Links are the vehicle used to travel around the internet. But, a lot of the time, we don’t think twice before creating or sharing one. When SEO is discussed, the focus is on including relevant keywords in articles, on the website, within tags, in meta descriptions, and in the alt text of images. As many small business owners have optimized their marketing strategies to center on SEO, one arm is often forgotten: the link.
With competition higher than ever to rank as high as possible in Search Engine Result Pages (SERP), your small business can increase its rank though one simple change: optimizing the URL structure.
URLs can seem complicated, and understanding their best practices can feel overwhelming. Let’s go through the 10 best practices (all are extremely easy to fix) to ensure every link on your website is well-optimized for SEO.
1. Only Use Necessary Words
As you’ve learned from researching and implementing an Ecommerce SEO strategy, your efforts should be split between writing for Google and writing for your audience. From a creative standpoint this can feel like a barrier, but, wouldn’t you rather have your content be found and enjoyed? Remove any ‘filler’ words from URLs, such as “is”, “the” and “for”. These words don’t add any value to either the reader or Google’s algorithm.
Here’s an example of an article on Rebrandly’s blog. The title of the article is “How to Improve Customer Experiences with Trigger-Based Messages”, whereas the URL slug is simply https://blog.rebrandly.com/improve-customer-experience-trigger-based-messages/
Here’s what it looks like in the SERP:
Although the title asks a question, the URL slug just includes the main keywords, rather than including filler words like “how” and “to”.
2. Match URLs to Page Titles
Brand building starts with brand consistency. When your URL reads the same as the title of the blog, it not only increases trust which could lead to a higher click-through rate, but also satisfies Google’s algorithm. The easiest and most streamlined way to do this is to match the title of your blog with the URL slug, as well as the content of the page.
Here’s what this practice looks like in action:
3. Avoid Using Punctuation
Just as we mentioned about avoiding filler words in SEO friendly links, punctuation can also decrease link authority as Google can consider these unnecessary characters. You might be reading and questioning if this even deserves its own point, but I’ve seen even the most experienced content marketers make this mistake time and time again. Content marketing has led companies to create informative and helpful resources that sometimes include question marks and exclamation points.
Don’t worry, this type of punctuation are perfect for H tags (heading tags such as h2), as well as in the meta description, so continue to use them! Just know that they create confusion for the search engine when used in the title, essentially diluting your SEO efforts.
4. Use Hyphens in the Place of Spaces
Since links are chains, you can’t use spaces, so typically, hyphens or underscores are used. The majority of the SEO community preaches to use dashes (or hyphens) to separate words in the URL, just-like-this. This is because Google considers hyphens as word separators and underscores as word joiners.
In other words, Google would read these URLs like…
https://YourBrand.com/the-best-article-ever as “the best article ever”
And https://YourBrand.com/the_best_article_ever as “thebestarticleever”
This is a really important point because a simple symbol can completely alter how your post is interpreted by Google.
5. Use Branded Links When Creating a Short URL
No matter how much you work to optimize your links for the search engine, the efforts could all be lost if you end up shortening that link. Because of the length of URLs, many companies choose to shorten their links using a URL shortener. The problem with most link shorteners is when you put a long link into the platform, it shortens it, but you lose your brand name in the process. Rather, the links take the name of the link shortener- for example (short.ly/X7dl8F).
As these generic short links have become less trusted by consumers, more brands are switching to using branded links. These links not only more memorable, but they create trust with your audience, which can lead to an increased click-through rate of up to 39%. This is because these links are structured to showcase your brand name and where the link will lead if clicked. Here’s what the structure of what branded links look like:
These little links help with SEO because you can optimize the slashtag or URL slug with your keywords. If you’re trying to go after some long tail or secondary keywords with a particular post, you can also create multiple branded links featuring these keywords to share.
6. Limit Redirects
With URL redirects, less is more. URL redirects take more time and can slow down the customer experience. Since search engines highly consider page load time, this can have a strong impact on your website’s rank.
If you need to use one, opt for the 301 redirect. This is a permanent redirect and it passes almost all (99%) of the link juice (or ranking power) to the redirected page. This type of redirect is perfect if your website moved to a new place (say, a rebrand), as it will bring those that click on an old link to the new page seamlessly.
7. Use a Descriptive Domain
We’re constantly sharing links, but most of us don’t know the different parts of them, let’s break it down.
Domains are made up of three parts. The top-level domain or the TLD, the domain name, and the subdomain.
Let’s look at this example:
The subdomain = www.
The domain name is your name = YourCompany
The top-level domain, or TLD = .com
When purchasing a domain, ensure that you choose one that is descriptive to what you do. As search rankings have become more advanced, they work to read more like humans. This means it needs to be memorable and directly correlated with your brand so it’s easy to read.
8. Avoid using Dynamic Parameters
Google prefers URLs that have the structure we’ve discussed in this article- ones that contain the company name and the title of the page, rather than ones that are lengthy or contain parameters. Most marketers are familiar with UTM paramters for tracking links with Google Analytics. However, some Ecommerce sites also use what are called dynamic URLs. These parameters are used to identify unique product IDs. You can spot a dynamic URL because it includes special characters such as ?, &, +, %, $, .cgi, and .cgi-bin.
If your Ecommerce site is creating dynamic URLs, there is a workaround to ensure that when you share them, they are SEO optimized. Since these long links contain a variety of words and symbols, it can dilute their chance of being ranked. This is because the link misleads the search engine, as well as the reader because it does not just contain the title and relevant keyword.
A good practice to get into is to shorten and brand your links to include the title or most relevant keyword. If you use a custom URL shortener, such as Rebrandly, you’re able to create a branded, shortened link that passes all of that “link juice”.
9. Avoid Subfolders
Subfolders make links look longer and more confusing to the reader. So you guessed it – this translates to a drop in rankings from Google. If your URL contains subfolders, it makes it much more difficult for search engines to crawl and rank your pages. Do your best to limit subfolders, and keep links as short as possible.
Here is an example of what a URL with subfolders looks like:
Here is a well-optimized link, with with the subfolders removed: https://YourBrand.com/the-best-article-ever
10. Keep to Lowercase Letters and Avoid Special Characters
This point sums up the rest. We mentioned the use of hyphens, avoiding dynamic parameters, and punctuation. Google’s guidelines for readability discuss the use of lowercase letters over uppercase. When the URL has both uppercase and lowercase letters it can make the URL look messy and complicated to the reader. Not to mention, this structure does not help your ranking because it confuses search engines.
Remember, when in doubt, think what is easiest for you, a human, to read and understand. Google’s algorithm is already advanced enough to favor content that readers prefer, and will only become more optimized with updates. SEO can seem complicated at first, but if you write with your audience in mind first while also keeping Google’s nuances in mind, your webpage will move up in the rankings.
Let me know in the comments below if you’re using any of these URL optimization techniques already, and which ones you’re going to give a try!