How to Build A URL

SEO is real undertaking – an ongoing process that's never static, a game that requires continual, consistent and thorough attention. The game's evolved over time, mostly for the best, but for better or worse, you've got to be on fire to make your message known. At Michigan SEO Group, we get that. We believe in helping people achieve their dream of a successful growing business and an abundant life... starting today!

So, we're going to do our best to help you get your message across the Internet by discussing a very important factor in search engine results placement. That is: url structure. According to Google, urls should be simple and organized in a manner that is intelligible to humans. Absolutely -- and let's expand on that, because we see so many examples of poorly composed urls all across the board.

Typically, websites have substandard urls for two reasons:

  1. The url is automatically generated by some program or website content manager, and the maintainers are unable to modify it.
  2. It takes a lot of time to build quality urls, and maintainers often find themselves too bogged down with other matters to give SEO the attention it deserves.

Don't let yourself fall into either of these traps! Take charge, now. You can be sure your competitors are.

If you've found yourself in a situation where your software won't relinquish control over urls, dump it. Dump it now. Seriously – that alone will save you so many headaches in the long run. If it's time and effort getting in your way, all we can say is this: Find the time. It will be so worth it, and we'll show you exactly what to do!

Let us investigate thoroughly!

A url should be readable.

The characters that compose a url should encapsulate its content and provide a clear indication of what you're going to get when you load it in you browser. This is a very important point. Convoluted or inscrutable urls for public consumption are a thing of the past – or at least, they should be! Just about every modern web browser has a feature that, when you hover over a link, allows you to see the url it's referencing. Any person, with nothing more than an 8th grade reading level, should be able to glance at that url and understand exactly what they'll get by clicking through.

For example, take a look this url:

http://seoannarbor.com/services/website-design-ann-arbor

Can you read it? Of course you can. Do you know what it means? Of course you do! Right from the get go, you can see there's a website called seoannarbor.com (us!) that offers web design services in Ann Arbor.

Now, if you pump a url full of vague words and numerical parameters, then who knows what that url's going to get you. If you don't know what it's going to get you, it squashes your incentive to click the link. Want an example of an unreadable url? How about this one:

https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/76329?hl=en

Any idea what this url's about? For shame Google. For shame.

Now, one may argue: "The url doesn't have to be readable. That's what the anchor text is for!"

Okay. Sure. But we would argue back, a readable url makes it:

  • trivial to remember
  • easier to pull up when you're searching your browser history
  • consistent with the anchor text
  • self-evident irrespective of the anchor text
  • and, a great place to put keywords for SEO

Keep in mind: The ability to read a url isn't just a benefit for your visitors. It's a benefit for search engines, too. Reading is one of the things Google does best. If Google can't read your link, then your SEO presence just won't be where it should.

That being said, Google is getting pretty good at dealing with convoluted urls, but they still recommend some extra steps if you're planning on using them.

Ultimately, what's the best practice? Make your urls readable – using real words and phrases. While some setups do allow spaces and capital letters, it's best to avoid those all together. Instead of capitals, stick to lowercase letters. In place of spaces, use dashes (-) instead.

A url should be formulated in such a way that it illustrates the navigational structure of your site.

Every url should imply organization and group common topics together. Google would agree!

Let's take a look at what we mean here by providing a poor example first. Say we have a website chock full of intriguing content centered around the deadly art of ninjutsu.

You don't want to just pollute the top level directory with a smorgasbord of pages, like this:

  • how-to-make-someones-heart-explode-with-your-pinky
  • 7-amazing-ways-to-be-sneaky-in-ann-arbor
  • breaking-bones-and-why-its-fun
  • nutrition-why-its-important-and-how-you-can-use-it-to-destory-your-enemies
  • cartwheels-are-better-than-somersaults-when-chased-by-hungry-dogs
  • real-ninjas-use-vim

Look. Those paths are ridiculous. If ninjas organized things this way, they'd never get around to slaughtering anything. Clearly, we're dealing with three different topics here, and the SEO ninja innately understands their web pages should be organized as such. So let's reorganize like this:

  • /combat/how-to-make-someones-heart-explode-with-your-pinky
  • /evasion/7-amazing-ways-to-be-sneaky-in-ann-arbor
  • /combat/breaking-bones-and-why-its-fun
  • /combat/nutrition-why-its-important-and-how-you-can-use-it-to-destory-your-enemies
  • /evasion/cartwheels-are-better-than-somersaults-when-chased-by-hungry-dogs
  • /texteditors/real-ninjas-use-vim

The real point is, when Google crawls these paths, it goes, "Oh! I see. These SEO ninjas must have organized their site like this:"

  • combat/
    • how-to-make-someones-heart-explode-with-your-pinky
    • breaking-bones-and-why-its-fun
    • nutrition-why-its-important-and-how-you-can-use-it-to-destory-your-enemies
  • evasion/
    • 7-amazing-ways-to-be-sneaky-in-ann-arbor
    • cartwheels-are-better-than-somersaults-when-chased-by-hungry-dogs
  • texteditors/
    • real-ninjas-use-vim

And in doing so, Google also understands this: Ninjas are clearly all about combat, evasion and text editing.

