I thought this would be an interesting blog post for those of you who want to expand their SEO knowledge. As SEO is about applying rules in your daily activities and little tech bits and pieces, I’ll share some of the tech (yet very simple!) tips with you today.
It’s quite intriguing to know that any search engine pays so much attention to details such as e.g. the density of keywords used on your website. In this blog post I’ll focus on one very important aspect of correct SEO – that is, the structure of the URLs of your website and how to make those urls seo friendly.
Why should we care about our link structure? Think of your customers or readers – do they pay attention to where they click-through? Does the URL tell them anything about the authority of the website? Do they share links on their social media channels?
To an SEO expert, [url] holds much more information than a web page’s location. It provides informative signals that help search engines understand the content of a page, it’s purpose, and it’s target market.
– Marin Russel from Mysiteauditor.com
Make sure to check my Infographic that sums up all 10 tips listed below. It’s a great cheatsheet that you can use at your work!
1. Use hyphens to separate words in a URL, not underscores
You’d be surprised how a small detail makes a difference to search engines. Google and other engines prefer reading website links that include words separated by “-” signs than “_”. See this example of lemon verbena cheesecake:
Google combines those queries and reads this page as “lemonverbenacheescake”. Although the page title displays the name correctly, if you’re typing in the keywords, this result will not appear in the top 3 search result lists.
Perhaps this doesn’t make that much of a difference to you – however here, Google reads it as “Lemon Verbena”. That’s the way to write it! You might also come across a word separator including “+” sign:
Is this better? Not really. Plus signs are a “reserved” character normally used in dynamic URLs and could cause confusion for the web crawlers which could lead to pages not getting indexed.
2. Stop using @, % or #
This is about those funny characters like %, $, &, > etc. Search engines not only omit them but they actually rank your page down – treating it as spam. Look what Google suggests when I type in “50% higher”:
See? Google doesn’t recognize it! Eliminate those signs from your URL by simply editing it. If you use WordPress, it saves your URL based on the page title. Make sure you check if before it goes live – simply click “Edit” and delete unnecessary keywords from the permalink:
3. Make your link as short as possible
This point has its supporters and critics – although Google has not officially confirmed if lengthy URLs aren’t seo friendly, it’s better for the reader to keep it short. According to the research from QuickSprout, URLs ranked in the top 10 results contained on average 37 characters; top 20 – 35 characters and top 30 – 39 characters. There’s no general rule to how long it should be – it’s more about what it contains.
Search engines in general have no problem processing long permalinks – it’s more about the users themselves. Think about it yourself – do you prefer to copy and paste this link:
You can make use of the tool that I’ve mentioned earlier, CoSchedule Healdine Analyzer, that analyzes how good your headline (and most of the time – your permalink) is for search engines.
4. Think about your link structure
It’s a big one – are you an information website? Online store? Blog? News site? The structure of the permalinks is different for each of them. This means, some of the links might use dates in them, categories, countries, or just pure blog titles.
If you’re using WordPress (no matter which type of website it is), please make sure you take a look at permalink structure settings first – publishing links and changing the structure afterwards will lead to many of your old links being invalid. You don’t want to face the 404 error page drama right?
If you click on Settings>Permalinks, you’ll see a window like this:
Here is where you determine the structure of how your links will be built. Let’s consider each of them.
- Default – it contains post’s number. Is this something that search engines or readers should know? Does it bring any value?
- Day and name – between domain name and post title there’s a date included. It might be useful for blog or news sites, where the date of a particular article is highly crucial. I’d mainly recommend it for news websites.
- Month and name – same as above. Perhaps useful for groups that visit online press rooms or newsletters.
- Numeric – similar to “Default” setting. Is there any value in displaying non-meaningful numbers?
- Post name – the post title is included after the domain name. Just like my blog is structured, the URL contains the domain name of the website and the title of this specific post. It’s very clear to the reader where he or she clicks through.
- Custom Structure – something you can customize yourself. I recommend adding /%category%/ if you want to add a category before the title. Useful for online stores that want to add a product category before the product name – sometimes the names don’t tell us a lot about the product. Categories make it also easier for search engines to display the link on the right search result page.
