8 steps for writing and structuring a SEO-friendly URL that is easy to read by humans and search engines
I’ll bet you didn’t know there were so many types of URLs. Vanity URLs, which are short, simple URLs, are used in direct mail and other print promotions. They are meant to be easy to remember and are set up to point to a landing page. Short URLs are created by services like bit.ly to take a long link and make it shorter. These were primarily used back when sites like Twitter would only allow you to use 140 characters and they counted the URL as part of those characters. There is still value in short URLs, like tracking URLs with hidden UTM codes and making less obvious affiliate links in social media.
However, at the end of all these costumes, there is always your primary URL, also known as a permalink, which is the actual link to any given page. Out of all those other types of URLs, none of those matter to SEO. Your permalink does. If you don’t know how to make an SEO-friendly URL, here are a few guidelines to use for your articles, which we consider your most important SEO real estate.
1. Use your keyword in your SEO-friendly URL. Of course, silly. Content management systems like WordPress will automatically create a permalink for you using the title of your article and it also allows you to adjust it. When I am adjusting a permalink, I will typically try to shorten it if it’s too long, but I always keep the keyword in place. Most of all, make sure your URLs don’t refer to posts by number. For example:
That type of URL is the default on some content management systems, but it’s a big SEO fail, because it takes away an opportunity for Google and other search engines to read your post. Also, when you’re doing this, keep the URL in lowercase.
2. Keep your content folders / categories shallow. I get it, you have a lot of content in so many categories that by the time your peach cobbler recipe publishes its URL looks like:
YourFoodMagazine.com / Articles / Food / Desserts / FruitDesserts / StoneFruitDessertRecipes / StoneFruitCobblerRecipes / PeachCobberRecipes / the-best-peach-cobbler-on-earth /
Try not to do that, huh? Mequoda suggests folders should only go 2-3 levels deep and when it can’t be done, to be very conscious of how deep your folders are getting in your URL. It’s not a SEO-friendly URL dealbreaker but it can be a mess to clean up when you need to change or delete a category in the future, and don’t get me started on the 301 redirects!
3. Use keywords in your categories. Although the length of the URL example above is entirely too long, the category folders toward the end are certainly more search optimized than the “food” and “desserts” ones that came before it. We find that some publishers get a good amount of traffic to their category pages, and this can only occur if you create nichely titled category pages. You’re more likely to be found for a category page on “Stone Fruit Cobbler Recipes” than “Desserts.”
4. Use hyphens in between words. If you’re using a WordPress-based content management system, they’ll do this for you. If you’re not, it’s recommended by most SEO pros to use hyphens rather than underscores.
5. Remove years from your SEO-friendly URL. At some point in your future, you will recycle some of your top performing posts because that’s a proven way to keep your top posts performing. When that happens, you may need to update your “how to write an SEO-friendly URL in 2017” to 2018 or 2019. And when you do, you won’t want that outdated year sitting in the URL or risking your traffic even with a perfectly “safe” 301 redirect.
6. Remove numbers from your SEO-friendly URL. Same idea. When you update your post, there may be three, five, or ten new ways to update that “how-to” post. So leaving the ‘ol “3-ways-to-make-low-carb-pizza” alone when you republish means you have an outdated URL. And lord knows we can make pizza crusts out of everything these days, from cauliflower to to meat (it’s called a “meatzza”).
7. Create a main content category. In order for your analytics guru to gather data on your articles, separated from the rest of your site, you’ll want a main content category. Ours is called “articles” so if you are looking at an article in our multiplatform publishing category, our URL is mequoda.com/articles/multiplatform-publishing-strategy/.
We’d consider what Better Homes & Gardens is doing, as a no-no. If you look at their URLs, they don’t have a top article content folder. Their URLS look like:
It’s not an SEO killer, but we find analytics can be run easier, and sitemaps look better when there is a top category like /articles/ sitting in front of content categories.
8. Clean up your formatting. Remove wonky URL parameters that come at the end of URLs (all those question marks and short codes). Get rid of any characters like quotes and extra spaces within the URL itself which can break URLs. And finally, make your URLs shorter (100 characters is good), by removing stop words like “a” “but” and “the”. I leave those in if they’re a part of my keyword, but that’s the only time.
Do you have any SEO-friendly URL tips or tricks to share? Leave them below in the comments.