How to Optimize Your URLs for Search [Quick Tip]

How to Optimize Your URLs for Maximum Search Traffic in 2024

When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), your site‘s URLs are a foundational element that can have a big impact on your organic search rankings and traffic. Search engines like Google use the words in your page URLs as a top relevancy signal to understand and rank the content. And web users look at URLs when deciding which search results to click on.

Optimizing your site‘s URL structure and individual page URL slugs is therefore crucial for getting your content found and clicked on in search results. Here‘s what you need to know about SEO-friendly URL best practices in 2024.

What is a URL?

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator. It‘s the web address or link to an individual piece of content on the internet, like a web page, image, or document. URLs are what enable the internet to link to content across different sites and servers.

A typical URL consists of several key components:

  • The protocol, which is usually http:// or https://
  • The domain name, like hubspot.com
  • The domain extension, like .com, .org, .gov
  • Subdirectories or folders, like /blog/
  • The page slug or individual page name, like how-to-optimize-urls
  • Optional parameters, like ?utm=123

Here‘s an example of a full page URL:

https://www.marketingscoop.com/marketing/how-to-optimize-urls

In this case, the protocol is https, the domain is hubspot.com, the subdirectory is /marketing/, and the page slug is how-to-optimize-urls.

Why are URLs important for SEO?

URLs are important for SEO because they help tell search engines and users what a page is about. The words used in your page URLs get factored heavily into search engines‘ understanding and ranking of your page content.

Google representatives have stated that the words in URLs are an important keyword relevancy signal. Your page URL is one of the first things Googlebot looks at when crawling a page. Using relevant keywords in your URLs helps Google better understand the page topic and can lead to better rankings for those keywords.

Your URL also appears in the search results as the clickable headline link, just above the page title and meta description. Having a descriptive, keyword-rich URL helps entice more clicks from the search results page, increasing your organic traffic.

And once visitors land on your site, your URLs help them understand where they are on the site and navigate to other relevant content. Using descriptive, organized URLs and a logical URL structure improves the user experience and keeps visitors on your site longer – which is good for SEO.

URL Best Practices for SEO

Here are the most important things to keep in mind when optimizing your URLs for search.

  1. Keep URLs short and simple

Shorter URLs tend to rank better than long URLs. Aim to keep your page URLs under 60 characters long, with the most important keywords closer to the beginning.

Avoid unnecessary words in your URLs, like conjunctions and prepositions (and, or, but, of, for, the, a, etc.). Only include the important keywords that you want to rank for and that concisely describe the page topic.

  1. Include relevant keywords in URLs

Always include your primary 1-2 target keywords that you want the page to rank for in the URL slug. Put the most important keywords first in the URL, but avoid unnatural keyword stuffing.

You can use your page title or H1 to guide your URL slug, but your URL can be shorter and doesn‘t need to match the title exactly. Keep your URLs focused and descriptive.

  1. Avoid dynamic parameters

Google can crawl and index URLs with dynamic parameters (like ?id=123), but they are not ideal for SEO. Use static, descriptive URLs without parameters whenever possible.

If you have pages that require parameters, like filters on an ecommerce store or a calendar app, you can tell Google how to handle the parameters in Google Search Console. But avoid parameters on your main site content pages.

  1. Use hyphens to separate words

Use hyphens (-) to separate words in your URLs, not underscores (_). Hyphens are treated as word separators by search engines, while underscores are not.

Hyphens make your URLs more readable for both search engines and humans. But use them sparingly – don‘t have hyphens between every word in a long URL.

  1. Use lowercase letters

It‘s best practice to use all lowercase letters in your URLs. Some web servers are case sensitive, so having uppercase and lowercase versions of the same URL could result in duplicate content issues.

Lowercase URLs are also easier to read, link to, and share. Stick with all lowercase letters in your URLs to avoid any potential SEO or usability issues.

  1. Avoid non-ASCII characters

Only use standard ASCII characters (letters, numbers, and common symbols) in your URLs. Avoid using accented characters, emoji, or other special characters, as they can cause issues with crawling and indexing.

If you have non-English characters in your page titles or slugs, make sure to convert them to ASCII equivalents for your URLs. Most modern CMS‘s will handle this automatically.

  1. Use a consistent URL structure

It‘s important to keep your URL structure consistent across your entire site. Decide on a standard URL format and stick with it.

For example, if your blog posts live at domain.com/blog/post-title/, then always use that format. Don‘t have some posts at /blog/, others at /news/, others at /articles/, etc. Pick one URL structure for each type of page on your site.

A consistent URL structure helps search engines and users understand your site hierarchy and navigation. It keeps your site organized and improves the user experience.

  1. Optimize URL slugs for key pages

While it‘s good to have optimized URLs across your entire site, it‘s most important for your main traffic driving pages.

Do keyword research to find the top searched terms related to your products or services. Then ensure those exact keywords appear in your URL slugs for those key landing pages.

