A Gentle Guide to an SEO-Friendly URL Structure

Before sharing your first blog post, one of the things you should pay attention to is how your blog posts and their URLs should be organized. I will talk about how to make an SEO-friendly URL structure, best practices, and what you should avoid.

Before sharing your first blog post, one of the things you should pay attention to is how your blog posts and their URLs should be organized. I will talk about how to make an SEO-friendly URL structure, best practices, and what you should avoid.

Please make sure to complete this article if your intent is to rank on search engines. I have learned these lessons in a hard way. I wasted a great deal of time fixing my mistakes. 

Therefore, I recommend reading this article before writing your first blog post.

A Gentle Guide to an SEO-Friendly URL Structure

An SEO-friendly URL structure is crucial for improving your website's visibility and ranking on search engines. When your URLs are optimized for SEO, it becomes easier for search engine crawlers to understand the context and relevance of your web pages. This can result in higher rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs) and increased organic traffic to your website. Additionally, an SEO-friendly URL structure can enhance the user experience by making it easier for visitors to navigate your site and find the information they are looking for.

I assume you chose the blogging platform for your posts. Otherwise, you can check Best Blogging Platforms.

Let's get started with the essential questions that clarify the importance of having an SEO-friendly URL structure

What happens when you don't have an SEO-friendly URL structure?

If you don't follow the practices here, it may be possible for Google to index a page differently than you thought. (We’ll discuss that later.)

You link to another article in one of your posts. Later, you realize the link targets a URL other than the one Google has indexed.  

If rankings on search engines are your concern, you should either change the link’s address to the address of what Google indexed or manually remove that page from Google search results. If you are dealing with many pages, such as an e-commerce website, it would take you many hours to fix that.

You can watch the official answer of Google that mentions the potential adverse effects when you change your URL structure later on. 

An Analogy for Understanding URLs and Domains

Maybe an analogy explains better what a URL and a domain name are. 

URL is the abbreviation of Uniform Resource Locator (URL), colloquially known as a web page’s unique address.

The part after the TLD (Top Level Domain) is customizable by you (if you are the registrant of that domain), and the main topic of this article is how you should customize that.

The parts of a URL

Almost all of us have mobile phones. A mobile phone has a unique phone number, similar to a website's URL. It is difficult to remember phone numbers; thus, we save a phone number with a proper name, such as to whom it belongs. After, when we try to call a friend in the contact list, the mobile device calls the number of that friend. 

This is similar to a website such as the one you are reading. A website's actual address consists of several numbers that we call IP numbers. IP numbers are also difficult to remember, like mobile phone numbers.

Domain and IP addresses

Wouldn't it be nice if we could save those IP numbers with a proper name? Yes, and we are doing that. Browsers do that for us in the background.

The main difference between those two situations is to whom those records are available and accessible.

A contact with a name and a phone number exists only on the registered device.

On the other hand, when you buy (!) a domain name, you actually rent it for a limited time. More specifically, you become the domain holder and have the right to which IP address that domain name should point out.

Moreover, the record that holds the domain name and the IP number it points out is globally available.

How browsers know the IP number of any domain is the topic of public DNS (Domain Name System) resolver and it is out of the scope of this article.

Is it possible to get a custom domain for free?

No, you can't get a custom domain for free. Even if there are platforms that tell you otherwise, they will only offer you this if you buy or subscribe a product from them.

There are only a few small exceptions to this. If you are a student and you have an email address with an "edu" top-level domain (TLD), some platforms will allow you to register your custom domain with a very specific TLD, such as ".tech" or ".me".

If you are a student and need a free custom domain, you can read the "Free Resources for Students" section of my article "Free Blog Sites for Students".


Part I: An introduction to SEO-friendly URL structures

The first thing to understand is the ideal pattern for a blog post URL. 

Which URL structure is better for SEO?

At a higher level, you have two options to structure your blog post URLs:

  1. Flat URL structure

  2. Hierarchical URL structure (top-down or pyramid)

SEO-friendly URL structures: Flat or Hierarchical

According to an official answer from Google, using a hierarchical URL rather than a flat one seems more beneficial. 

What are the benefits of using a hierarchical URL structure?

It helps you keep semantically related content together. By doing that, you signal a message to the crawlers. This helps search engines understand the context of the post better.

Moreover, separating blog posts according to their categories allows you to create different content silos for different topics. Even free blogging platforms support that feature.

But what does that mean?

What is a content silo?

A content silo is a method of grouping related content together on your website to establish the site's keyword-based topical areas or themes. Think of it as organizing your website into different sections, or "silos," each dedicated to a specific topic. This SEO-friendly URL structure helps search engines understand the themes of your site, and it also enhances the user experience by making navigation easier.

Content Silos

Example of Content Silos

Let me give another example of content silos rather than the image above.

Let's say you have a website for a bakery that sells cakes, bread, and pastries. You could create three content silos, one for each category of product. Each silo would house content related to that category, such as recipes, product descriptions, customer reviews, and blog posts. By dividing your content this way, you make it easier for users to find what they're looking for and clarify what your site is all about to search engines.

Tips for Implementing Content Silos

Here are a few tips for creating effective content silos on your website: - Choose topics and keywords that are relevant to your business and your target audience. - Use a consistent structure for each silo, with similar headings, subheadings, and formatting. - Link between related content within each silo, as well as between silos. - Use descriptive, keyword-rich URLs for each silo and page within the silo. - Monitor your website analytics to see how users are interacting with your content and adjust your silo structure as needed.

