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URL Structure 101: Formatting URLs that Boost SEO

Picture of Chris Kirksey
Chris Kirksey

CEO, Direction.com

How to optimize your URL Structure for Better SEO

A clear, descriptive URL optimized for search engines allows potential customers to easily find and understand the content they seek on your website.

Whether you’re building a website or just surfing the web, you’ve probably come across many different URLs. While they may seem like random strings of characters, URLs actually have a specific structure and parts that serve important purposes.

In this guide, we’ll break down the anatomy of a URL piece-by-piece to help you understand exactly what each component does.

With this knowledge, you’ll be able to create better, more optimized URLs for your own sites as well as evaluate the URLs you encounter across the internet.

What is an SEO URL Structure?

SEO URL Structure refers to creating clean, easy-to-read URLs for a website that are optimized for search engines. The goal is to have URLs that accurately reflect the content on the page and are formatted in a way that search engines can easily crawl, index, and understand. Generally, an SEO-friendly URL structure involves:

  • Using keywords that describe the page content
  • Separating words with hyphens instead of underscores or spaces
  • Avoiding stop words like “a”, “the”, etc.
  • Keeping the URL path short and directory-like
  • Using lowercase letters
  • Eliminating special characters
  • Creating unique URLs for each page
  • Implementing a consistent structure across the site

Having an SEO URL structure is important for search engine optimization because it helps search bots understand what a page is about. This can improve rankings, click-through rates, and overall findability for site content. Structured URLs also create simpler, cleaner links that are easier for users to read and remember.

The Parts of a URL

1. Scheme

The scheme refers to the protocol portion of a URL

The scheme refers to the protocol portion of a URL, typically appearing at the start of the URL. The scheme indicates what protocol a browser should use to access the resource on the web.

The most common schemes are:

  • HTTP – Stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. This is the standard protocol used for accessing regular web pages. URLs with an HTTP scheme will begin with “http://”.
  • HTTPS – Stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. This is used for secure and encrypted communication over the web. HTTPS URLs begin with “https://”.
  • FTP – Stands for File Transfer Protocol. Used for accessing files on an FTP server. FTP URLs start with “ftp://”.
  • Mailto – Used for encoding email addresses. Mailto URLs begin with “mailto:”.

Some other less common schemes include:

  • data – For embedding small pieces of content in a URL
  • javascript – For executing JavaScript code
  • tel – For encoding phone numbers
  • magnet – For torrent files

How Does Scheme Impact SEO?

  • Google and other search engines give a ranking boost to https sites over http in search results. This is because https provides better security and data integrity.
  • The switch from http to https signals to search engines that a website is legitimate, secure and should be trusted. This improves crawling and indexing.
  • Https prevents data sent between the browser and server from being intercepted or modified. This is essential for sites handling logins, payments or sensitive user info.
  • Having all URLs on a site use https avoids mixed content warnings that stem from combining http and https resources. This provides a consistent experience.
  • Https enables full use of browser features like geolocation, push notifications, and service workers that require secure origins. This allows richer, app-like experiences.

2. Subdomain

The subdomain is the part of the domain name that precedes the registered domain name

The subdomain is the part of the domain name that precedes the registered domain name. It refers to the levels of divisions that exist below the primary domain name.

Some key things to know about subdomains:

  • Subdomains allow you to divide a domain into smaller categorized sections, such as support.example.com or blog.example.com.
  • The subdomain is optional – you can have a domain with or without a subdomain.
  • Subdomains are preceded by the primary domain, separated by a dot (mail.example.com).
  • There can be multiple levels of subdomains, such as support.uk.example.com.
  • Subdomains can be used to test versions of a website before launch.
  • Subdomains improve SEO by dividing a site into logical sections.
  • Subdomains are one way to follow a CC TLD (country code top level domain) like .co.uk or .de.

3. Second-Level Domain

url structure second level domain 1

The second-level domain is the first label to the left of the top-level domain in a domain name.

Specifically:

  • The second-level domain comes after the subdomain (if there is one) and before the top-level domain.
  • It is the main identifier for the organization or brand.
  • Second-level domains must be registered and are unique. No two organizations can have the same second-level domain.

4. Top-Level Domain

A top-level domain (TLD) is the ending part of a domain name after the last dot.

A top-level domain (TLD) is the ending part of a domain name after the last dot. Top-level domains indicate the zone or category for a domain, such as the country it is registered in or its intended usage.

Some key facts about top-level domains:

  • They appear at the end of the domain name after the last dot. For example, .com, .org, .net.
  • They can be 2-6+ characters long and contain letters, numbers, and hyphens.
  • TLDs are controlled and assigned by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).
  • There are different categories of TLDs:
    • Generic TLDs (gTLDs) like .com, .org, .net – indicate usage or ownership
    • Country-code TLDs (ccTLDs) like .us, .ca, .in – indicate the country
    • New gTLDs like .nyc, .blog, .tech – added recently to expand options
  • The most common gTLDs are .com, .net, .org used for commercial, network, and organization sites.
  • TLD choice can be an important factor for SEO, branding, and target audience.

