Unless you have a proper URL structure, search engines will have a hard time finding your content in the first place. Broadly speaking, sites created with HTML have .htm or .html as the URL ending, and those with PHP (WordPress, for example), don’t. Whatever extension you prefer, make sure it remains constant throughout your site. What happens when you use different extensions for different pages? Well, a lot of confusion for visitors who are trying to reach a page by typing from memory, and search engines might consider this a sign of an unorganized website.
Without a proper URL structure, the most noticeable effect will be a drop in your ranking. In fact, you might never rank at all. Here are the best practices: don’t follow them at your own peril!
Make It Meaningful
Use words instead of numbers as far as possible. Try to make your URL sound like the title of a post. It should tell the person viewing it on SERP what they may expect to find when the reach the URL destination. Something like yoursite.com/categorynumber/postnumber does not say much about anything. To use a real life example, lifehacker.com/5796318/the-cheapskates-guide-to-getting-free-dropbox-space is descriptive enough. It leads to an article titled ‘Dangers of Sodium Bentonite Cat Litter’.
Should You Allow a Sub-Domain in Your URL?
Sometimes, the structure of your site content is such that a part of it is starkly different from the rest. In that case, it demands a sub-domain to maintain its identity. In our example, the ‘cat-litter’ part is the directory of the blog that is attached to the main site kapush.net.
There are concerns that link juice is diluted if you have sub-domains since they are standalone entities. However, the need for having a sub-domain and maintaining a proper site and content structure (and hierarchy) outweighs the link juice question. In any case, when you look at Google Analytics or something similar, you’ll find that the main domain actually gets credit for what the sub-domains earn (backlinks, social shares and the like). In our opinion, a proper site structure that goes to create search engine friendly URLs is what you should be aiming for, and everything else will fall in place.
Of Hyphen, Underscore and Space
Our example URL is hyphenated without space because search engines like it that way. If you have a space, a ‘%20’ sign will appear to fill it in, making you look very amateurish, indeed. As for underscores, don’t use them – search engines don’t like to read them at all.
Words like ‘as’ , ‘in’, ‘of’ or ‘the’ should be avoided as they only serve to make the URL longer without adding value. Notice the difference between the title and the URL in our example – ‘of’ has been eliminated.
Keywords and Their Position
The keyword in our example is ‘sodium bentonite’. It is best to use the keyword as early as possible in the URL. Even with the latest updates in Google’s policies, keywords will still be made to look bold in SERP display. Most experts try to remain on the safe side and use keywords in URLs, – but naturally. Our URL uses a slug that shifts the keyword to the beginning even while remaining true to the original title.
On a different note, the title could not have been written in the same manner because that would have been bad English – it is important to maintain quality of content as far as possible.
Maintaining a Simple Directory Structure
If you have too many directories, the URL becomes needlessly convoluted: yoursite.com/articles/article-category/article-date/article-author/article-type-guest-post/article-name. However you might choose to actually name your directories, the URL will still look ridiculous. Search engines and humans alike prefer simple, easy to understand structures. The ideal URL in this case would have been yoursite.com/article-name/ with the possible inclusion of article-date since that helps people to find the most updated stuff in the SERP. This could work both ways, however; people might avoid clicking on your perfectly good article link and go to something more recent instead (even if it turns out to be relatively low quality).
Additionally, you should read Google’s guidelines on setting up redirections and using the rel=canonical. This is especially relevant if you have a blog, because unlike sites, people will be able to reach your posts even if they don’t type in the exactly correct slug, creating a duplicate URL with each successful attempt. This is where link-juice is truly diluted, and you should definitely make sure that that doesn’t happen. Make sure also that you don’t use caps in the URL – an amateurish practice, again.