The Anatomy of a Search-friendly URL

When considering your SEO strategy it is easy to focus all of your attention on your website’s content, as well as earning backlinks to that content. After all, we’re told time and time again that these are the most important factors in regards to ranking well for the terms that are important to you.

That’s true, they are, but backing that up with some of the more technical ranking factors is still essential to ensure you’re getting the most from your SEO.

Even the makeup of your website’s URLs can have an impact, but what does the perfect search-friendly URL look like?

Short URLs rank higher

This point sounds logical enough — the shorter the URL the easier it is for Google (and the user) to understand — and it is also backed up by the data.

In Backlinko’s analysis of more than one million Google search results they found clear correlation between URL length and rankings, while Matt Cutts himself said:

“If you can make your title four- or five-words long… As [a URL] gets a little longer, then it starts to look a little worse. Our algorithms typically will just weight those words less and just not give you as much credit.”

1-2 keywords per URL

Of those four or five words make sure that no more than two of them are keywords that you’re targeting. As previously stated, you’ll stop getting credit from Google for all of those additional keywords anyway.

You also have to consider the user, and any unnatural inclusion of keywords will make it harder to understand.

First and foremost, make them human-friendly

That leads us onto our next point — making sure, as a priority, that people can read your URLs, as well as type them from memory into their browser.

This means, wherever possible, avoiding the use of URLs that are populated by numbers and symbols rather than letters, and separating the words with hyphens.

Use canonicalisation where necessary

If your website utilises the same piece of content across multiple web pages then make sure you use canonical URLs.

By using the attribute rel=”canonical” on the version of the web page you consider to be the original and most important, you are telling the search engines that that’s the version that should be indexed and displayed in the SERPs.

To do this, add a <link> element to the web page’s <head> tag that contains rel=”canonical”. For example:

<link rel="canonical" href="" />

If possible, move your domain to HTTPS

Back in 2014 Google confirmed on their Webmaster Central Blog that they considered HTTPS to be a ranking signal, in a bid to encourage the use of the more secure protocol.


The green padlock along with the word ‘Secure’ is also a major trust signal for users — essential considering how protective people are over their data while online.

.com is generally the most trusted

This isn’t a ranking signal, but .com is considered to be the most trusted top-level domain (TLD), along with in the UK.

Choice over TLD was opened up three years ago, but the most common global and local variants are still considered by users to be the most trustworthy.

Limit your use of subfolders

Some websites nest their content within many different subfolders, which might make sense from an organisation point of view, but from an SEO perspective it isn’t best practice.

The deeper into your website a piece of content is situated, the less link equity is passed to it.

With this in mind, try to make sure all of your content — or at least the most important pages — are only one or two hops from the TLD.

Use descriptive folder names

No matter how many folders you use, make sure they are all named something that can be understood by the user. Use descriptive names that clearly define what sort of content the user can expect to find within it — using as few characters as possible.

Avoid ‘unsafe’ characters

In your URLs make sure, where possible, you only use ‘safe’ characters — basically A-Z and 0-9. However, other safe characters include:

$ - _ . + ! * ( )

‘Unsafe’ characters include spaces, “”, <>, # and %. For a full list of characters and their classification, and why you shouldn’t use unsafe characters, click here.

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