5. Subdirectory

url structure subdirectory 1

A subdirectory in a URL refers to a directory or folder that is contained within the main domain. It comes after the domain name and before the filename.

For example, in the URL:

www.example.com/blog/article.html

  • “www.example.com” is the domain
  • “/blog/” is the subdirectory
  • “article.html” is the file name

Key things to know about subdirectories in URLs:

  • They organize content into logical groupings and hierarchies, like folders on a computer.
    Subdirectories come after a forward slash following the domain.
  • They can be nested and have multiple levels, such as /news/local/ or /products/books/scifi/.
  • Well-structured subdirectories improve SEO by dividing a site into relevant categories.
  • Duplicating subdirectory structures is not ideal for SEO. Each should be unique.
  • Very deep subdirectory structures like /a/b/c/d/e/page.html can negatively impact SEO.
  • Subdirectories look like site folders but are not physical directories on the server.

6. Port

The port in a URL specifies the technical "doorway" through which requests and responses flow between the client and the server

The port in a URL specifies the technical “doorway” through which requests and responses flow between the client and the server.

Some key points about ports in URLs:

  • Ports are designated by a number following the domain/IP address separated by a colon. For example: example.com:8080
  • The standard ports are:
    • Port 80 for HTTP
    • Port 443 for HTTPS
  • If no port is specified in a URL, port 80 (HTTP) is assumed by default.
  • Specifying a port explicitly in the URL overrides the protocol default port.
  • Common non-standard ports include 8080, 3000, etc for development servers.
  • Using a custom port allows running multiple web services on one IP address.
  • Port numbers range from 0 to 65535. Ports 0 to 1023 are reserved for common protocols and services.
  • Accessing a site by IP address instead of domain name requires specifying the port.
  • Search engines typically crawl sites using the standard HTTP/HTTPS ports of 80 and 443.

7. Path

The path in a URL refers to the specific page or file being requested on the website

The path in a URL refers to the specific page or file being requested on the website. The path comes after the domain name and before any parameters or anchor.

Some key things about the path in a URL:

  • Comes after the domain/subdomains but before the filename or any URL parameters.
  • Indicates a virtual “path” to the resource, like directory structure.
  • Paths can go multiple “folders” deep, e.g. example.com/folder1/folder2/page
  • Often corresponds to actual directories on the web server.
  • Typically contains words and hyphens separated by forward slashes.
  • Should be meaningful and indicate page content.
  • Used by search engines to understand what a page is about.
  • Unique paths are best for SEO – no duplicate content.
  • Paths are typically case-sensitive on web servers.
  • The path ends before any “?” or “#” in the URL.

8. Query

url structure query 1

The query string in a URL contains additional parameters provided to the web server or application. It appears after the path, preceded by a question mark “?”.

Some key points about query strings:

  • Consists of field/value pairs like ?name=John&age=20
  • Used to send small amounts of data to the server via the URL
  • Often includes field names like “id”, “type”, “color”
  • Values are assigned using the equals sign (=)
  • Pairs are separated using an ampersand (&)
  • Used frequently in search forms and results pages
  • Can contain sensitive data like usernames, locations, etc.
  • Length limitations vary by browser and web server
  • Query strings create dynamic URLs instead of static ones
  • Can impact SEO if URLs change frequently
  • Codes like PHP can read and parse query string data

9. Parameters

Parameters in a URL are additional pieces of data attached to the end of the URL that provide extra information to the server or web application

Parameters in a URL are additional pieces of data attached to the end of the URL that provide extra information to the server or web application. The parameters come after the path portion of the URL, beginning with a “?” question mark.

Here are some key points about URL parameters:

  • Used to pass data dynamically to the server without having to submit an HTML form.
  • Take the form of name-value pairs like ?id=423 or ?name=john&age=20
  • Parameter names are separated from values by an “=” equals sign.
  • Multiple parameters are separated by an “&” ampersand symbol.
  • Useful for personalizing pages, filtering data, tracking analytics, etc.
  • Allow the same URL path to deliver different results based on the parameters.
  • Can make URLs long and complex if overused.
  • Used after submit buttons in HTML forms to append form data.
  • Accessed by server-side scripts like PHP to customize responses.
  • Can impact SEO if parameters create duplicate or dynamic URLs.

10. Fragments

Fragments in a URL, also called anchors, refer to an internal page reference that links to a specific section or element on a web page

Fragments in a URL, also called anchors, refer to an internal page reference that links to a specific section or element on a web page. Fragments appear near the end of the URL after a “#” pound sign.

Some key points about fragments/anchors in URLs:

  • Used to link to in-page sections like <div> or <id> elements.
  • Allow linking directly to parts of long pages instead of just the top.
  • Format is #fragment-id or #section-name.
  • Clicking a fragment link scrolls the target element into view.
  • Used heavily on Wikipedia, long articles, and FAQs.
  • Help create more navigable long-form content.
  • Don’t get sent to the server – processed by the browser.
  • Can indicate in-page app states or AJAX views.
  • Multiple can be chained like index.html#chapter1#subtitle2
  • May not function as expected if target elements don’t exist.