In other words, content silos may play a role in being an authority on different topics.  

Another question is coming.

What does being an authority on a topic means?

One of the four pillars of search engine optimization (E-E-A-T) is being an authority (A) on the topic you want to rank for. It means more than just knowledge.

People with authority on a specific topic are trusted and influential people on that topic.

They consistently provide value to others through their expertise. 

This concept is also known as topical authority. 

What does topical authority mean?

The term refers to the level of expertise or credibility a website or content creator has on a specific subject matter. It's like being the go-to source for information on that particular topic. The concept is rooted in the idea that search engines, like Google, favor sites that provide comprehensive and reliable information on specific topics. 

What are the benefits of having topical authority for a website owner?

By grouping related content under specific category slugs, you establish your site as an authoritative source on the subject and help search engines understand the number of pieces of content you have on the topic.

If you need a deeper knowledge about that, I can suggest you to read these two articles:

  

Considering the benefits I mentioned above, I can say that using a hierarchical URL structure is better.

This means you should categorize your blog posts and insert the category’s slug between a  post slug and the domain, separated by a slash. 

Preventing Duplicate Content

However, if you are using the URL structure that follows <code>/category/post-slug</code>, it is possible that you will have duplicate content issues. Let me clarify.

It is not a rare scenario for a post with multiple categories.

This causes content duplication.

To prevent this, you must use the canonical address method.

For a given post with multiple categories, you choose one of them as the canonical address and use that one in all versions of that post. By doing that, you tell Google to index only the canonical address and ignore others.

Canonical

Now, we can proceed to the next part. 


Part II: Making Blog Post URLs as SEO-friendly

Keyword research is the first step in search engine optimization.  However, it is not the scope of this article. For the sake of the continuity of this article, I’ll assume that you did keyword research and decided to rank one of those keywords from the research.

So, we have a keyword that we want to rank for.

Before proceeding, I must mention one very important term: slug.

What is a slug?

Slug is a part of the URL and makes a page distinct from another. The human-readable and URL-normalized version of the given text can be a category name or a post title.  The blogging platform you choose generally automates this text process but can be changed manually. 

For instance, in "www.example.com/books/fiction", the slug, 'books/fiction', is composed of the slugified versions of category and the product names.

This is the most important part of structuring your blog post URLs, and it must be applied to both the category and the post part of a URL.

If you are not sure how to convert a title to a slug, you can use an online tool to slugify any text. .

We have already decided which keyword we want to rank for. 

One of the best practices for search engine optimization is using the keyword in the URL. But why?

Does using keywords in URLs Affect Rankings?

Yes, using keywords in URLs is a ranking factor. On the other hand, according to Google Search Advocate John Mueller, it has a very lightweight effect.

This means we will mention the keyword in the slug. 

In general, the post slug is auto-generated by your blogging platform. If it is auto-generated, you’ll see that the slug of the post is based on the title of the post. It is a common practice also.

The more important part is how you customize that slug, either based on the title or not. 

Creating SEO-friendly URLs for Your Blog Posts

It is important to follow a set of best practices that make your URLs more readable and relevant to both users and search engines. 

To apply these practices, your blogging platform must support a category and tag system. Otherwise, you can check the blogging platforms that support the category system.

Here are some guidelines to make SEO-friendly URLs:

Use Descriptive Keywords

Incorporate the primary keyword related to your blog post into the URL to explain what the post is about. This helps with SEO and gives users an idea of what to expect before they click the link.

Keep it Simple and Specific

Aim to keep your URL structure simple, short, and precise. Although the URL length does not affect rankings, it would be nice to avoid long and complex URLs. By following this practice, you can focus on the most important keywords that capture the essence of your blog post.

Use Hyphens to Separate Words

Even though it doesn't affect rankings which one do you prefer, to enhance readability, use hyphens rather than underscores to separate words within your URL. You 

Avoid Unnecessary Words

Trim stop words like "and," "or," "but," "the," etc., as they add unnecessary length and don't contribute much to search engine understanding.

Utilize Lowercase Letters

URLs are case-sensitive by definition. Although it is possible to use all upper case, all lowercase, or maybe mixed case, it's a standard practice to use all lowercase letters in URLs to avoid confusion. Google says its crawler can handle those variations, but it needs to be figured out first. Therefore, please follow all lowercase practice.

Omit Special Characters

Special characters and symbols can make URLs look cluttered and can cause issues with some browsers and servers. Use letters without the diacritical version. Stick to letters and numbers only if that number makes sense where possible.

Exclude Dates and Numbers

Unless they're integral to the content, avoid including dates and excessive numbers, which can make your URL unnecessarily long and less evergreen.

Avoid Keyword Repetition

Don't overuse keywords in the URL as this can look spammy and may not be beneficial for SEO.

To illustrate some of these practices, you can inspect the image below.

SEO-friendly URLs

The image above shows an example slug of a post with a title "What types of Kyber Crystals Exists?" located under "Star Wars" category.

By adhering to these practices, you have SEO-friendly URLs for your blog posts. These tips contribues to a better user experience and potentially improving the visibility and ranking of your content in search results.