Which implies...

A url should contain keyphrases that are relevant to the content they link to.

If we want to be smart about url composition from an SEO standpoint, we should organize our content by keywords or keyphrases, and demonstrate that in the url. Perhpas this is obvious to SEO verterans, but it's not necessarily a trivial ordeal. It requires planning and foresight, especially for sites with a ton of pages.

Ask yourself: What's your website all about? Then, make it easy for people and Google to understand by organizing your urls in an intelligent manner.

First, determine your keywords.

  • Key Word A
  • Key Word B
  • Key Word C
  • Key Word D

Can any of those be broken down into sub-keywords? Maybe, like this?

  • Key Word A
    • Sub keyword A
    • Sub keyword B
  • Key Word B
  • Key Word C
    • Sub keyword A
    • Sub keyword B
    • Sub keyword C
  • Key Word D

That's the map. Simple, organized, easy to navigate and useful. You can use this as a map to get started!

A Word of Warning About Changing Urls

If all this info gets you excited and inspires you to optimize your urls, great! But before you go changing things with reckless abandon, take note! When you change a url, you're playing with fire. There is nothing worse than inviting a potential customer to visit a 404 error. If someone's bookmarked that url you just changed, congratulations, you've broken their bookmark. But much, much worse is the fact that you've broken Google's bookmarks as well. Did you know, when Google returns a bunch of links from a search query, it doesn't scour the Internet as it is right now. Think about it. To do that, Google would have to load thousands of pages, scrutinize every word after rendering the page, then generate a report once all's said and done.

No way. That'd take way too long. In fact, when Google returns a bunch of links from a search query, it's scouring the Internet as it was the last time it spiders crawled the web.

That's right – Goole has spiders. "Spiders" are programs that "crawl" the world wide web. As you read this article now, Google is silently and efficiently crawling the web, taking snapshots of its content and caching it somewhere on disk. When you search for something, Google scours that cache, which has already been rendered, sorted and saved for easy parsing. Which means, Google is always going to be slightly behind your every SEO effort – not immediately in tune with it.

Listen very carefully. When you change a url, it's going to take some time for Google to notice the change. Inevitably, there will be a window of time in which Google will list your old url in its search results. Say a potential visitor googles something you have/offer/service, clicks the search result which links to the old url... and lands on a drab, off-putting 404. Oh noes! If this person stays on your website, you're lucky. If they go to a competitor... Darn.

Sometimes, of course, it's necessary to change a url. That's fine – it's not the end of the world. But if you do, you have to make sure you do two things:

  1. Get a redirect in place so that when someone requests the old url, they are automatically redirected to the new one.
  2. Notify Google of the update in Search Console, either by:
    • Fetching the new url as Google, or
    • Resubmitting your sitemap

If you need help with any of this, just contact us. We'll set you straight.

Most importantly, urls should contain the phrase people are going to use to find your content when they search.

Urls shouldn't just be readable. They shouldn't just summarize the content. They should, ideally, contain the exact phrase people are going to search for to find your content.

Don't do this:

/annarbor/we-provide-roof-repair-services-in-ann-arbor

Yeah, it's okay, but the url text is superfluous and unnecessary. You don't need to stuff a bunch of keywords in there. In fact, it's best practice not to.

Instead, just do this:

/services/annarbor/roof-repair

Simple. Legible. And when someone in Ann Arbor needs to get their roof repaired, what are they going to search for?

Ann Arbor roof repair

That's pretty much exactly the url, which is going to give you a boost in placement on the search results pages. And as an added bonus, the url is really easy to communicate verbally. If you say it out loud to someone, they won't need a pen. It's easy to remember and type in a browser later.

Nice.

To Review What You Just Learned

Optimize your urls. It's vital to your SEO presence, and here's how to do it:

  • Make sure every url is readable and summarizes the content it references.
  • Organize each url so that the navigational structure of your site is apparent simply by reading it.
  • Make sure every url has keyphrases relevant to the content they link to.
  • In as many cases as possible, make sure your urls contain the phrase people are going to use to find its content when they search.

Make sense? If you're struggling with any of this, don't worry. Just pick up the phone. We'd be more than happy to sit down with you and help you optimize your urls -- at no charge. Seriously. We love SEO; it's our bread and butter, and we can talk about it all day! We're all about building great relationships and lending advice.

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