Similarly to businesses naming side streets around their headquarters something relevant to the business, adjusting your content’s address to describe what it does will make it easier for people to find. The URL, also known as the web address, is the text line that someone enters in a web browser to locate a specific content item. For example, Google’s URL is “Google.com.”
Writers and editors often have the opportunity to customize part of a blog or article URL during the content generation process. Content creators that understand how URLs work can devise custom URLs that can boost quality content to the top of search results pages. Tech writers have a bit of an advantage in this area because they are likely familiar with how URLs work as compressed data entry systems.
1. Describe the Content
If a person were to read the URL, they should get an idea of what page it leads to: the more it makes sense, the better. The words in the URL should make semantic sense and accurately describe the content. Readable URLs are very important for when people drop your links in social media or emails, as the URL text itself becomes both the link and the link text. URLs are also displayed in search engine results and people are more likely to click on ones that explain the content. IT helps to use the page’s title when developing a URL. This method works for article pages better than it does for hub pages. For example, an article called “Taco Tuesday Tips” could use a URL like “MySite.com/Taco-Tuesday-Tips.html.” However, hub pages like the “MySite.com” homepage do not need any additional descriptors.
2. Shorter URLs are Superior
An ideal URL is around 50-60 characters long, following the same cutoff point as page titles in SEO best practices. URLs that are longer than 100 characters are problematic, so to stay within the limits you can start with dropping unnecessary words. Articles like “the” and “a” can be removed because people can make sense of the URL without them and they offer no benefits to SEO. Also remove stop words like “and,” “but,” “or,” and “etc.” as they have little to no SEO value. However, you may opt to leave some of them in if it makes the URL more readable to humans. Generally speaking, you should also drop punctuation because including characters like”?,” “#,” and “&” can break the URL. On the development side, having as few folders as possible leading to the content in the site hierarchy is better. It also helps to use as few subdomains as possible. You’re stuck with the domain name, so this puts sites with a longer address at a disadvantage. IE8 and earlier limit URL lengths to 2083 characters, so watch out for that length, recommended to keep it at 2048 characters or less (2KB).
3. Use Keywords in URLs
Search engines place a lot of value on the words in a page’s title and URL, so these are both prime places to use your desired search keywords. In many cases, the keywords already appear in the page title, but if they don’t they can be appended to the URL. You should focus on using only one or two keywords and avoid keyword stuffing at all costs. Search engines penalize pages that use keywords unrelated to the content.
4. Use Hyphens between Words
Hyphens are the ideal character to use for separating words in the URL. The other solutions can be problematic for search engines and human readability. For example, using underscores between words can be disastrous for Google results because the search engine combines underscore separated words into singular terms, which kills keyword performance. Using “%20” instead of a space generates a URL that is difficult for people to read. Alternatively, using “+” can cause problems because it is a reserved character.
While custom tailoring your content URLs to meet SEO best practices can help improve your search ranking, screwing it up can backfire and lead to broken links. Additionally, it takes time to generate a SEO-friendly URL. When in doubt or in a time crunch, it’s a best practice to fall back on the page’s title value using hyphens to space between words and removing all special characters. This fallback method may produce URLs that are too long and include unnecessary words, but they will perform reliably well and won’t hurt the site.
Dan S is a former news journalist turned web developer and freelance writer. He has a penchant for all things tech and believes the person using the machine is the most important element.