8 Best Practices to Create an SEO-Friendly URL

There are a plethora of topics covered under the umbrella term “SEO”. One of the topics that can often go overlooked is building a quality URL. A high-quality URL is arguably one of the most important ranking factors in SEO.

For most, a website’s URL link is just a unique address that shows the location of your website. For SEO specialists and digital marketers, however, it can mean much, much more.

A site’s URL can contain a lot of valuable information, not just for web users, but for search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

If you are in the digital marketing/SEO realm, everything is in the details; you cannot cut corners or leave any stones unturned if your goal is to optimize your own website or your clients.

If one of your goals is to get you or your clients ranking and increase visibility, here are some of the important keystones to building a quality URL link:

optimizing urls for seo

1. Readability

There’s a high chance that while you were browsing a website, you ran into a URL that was filled with characters, and not words following the domain name. 

For example,

www.horribleURLexample.com/URL#@/23654/example/$”.

Look like something you’ve seen?

At a glance, there’s no trying to understand that URL. If you have a difficult time comprehending and trusting where exactly this URL will take you, and what will be on the webpage. Those unattractive characters following the domain name tell a user nothing about the content and topics that the site contains.

If this is the case for you, chances are that search engines won’t comprehend what’s on the page either. Ultimately, this may result in search engines assigning you a lower ranking, or even worse still, no ranking at all. 

2. Avoid Using Underscores

This is an important one because Google has explicitly confirmed this to be true. Google does not like underscores.

Technically, Google treats underscores as a word joiner, meaning that words that you separate with an underscore will be treated as one long term, not separate terms like you probably intended them to be.

For example, “Google_dislikes_underscores” will be interpreted by Google as “Googledislikesunderscores”; not very appealing at all.

Instead, try to use hyphens as word separators like such, “Google-dislikes-underscores”. Google will then treat each of these terms as individuals from the following terms.

3. Include Target Keywords

After you or your business has performed keyword research, including the specific keywords that you are targeting within the URL will certainly help you rank.

Let’s say you’re a web store that sells office supplies such as corporate office chairs.

A URL link such as, “www.officesupplies.com/corporate-office-chairs/” is a clear indicator to search engines that the URL will direct the search engines and users to a product page containing corporate office chairs.

Always remember, the role of search engines is to provide users with accurate, reliable, and valuable information. Search engine algorithms put themselves in the perspective of their users. If search engines are confused by a URL structure, they’ll assume that users will be confused as well. Have fun trying to rank.

4. Add Favicons

Favicons are small icons next to the URL link in the address bar of the web browser. Many underestimate the value of adding favicons, but they can provide a lot of value to front-end users.

favicon browser bar

By adding favicons, not only does it aesthetically look more appealing, but it adds branding and recognition.

Favicons also help users associate the image with your company in their bookmarks tab.

Tip: bookmarking a website can actually help its rankings also

5. Use Less Path/Page Folders

Search engines will consider the terms in the root folder as the priority or most valuable information.

A URL with too many paths can confuse the search engine, often times. Considering this, you must be very strategic in what you place in the root folder of the URL.

To illustrate, consider this link: “www.officesupplies.com/office/office-supplies/chairs/office-chairs/”.

This isn’t the worst URL link in the world, but there is definitely room for improvement!

A better URL link will look like this: “www.officesupplies.com/office-chairs”. This example will show more authority than the former.

6. Avoid Using Hashes In URLs

The use of hashes (#) is used by some URLs to point the browser to the certain fragment or portion of your site. It’s used by website owner’s to conveniently direct front-end users to a part of their site that they believe will provide value to them.

However, Google has recommended against using hashes in URL links as they can cause errors and malfunctions on the site. Many times the hashes will not correctly direct the user to the intended portion of the web page. This can ultimately lead to poor user experiences.

Depending on some websites, the content on the page may not be displayed correctly if the hash and fragment identifier are missing in the URL.

As a general rule of thumb, play it safe – hire an expert. This will ensure that your site runs smoothly and displays content correctly across all platforms.

7. URL Length

Last on our list of tips is the length of your URL link.

There are a few exceptions, however, in most cases, the shorter URL will tend to rank higher than URL’s that are longer.

Google’s data has shown that URL’s longer than 60 characters tend to rank lower whereas the top ranking URL’s tend to be within 50-60 characters. Try to use 3-5 words to get your webpage’s message across. Shorter URL’s simply look cleaner and it’s less of an eye strain to your users.

A great example? Look in your browser and see how we only used two words in this blog posts’ URL.

If you think that some of your URL’s exceed 60 characters, go through your links and remove any characters that are unnecessary. Focus on keeping only the characters you need to show users and search engines what that particular webpage contains.

8. Encryption

No if, ands or buts. Your website URL must be encrypted with https:// in order to adhere to SEO best-practices.

If you follow these 8 tips to constructing a quality SEO-friendly URL, you should significantly increase your chances of ranking on search engines, leading to more exposure and new users/sessions.

Want us to build your website URL structure for SEO-best practices? Get in touch with us today.

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