibility, and keyword recognition.
Avoiding spaces underscores, and other special characters in URLs
Spaces, special characters, and underscores in URLs may look confusing to the user.
The underscore cannot be seen in a bare URL: https://mysite.com/blog/hello_world.
The space is shown as “%20” in an encoded URL, which doesn’t look appealing: https://mysite.com/blog/hello%20world.
Special characters incorporated in URLs are encoded and look weird.
Image source: FreeCodeCamp.com
URL Length and Optimization
The number of URL characters isn’t significant to Google. As long as the URL is user-friendly and comprehensive, the search giant is ok with it. The URL hierarchy should be natural and logical to the website structure.
Keeping URLs short and focused on relevant keywords
Shorter addresses with relevant keywords enhance user experience. Deep folder structures just for the sake of stuffing a URL with keywords is considered a bad practice with no SEO value. Shorter URLs are believed to be easier to crawl and index.
Avoiding long URLs that may be truncated by search engines or discourage click-throughs
Excessively long URLs won’t be fully seen in the SERPs. That can affect click-through rates as the reader won’t be able to see the entire address. This concern is another reason why SEOs don’t recommend lengthy URLs.
Technical Considerations for SEO URLs
There are some SEO technicalities behind crafting the perfect URL that will be appealing to bots and won’t cause duplication or indexation issues.
Let’s figure this part out.
Avoiding Duplicate Content
Duplicated content happens when the same text is available on different URL pages. Search engines are confused about which page to rank, so they give lower rankings to all duplicate pages and favor original content.
Here are two easy fixes:
Implementing canonical tags
If you have duplicated content on two or more pages of your website, implementing a canonical tag is one way to fix the issue. This tag is placed in the HTML of duplicate pages and indicates the URL you want search engines to rank. The other pages are considered copies of the original one. The best practice is to put a canonical tag in the original URL as well, pointing to itself.
Here’s an example of a canonical tag:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://mysite.com/blog/hello-world” />
Redirecting duplicate URLs to prevent SEO problems
Duplicated URLs can also be redirected with 301—the permanent page move. This indicates that when a user lands on a page, they will automatically be forwarded to another. The first page is eventually deindexed, leaving only the correct page active in the Google index. You just have to choose which page will be the original one and redirect to it.
HTTPS and SSL Certificate: the importance of secure URLs and HTTPS for SEO purposes
Google gives favor to websites with an SSL certificate installed. It provides the website with an extra secure connection to the server. Such sites have the padlock sign in front of the URL and start with “https,” like so: https://joturl.com.
Secure URLs are liked by search engines as they suggest the user’s data is protected when they open a certain webpage. That’s why they are also an essential part of an SEO-optimized site and the preferred server connection protocol.
SEO-friendly URLs look like tiny details in the vast search engine optimization world. But once you apply the best practices, you can witness the positive impact on your website’s performance, such as improvements in visibility, organic traffic, and engagement. Don’t miss out on these goodies. Pave the way to higher SEO heights starting now!