Website Structure Part 1

A common thing we hear every now and then is that SEO-friend URL structure doesn’t exist. It’s claimed that search engines can be perfectly capable of understanding any type of URL structure. In many cases, these people are website developers (we love Web devs, by the way).

It’s come to our attention that website developers and SEOs live in two separate, parallel universes each having its own center of gravity. Web developers care about site speed, crawlability and other technical aspects while SEOs main focus is usually focused on website ranking and return on investment (ROI).

And because of this what constitutes a good site structure to a web developer can many times be not-so SEO friendly URL architecture to an SEO.

Ok, so what’s SEO friendly site (URL) structure?

First off, let’s start by saying it’s always better to consult with an SEO when you’re just starting your website—at the development stage—so there’s no need to make hard-to-implement changes in the end.

From an SEO managers POV, a website’s URL structure should look:

  • Meaningful: URL names need to have keywords, not a bunch of numbers and punctuation.
  • Straightforward: Duplicate content in your URL needs to have canonical URLs that specify them; confusing redirects that are present on the website shouldn’t exist.
  • Emphasize the right URLs: SEO-speaking, not all URLs are created equal. You might even need to hide some from the search engines. Simultaneously, pages that should be accessible to search engines need to be open for indexing and crawling.

How does one go about achieving an SEO-friendly website URL structure? Read on.

The non-www and www domain versions need to be consolidated

Two major versions of your indexed domain exist in the search engines. There is the www and the non-www version. There is more than one way to consolidate these, but I would mention the practice that’s most widely accepted.

The great majority of SEOs employ the 301 redirect in order to point a version of their website to the other (and vice versa).

As another option (say, when you cannot do a redirect), one can specify your most preferred version using the Google Webmaster Tools. You go to Configuration, then Settings, then Preferred Domain. It does, however, have certain drawbacks:

  • The option is restricted to just your root domain. Should you have an website, this might not be for you.
  • It only takes care of Google.

So why do you need to care about the non www vs www issue? Backlinks. Some of them may point to the www version and others could go to the non-www version.

So, in order to consolidate the SEO for both versions, it’s best to establish a link between the two (you can do a 301 redirect, or using Google Webmaster Tools, do a canonical tag which we’ll go into later on).

Avoid relative and dynamic URLs

Depending on your CMS (or content management system), the URLs it produces might be “pretty” such as this one:

or “not so pretty” such as this one:

As I mentioned earlier, search engines don’t have a problem with either variation, but certain reasons make it more advantageous to employ static (prettier) URLs instead of dynamic (not so pretty) ones. You must remember, static URLs have your keywords and are user-friendly because you can find out what a page is about, all you must do is look at the URL.

Also, Google recommends the use of hyphens (-) in place of underscores (_) in the URL names because a phrase in which words are strung together using the underscore gets treated by Google the same way a single word is, e.g. a_single_word is asingleword to Google.

And remember that some website developers use relative URLs. The issue with using relative URLs is that they’re context dependent. If the context changes, you might find that the URL doesn’t work. SEO-speaking, it’s better to employ absolute URLs rather than relative ones, due to the former being what search engines are looking for.

Every so often different parameters are employed to the URL for Google Analytics tracking or some other reason. To make certain these parameters don’t allow the number or URLs that have duplicate content grow too much, one can do either of the following:

  • Check if your CMS will allow solidification of URLs and additional parameters along with their short counterparts.
  • Check to see if Google will disregard certain URL parameters using the Google Webmaster Tools. Just go to Configuration then URL Parameters.

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