General rule is the fewer subfolders (things between the / sign/) the better – it makes the URL shorter. Let’s look at few examples:
John Lewis is doing great job here – it puts tea towels into “Kitchen Linens” which are part of “Kitchen” and “Home & Garden” subfolders. Perhaps there are too many of them, but knowing it’s a department store, it’s difficult to put it into one category only. Harrods limited it to two subfolders:
Some of online stores made it too short, making the link look vague. The user might not know exactly where he is redirected to:
Fermliving.com has a shop within a webshop – something the users aren’t really interested in. Adding .aspx, .php or .html at the end of the links is also a bit old-school these days:
5. Use keywords in the links
Again, that’s a controversy – some think it won’t add any value to your SEO and some strongly believe it’s important. One conclusion – don’t overdo it.
Before I publish an article I always begin with a keyword – how will the audience find my article? What will they type in the search engine? Which keyword did I type in to find more information? A separate blog post on keyword analysis is coming out!
Once I know what my main keyword is, I make sure it’s included in the title of the post as well as the URL. Note, I use it only once and don’t over spam it. Although Google doesn’t confirm the importance of keywords in URLs to page ranks, it does highlight both keywords in page titles and links and descriptions when I search for something specific:
WordPress SEO plugin from Yoast makes sure I always include the keyword within the article – whether it’s in the description of the image or page title.
6. DON’T USE CAPITAL LETTERS
It’s quite a simple rule – URLs are case sensitive and creating your permalink with caps lock on will just confuse the search engines. I also mean typing in “Tea Towels” and “tea towels” do make a difference.
7. Avoid using stop keywords
What are those? The words such as “the”, “a”, “of”, “at” etc. as well as verbs are not necessary to be included in the link. They’re largely omitted by search engines and make the URL look longer. I searched for social media strategy and one of the top results came from Hootsuite and Buffer. Look how they shortened their URLs:
On the other hand, QuickSprout used the entire page title as a URL – look how the link is cut at the end, not displaying crucial information to the user:
8. Make your links readable
This is common sense – the more readable to users, the better for the search engine. And oh, your users will be attracted to click on your link too! It’s about making your link “clean” – include only most valid information and keep it simple. Include one word or two that will incentivize the user. Eliminate weird signs, numbers and unnecessary subfolders. Just consider those three examples – which one are you ready to click on?
I searched for influence of social media on marketing. I came across the article from American Marketing Association (very good read). But does it say so from the Google’s search result list? Not really… Title is too long, the description not at all optimized and the link… ugh. I really have no time to go through all of this!
Take a look at McKinsey – they should do better, right? Or do they? “social media’s influence…” on what exactly?! Hmm, disappointing. Consider this entry from Go-Gulf.com blog post – surprisingly it’s one of the first one I came across:
Exactly matching my search query and hey! they have an infographic! It also includes a date in the description (you can install it via WordPress SEO plugin from Yoast) and the URL tells me already that I can click-through to a blog. Fantastic!
9. Include long URLs or shortened links?
Great question and a big dilemma to many marketeers – so what if my link is really long? Shall I use a shortener with a “vanity domain” or will it harm my SEO?
Shortened links usually include a combination of letters and numbers redirecting the user to a longer, correct, link. Now here comes the surprise:
Research from a 2014 RadiumOne study suggests that social sharing (which has positive, but usually indirect impacts on SEO) with shorter URLs that clearly communicate the site and content perform better than non-branded shorteners or long, unclear URL strings.
– Rand Fishkin from Moz blog
Check out this infographic to learn something new for your SEO. You see, it’s all about having links that are short and clean.
10. Think mobile
Mobile links are also important – they have “m.” in front of the domain name indicating it’s a mobile page. Make sure you include them in your sitemaps – those pages that are “mobile friendly”. This will ensure that they score higher in mobile search results.
Those were the ten basic tips to improve your SEO! Let me know if some of them were new to you or if they help you increase your organic traffic! If you want to get some advice on how to make your urls seo friendly, just drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you! Was this a lot to grasp in one go? Download my Infographic that lists all of the points mentioned here in one cheatsheet! Enjoy!