Today I'm going to share with you a few SEO pointers that could make the difference between your article ranking high on Google for years to come or your article being doomed to eventual oblivion in Google search results. I'll cover optimizing URLs, or permalinks, one of the many properties search engines factor into their decision-making process as they prioritize certain sites over others. If you follow the best practices I highlight here, you will be on your way to increased online visibility.
When it comes to vying for traffic on the web, competition is stiff. As a blogger or small business owner, you can't afford not use the best standards possible in your website. When you post an article, two of the main components that search engines use to determine where to index your page are you'r article's title and permalink.
With that being said, here are 10 important rules for optimizing URLs that will give you the boost you need in search engine rankings:
1. Summarize Your Content With a Great Title
Most bloggers pay careful attention to crafting perfect titles. They know that the right title will encourage more clicks on social media and search engine results alike. The problem generally arises when an article uses the title text as the article's permalink. This is an easy mistake to make because, at least for WordPress users, the title text is set by default to become the slug of the article's permalink, depending on your settings (which we'll address later).
Using this article as an example, we find that our original title was set automatically by WordPress as the article's permalink:
Title: 10 SEO Best Practices for URLs and Blog Permalinks
Permalink generated by WordPress: http://dashburst.com/10-seo-best-practices-for-urls-and-blog-permalinks
How can we edit and improve this permalink for better SEO?
2. Keep Your Permalink or URL Short
When Google's Search Engine Guru Matt Cutts was asked if the length of words matter in a post slug he replied:
Certainly. If you can make your title four- or five-words long – and it is pretty natural. If you have got a three, four or five words in your URL, that can be perfectly normal. As it gets a little longer, then it starts to look a little worse. Now, our algorithms typically will just weight those words less and just not give you as much credit. The thing to be aware of is, ask yourself: “How does this look to a regular user?” – because if, at any time, somebody comes to your page or, maybe, a competitor does a search and finds 15 words all strung together like variants of the same word, then that does look like spam, and they often will send a spam report. Then somebody will go and check that out. So, I would not make it a big habit of having tons and tons of words stuffed in there, because there are plenty of places on a page, where you can have relevant words and have them be helpful to users – and not have it come across as keyword stuffing.
With this in mind, we optimized our permalink slug to the following:
Notice that we shortened the original permalink WordPress generated for us from 10 words to five? Also, note that we removed the number "10" from our permalink. While using digits in titles is a proven way to entice readers, using digits in permalinks will not get you very far. Numbers are arbitrary and don't contain enough search value to warrant including them in your permalink along with other key terms. This is because numbers don't match search queries! For example, would you be more likely to to search for "10 SEO Best Practices" or just "SEO Best Practices?"
3. Form Meaningful Descriptions Using Keywords
As you saw, our permalink slug now uses the title's five most important keywords in a descriptive manner. This ensures that a user who stumbles upon our page in search engine results will trust that our URL represents the content of our page. There is no meaningless string of numbers, for example, a common practice in numeric permalinks, that will confuse users as to what our page is about.
If you're a WordPress user and you'd also like to be able to set a custom permalink, visit your Permalink Settings and select the Post Name option or Custom Structure. This way you can use meaningful text in your post URLs, too! Of course, customizing your permalinks in this way doesn't prevent you from incorporating base folders in your URLs (this actually helps WordPress sort and find articles faster), but a general rule of thumb is that the shorter and more meaningful your URL, the better.
4. Separate Words with Hyphens, not Underscores
Here's an easy tip you can follow when crafting your new permalinks: use hyphens (-) to separate words (e.g. url-permalink-seo-best-practices), not underscores ( _ ). Google treats hyphens as spaces between words while it assigns underscores as additional parts of words, which can throw the search engine off.
5. Use Lowercase Letters in URLs
Search engines can indeed decipher from uppercase and lowercase letters in URLs, which is why you should never use uppercase characters in your permalink. See if you have potentially two URL's leading to the same webpape (like dashburst.com/blog/seo and dashburst.com/blog/Seo), this will be seen as two different URLs by search engines diving the link juice between them. Now your pages could end up ranking lower due to these duplicate content issues. Also if your website server is running a Windows operating system, the address is not case sensitive. However, if you move over to Linux server which is case sensitive, you could be in store for mayhem and a bunch of errors. So if you are currently using them, you should adjust them by using a 301 redirect rule on your site that automatically forwards incorrect type-in permutations to the proper pages.
6. Use Static Over Dynamic Pages
Try to avoid unnecessary parameters like &, ? and = in the URL, which are common features of dynamic URLs generated by PHP scripts or web server code. By keeping your URLs static it's much easier for both people and search engines to read your links. This doesn't mean you can't send out a tweet for example that had extra parameters added to the URL to help you track marketing data for example, but again refrain from hard-coding dynamic URLs directly into your site.
7. Avoid Subdomains
For your site to enjoy maximum link authority, your blog should typically be hosted on your main domain. In general, search engines will consider subdomains as separate entities from your site, so it can be unwise to use a subdomain for your blog or multiple subdomains in general. If you do, the link juice will not be counted towards your main domain. The use of subdomains is best left for creating friendly URL's for landing pages that can be intertwined (effectively hyperlinked) with your main site or for pages that host a lot of user-generated content.
8. Don't Use Too Many Folders
While using subfolders to organize your blog posts based on categories or custom post type can be beneficial, your goal is to keep your URLs as short as possible. Avoid having unnecessary folders or other lengthy naming structures appear in your URLs.
9. Remove Extraneous Data and Duplicates
A URL is, basically, a combination of characters to help search engines index and define the content of a page. If you repeat words throughout your URLs, search engines will treat those words as duplicates and throw the duplicates into the trash. This means that repeating words in your URLs give you no more value than using the term just once.This mistake is typically made when subfolders contain category keywords and you repeat those keywords in the permalink (i.e.a url that looks like this: /video/gangnam-style-video). Why not expand your SEO reach by using different keywords?
Also, avoid appending extraneous data to your URL's (e.g. analytical purposes, tracking) in which removing those characters would lead to the same web page. Not only would your links be unnecessary longer, but eventually your link structure could get defragmented where multiple links would appear differently to search engines, yet lead to the same content, possibly leaving your site susceptible to duplicate content penalties.
10. Choose Wisely and be Consistent
Choose the best permalink structure for your site upfront, and use it as a rule throughout your site. This will make your site more organized for users, web crawlers, and potential web developers. Making dramatic changes down the road will ultimately slow your site down with more URL redirects to process!
Keep your URL's short and meaningful, and you shall be rewarded over time!