You can use Google Search Console to see which pages get the most clicks and impressions in search. Focus your URL optimization efforts on those high impact pages that are already getting organic traffic.

  1. Avoid multiple URLs for the same page

Each page on your site should only be accessible through a single URL, not multiple different URLs. Having multiple URLs that pull up the same content is confusing to search engines and can cause duplicate content issues.

It‘s common for sites to have multiple versions of the same URL with only minor differences, like:

  • http:// and https:// versions
  • www and non-www versions
  • Trailing slash and non-trailing slash versions
  • Uppercase and lowercase versions
  • Dynamic parameter versions (?=id123)

Pick a preferred version and stick with it. Then set up 301 redirects from all other URL variations to the canonical version. Use the rel=canonical tag to specify the preferred URL when you can‘t implement redirects.

  1. Match URLs to titles

Your page URLs should closely match your page titles. They don‘t need to be identical, but should contain the same target keywords in the same order if possible.

When your page titles and URLs are aligned, it sends a strong semantic signal to search engines about the page‘s topic and keyword focus. It also helps users quickly understand what the linked page is about before clicking through from the search results.

  1. Make URLs human-readable

While search engines are your top priority when it comes to URL structure, remember that humans will also be looking at and reading your URLs.

Someone should be able to look at your URL and know exactly what to expect on the page before clicking through. If your URLs look like gibberish or are stuffed with keywords, it erodes trust and reduces click-through rates.

Keep your URLs concise and descriptive, focused on the main topic and target keywords. But also make them compelling and human-friendly. Use natural language that matches how people talk and search around the topic.

  1. Update and redirect old URLs

If you update the URL of an existing page, always implement a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new one. This ensures any existing links and SEO authority get transferred to the new URL.

Avoid changing URLs unless really necessary. Redirecting URLs can be tricky, especially if the URL has existing backlinks and organic rankings. Only change URLs if:

  • The URL structure changes significantly (example: mydomain.com/blog/post-title to mydomain.com/article/post-title)
  • The page topic and keywords change substantially
  • The URL is not optimized for the right keywords
  1. Migrate to HTTPS

Google has stated that secure HTTPS URLs are a light ranking factor. But more importantly, most browsers now warn visitors before visiting non-secure HTTP pages.

If you haven‘t already done so, migrate your entire site to HTTPS. Update all internal links and implement 301 redirects from the HTTP to HTTPS versions. Then monitor and fix any HTTPS errors in Google Search Console.

  1. Use plugins to optimize URLs

If your site runs on WordPress, there are some helpful SEO plugins that can make optimizing your URLs easier:

  • Yoast SEO: Automatically generates an SEO-friendly URL slug based on the page title. Allows you to customize the URL and warns you if the URL is too long.
  • Redirection: Helps implement and manage 301 redirects when changing URLs. Tracks 404 errors to identify broken links.
  • Simple 301 Redirects: Lets you easily set up 301, 302, and 307 redirects to preserve link equity when URLs change.

These plugins take some of the manual work out of implementing SEO-friendly URL structure across your site. Just remember that plugins can slow down your site, so only use them if truly needed.

  1. Track URL rankings

Lastly, don‘t forget to track your rankings for the target keywords you‘re optimizing your URLs around. Monitor your organic search rankings and traffic in tools like Google Search Console, Google Analytics, SEMrush, or Ahrefs.

See which landing pages and URLs are driving the most organic traffic and appearing in search for your target keywords. Look for opportunities to further optimize the URL slugs on pages that are underperforming in the rankings.

You can also run your key landing page URLs through Google‘s Mobile-Friendly Test or PageSpeed Insights to identify any technical or usability issues that could be hindering your rankings.

Examples of SEO-Optimized URLs

Here are a few examples of SEO-friendly URLs:

These URLs are all concise, include the primary target keywords, are easy to read, and give a clear indication of what to expect on the linked page.

In contrast, here are some examples of poorly optimized URLs:

These URLs are either too short and generic, have dynamic parameters and file extensions, or are stuffed with too many keywords. They aren‘t very SEO-friendly or user-friendly.

Summary

Optimizing your site‘s URL structure is a critical on-page SEO factor. While it may not be the flashiest SEO tactic, it‘s one of the foundational best practices that has stood the test of time.

Well-optimized URLs help tell search engines and users what a page is about, leading to better organic rankings, more qualified search traffic, and a better user experience.

Follow the URL best practices covered above to ensure your site is set up for maximum search visibility this year and beyond. The key things to remember are:

  • Keep URLs short and keyword-focused
  • Use HTTPS and avoid URL parameters
  • Use hyphens, lowercase letters, and consistent folder structure
  • Avoid duplicate or changing URLs and use redirects when needed
  • Make URLs readable for humans, not just search engines

By applying these URL optimization tips across your site, you‘ll have a strong foundation for your other on-page and off-page SEO efforts.