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A quick go through for URL optimization tactics

Since ages, there has been an on-going cold war between the SEO experts and web-developers regarding optimizing websites. Where the web developers are mostly obsessed with crawlability, site structure and other technical aspects, SEO experts are concerned with just higher rankings. This probably explains the reasons why the web developers are of the opinion that there is nothing like an SEO friendly URL as the Search Engines are capable to handle even the most complex types of URLs. Well let’s go through the other side of the story-  URL Optimization!

Brushing up the basics

URL is an acronym that stands for Uniform Resource Locator.

URL is like a stepping stone for creating a website! To put it simply, URL is basically the address to your website.
URLs are used to specify addresses on the World Wide Web and create a reference to a resource (like a particular page on the website).

Web Developers are of the opinion that Search Engines are capable of understanding any type of URL structure, no matter how complicated they are.
However, SEO experts are of the opinion that URLs must be user friendly, too. Complicated and long
URLs are difficult to comprehend by users.
Before going into how to optimize URLs, let’s get a clear understanding of different parts of URLs:

DIFFERENT PARTS OF A URL:

  1. Protocol: “ http:// “ Hyper Text Transfer Protocol – This part is the protocol of a URL address. This is the only part in an URL which can’t be changed when it comes to optimization.
  2. Sub-domain: Sub domains are used for those parts of your website that are different in themselves from the content of the website, maybe a blog, testimonial etc.
  3. Domain name: It is the name of your website. For example: in the above image “rankwatch” is the domain name. It is recommended to choose a brand related domain instead of an Exact Match Domain.
  4. Top level domain: It is website’s domain extension, .com, .org, .edu are some of the common examples. .org is usually used by organizations, .edu by universities. It can also be country specific, for example-.in is used for India, .gr for Greece etc.
  5. Category: It is the website’s subfolder or path. This needs to be descriptive. (Eg- Dresses, laptops etc). There can be subcategories, too. (main category- T-shirts; subcategories- t-shirts for men, t-shirts for women).
  6. Product: It is the actual page of the website that has been clicked for.

Usability benefits of an optimized (clean, clear URLs)

Whatever you do or whatever you create, unless you keep the users in mind, you are not going anywhere not even near to success!
Users like clean and clear URLs. A clean looking URL assures the users that they will be delivered what they are searching for.

And what happens when the customers like it? Obviously they click on it and their clicks add on to your CTR (click through rate) bank!
And more CTRs imply more revenue. So, ultimately you are at the benefiting end.
With your high CTRs, Google will definitely be impressed with you and would not hesitate to give you higher rankings.

The clean URL mission- Tips from our end

An optimized URL is a Search Engine and a User friendly URL.
An optimized URL, first of all, should be readable. Users read a URL before clicking on it, and if people can’t read it, Search Engines definitely won’t!
Look at these examples:

URL 1:
http://www.example.com/red-frill-top
URL 2:
http://www.example.com/index.php?=6512524=t55=?p=12701 

Which of the two sites, do you think you, as a user would click? Search Engines know that the users click on the site after looking at the URL (which gives them a brief about the content of the page), and therefore they don’t like crazy complicated URL’s. So better to keep it simple silly!
Stuck with understanding how to optimize your URLs for Search Engines and your users? Have a look at the following strategies..yeah you could totally thank us later!

Avoid parameters

Parameters are variables that are added to the URLs.

The above URL can be understood as the URL of a website that sells different brands.
The text marked in red (?/brandID=122378) is the parameter.
It is always advisable instead of adding complicated parameters, prefer using real and clear descriptive words that are understandable to users as well.
The image below is a perfect example to this.

Wherever possible, parameters should be reduced in the URL because simple, descriptive, crystal clear URLs are always preferred over complicated ones.
Another important point that you must be aware of, is that Google crawls even the most complicated URL, but as mentioned above, shorter and descriptive URLs are preferred while keeping the user experience and ease in mind.

The battle of Hyphens and Underscores

Google always prefers hyphens over underscores, when it comes to URL structure. It’s bots are not programmed to treat underscores as word separators. Underscores are neither SEO friendly nor user friendly.
For example:
CASE 1: If your URL includes

Search Engines might read it as:

And it is obvious, that when people would want to search for this query, they would put spaces in between. So in such cases the chances of your visibility on the SERPs would be drastically reduced.
CASE 2: When you use hyphens in your URL:

Search Engine might read it as:

  • how to make your website rank better
  • make your website rank better
  • website rank
  • how to make your website rank
  • website
  • rank
  • how to make your rank better
  • rank better

So, you stand a better chance of appearing in the SERPs by using hyphens than using underscores.
Want to here the same from the ‘Man of Google’? Here you go:

AQcSFsQyct8

 

No Capitals

This should be strictly avoided in a URL. Just in case, if you are not aware, let me tell you Example.com/keyword is a different URL than example.com/Keyword. Capital letters in URLs encrypt the URL, making it incredibly difficult to remeber.

