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What’s in a name: Secrets to a great URL

It’s no secret that the setup for your website determines how easily people can find it online; in fact, it’s the core concept of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). What is less commonly known is that a huge part of getting more traction on your website happens before anyone, from visitors to Google’s indexing bots, even opens a single page on your site. Today, we’ll be looking at how your web address or URL is a major factor in how successfully your website attains your goals.

To start off with an easy example, let’s say we have someone who is searching for a chocolate chip cookie recipe – without taking a look at the sites themselves, and just going on the basis of their URLs, which of these three addresses looks most likely to provide the right kind of information?

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All three of these recipes show up in the results for ‘chocolate chip cookie’ recipes, but the first one shows up as significantly higher in search results, and it’s easy to see why: this URL has a descriptive domain name, and it plainly shows that the page is in a section of the site containing recipes, and has the search term ‘chocolate chip cookies’ as one of the first things you see. (Note: There are a great many other factors in SEO, too many to go into in just this article, and all three of these sites are great; this is simply an example of how one’s URL can potentially help its SEO placement).

The other two pages could be built using the top-of-the-line methods of coding with a website design by one of the biggest names in the industry, but ultimately it won’t matter as much because their URLs don’t give people or search engines anywhere near as much descriptive information.

Let’s go through each of the relevant parts of a URL to determine what works and what doesn’t:

1) Getting the right domain name

Getting the right domain name can be tricky – not only are you looking for something that will give people an unambiguous idea of what your site’s all about, but you’ll need one that hasn’t already been taken – according to a 2013 study, over 250,000,000 domain names have been registered!

If your website is for a business or a brand that’s already been established, it can be a bit easier (Amazon.com, for instance, has nothing to do with the river, but hasn’t really had a problem with branding), but if you’re starting from scratch, finding a quick way to be descriptive of the type of site someone is visiting is an important element – both to have keywords in the site (important to search engines) and to be memorably descriptive (more enticing to visitors and easier to remember the name of for return visits).

In this case, the domain allrecipes.com is a good one because it’s really easy to remember, gives a good bit of information with its name (it’s all recipes, not baking recipes, or cajun recipes, etc.), and it has a keyword in it that’s often searched: recipes. Having ‘recipes’ right there in the domain name helps filter out a lot of useless search information – people aren’t looking for restaurants or bakeries with cookies, they’re looking specifically for how to make them for themselves.

2) Setting an informative directory path

The second part of a successful URL is its directory path, which is vital for organizing and prioritizing a site’s content. Going back to the example sites, if we take a look at the difference between the first example and the second two:
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For the top site, we can tell right away that the cookie recipe in question is located under a section called /recipe/, which means that we (and search engines) would know how to see more recipes without necessarily needing to go right back to the home page, and it gives a pretty good indicator of how the rest of the site will be organized.

For the other two sites, it’s not really immediately apparent how to get to other recipes, and it doesn’t tell us much how the site is organized. While this can be slightly confusing for people, it can be an issue for search engines which specifically try to figure out the highest priority pages and sections of a site. The directory path /my-kind-of-stuffing/ doesn’t let us know if there are other sections of the site relating to cookies, recipes, or whether or not they should be viewed as being any more or less important than other pages on the site. For myspicesage.com, it’s even more confusing – would the recipe landing page be under: /recipe/, /index/, /index/index/, or /id/?

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3) Making a keyword-friendly filename

As far as the filename is concerned, this is pretty basic – it should be the most specific part in the URL, helping it to distinguish from any other similar or related pages. Once again, notice that the allrecipes.com result is the only one that actually mentions what the name of the recipe is for – the bakerella.com recipe is for a type of chocolate chip cookie, but doesn’t mention it, and the myspicesage.com doesn’t give an indication that the page in question is anything more than a recipe from its directory path.

Given the importance of keywords to search engines, it’s no surprise that the allrecipes.com site appears so much higher – it hits every single keyword in ‘chocolate chip cookie recipe,’ with one added benefit – it uses the word ‘best.’ This single word when used properly in a page URL can help search results, because it’s accurately and simply predicting user behavior. There are at the very least many thousands of chocolate chip cookie recipes online – many people are likely to simply try to figure out the best recipe by typing in the word ‘best’ along with chocolate chip cookie recipe.

While people can actually determine for themselves what the best chocolate chip cookie recipe is (i.e., by making cookies) search engines are more limited. It can take user reviews into account, or by measuring which recipe has the highest number of backlinks, but it might take a more literal route – it will return the ‘best’ result by simply returning a result with the word ‘best’ in it. It sounds simple – and it is. But it can work!

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of factors affecting SEO, but one of the most commonly overlooked ones is the URL of the page itself. Before the first bit of a page is downloaded, the URL is seen by people and search engines alike, and can be optimized to give a better, more descriptive sense of not just a webpage, but the entire site to which it belongs.

For more information on how to improve your site, please contact projects@watermelonwebworks.com to see how we can put our expertise to work for you.

1 Comment

  1. Jeffrey · April 7, 2016 Reply

    This is the perfect piece of information which I was looking for.

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