Keywords in URL

Keywords are equally important for URLs. Try to include the exact keyword/keyword phrase in your URL, but don’t overdo it! The important keywords should be kept at the beginning of the URL as the Search Engines pay greater attention towards that part.
Example:http://www.example.com/dresses/red-gown
If not possible on the homepage itself, try including the keywords in the URL  for your blog/articles/tools pages.

Block bad URLs with robot.txt

There might be some pages on your site, which you wouldn’t want the Search Engines to index. This might be some sensitive information or a page not-so-connected with your website. You would not want to rank with such pages, so it’s better you block these URLs with robots.txt.

Dynamic vs Static- Which is preferred?

Nobody likes ugly URLs like this:
http://www.example.com/?gp&details=55679-88926669-01?_encoding=MTP9086&browse=9?asat=BOOHJIKL
The above example is of a dynamic URL, which is created by using a CMS or a web server. When the content is stored in the database and pulled out as pages on demand, then dynamic URLs are used.
These URLs containing characters like “&” “?” ”_” are difficult to read and understand by the user. A lot of these unwanted parameters make the URLs Non-Seo-friendly too.
http://www.example.com/category/topic-name
The above example is of a static URL, which is created using a more advanced CMS like wordpress.
As the name suggests, a static URL is one which does not change and hence does not have any unnecessary parameters. It is a user friendly and an SEO friendly URL as it includes the keywords which are easily comprehensible by the users as well as the Search Engines.

Don’t be under the myth that the Search Engines can’t crawl dynamic URLs, they totally can! It’s just that the static URLs have a slightly competitive edge over the dynamic URLs.
Google has crafted a beautiful post on Dynamic and Static URL, busting all the myths and solving all the doubts.

What should you do if you already have dynamic URLs? Does the same question pops up in your mind too? Don’t worry, this is not much of an issue, don’t bother with. Just try keeping static URLs for the other new pages that you create.

Paginated URLs

This is somewhat similar to the canonical tags. Suppose you have an E-commerce website (or any website for that matter) and you have a categories page which includes a lot of items which can’t be displayed on a single page. In such a scenario, more than one page is required for the listings.
For example: If the category is of Apple laptops containing 50 plus items, these can’t be displayed on a single page. It might require 2 or 3 pages.
Its paginated pages would have URLs, like the following:
http://example.com/apple-laptops/page=1
http://example.com/apple-laptops/page=2

You need to add a canonical tag to these paginated pages using the tag: rel=”canonical” or“rel=prev / rel=next”  tag for the same.
<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.example.com/apple-laptops”>

 Canonical URLs

When you need to serve content that has more than one URL, then canonical tags are your savior. When there is more than one URL for the same page, then the main version is referred to as canonical.
Canonicalization is basically picking out the best URL when there are several choices:

http://www.example.com/
http://example.com/
http://www.example.com
http://example.com
http://www.example.com/index.html
http://example.com/index.html

You might be thinking that all these URLs are taking you to different pages. However, this is not the case. All these URLs will be taking you to the same homepage.
Lets have a more clear example of this:
While using Walmart, when you need to go for the bedding sets, you can either type in directly ‘bedding sets’
http://www.walmart.com/search/?query=Bedding%20sets

Or you can go All Departments>> Home Furniture and Patio>> Bedding>> Bedding sets
http://www.walmart.com/browse/home/bedding-sets/4044_539103_1043820
Both of the URLs provide the same content, but use different URLs. In such scenarios, canonical tags are used to signal the Search Engines that there is no duplicate content and treat the duplicate page as same as the canonical.
The tag goes like this: rel=”canonical”. By providing this tag, you are saved from the misery of having duplicate URLs.

www vs non-www

If you have two domain versions of your website, i.ewww.example.comand example.com and both www and non-www URLs are serving the same content (i.e the same homepage), then you might face problems regarding the duplicity of data. To avoid such situations, you must first choose the preferred domain (canonical), which is to be seen and then 301 redirects all the other non-canonical to the preferred domain.
For example-www.example.comshould be 301 redirected toexample.com
As an alternative to redirection, you can use Google Webmaster tools to specify your preferred version by clicking on Configuration>> Settings >> Preferred domain.

Add mobile URLs to Sitemap

Make sure you add responsive mobile URLs to your sitemap. Mobile friendly pages tend to rank higher for mobile search results, therefore inform the Search Engines which pages on your website is mobile friendly.
This was about URL optimization. I hope it helped you. Please share your ideas in the comments.