One aspect of your website that can go a long way to improving your SEO rank is URL structure. What’s a URL? A URL, or Uniform Resource Locator, is essentially the address to your website. For example, protocol 80′s URL is www.protocol80.com. If your business has a website there’s a pretty good chance you also have a URL, but have you ever taken a look at how your URL changes as you navigate around your website? URL structure often gets overlooked, but in today’s post I’m going to show you the right and wrong ways to format your website’s address.
Alright, it’s time for another hypothetical! Say I owned a quaint little restaurant called Dave’s Tea and Treats that served hot, tasty beverages and gourmet snacks throughout the day created by none other than the finest pastry chef within a 90 mile radius. I have a website located at http://www.davesteaandtreats.com that I want to urge all of my customers to visit in order to learn about our daily specials. Since donut sales are down, I create a new special for 50% off a dozen donuts and link it on my Facebook page with the following URL:
What can my customers tell about this URL off-hand? Let’s break it down. First we have http://www.davesteaandtreats.com – that’s my web address. Then we have /Menu.aspx, that’s probably the menu page on the Dave’s Tea and Treats website…but what’s all that junk after that? There’s a question mark followed by MealID=5918&ItemID=4583. There’s a good chance that this part of the URL will be absolutely meaningless to your customers, but more importantly it doesn’t tell search engines anything about the content found on that page. A developer can look at that URL and tell that MealID=5918 and ItemID=4583 are query strings used to tell the page which item to show, in this case the breakfast item donuts. If that’s the case, wouldn’t life be so much easier if the URL was formatted like the one below?
It most-certainly would! This new URL gives search engines a much better idea of what’s on the page, and since a lot of my business is pastry-related there’s a good chance it’ll help me rank for keywords I’m interested in ranking for, such as breakfast, or donuts.
That’s all well and good to know if you’re in the early stages of planning a website project, but what if your website’s URLs already look like my first example, with lots of question marks and ampersands throughout? The good news is there’s a technique that any crafty developer can implement called URL rewriting that’ll fool a browser into showing clean URL structure like /menu/breakfast/donuts in place of ugly, non-SEO friendly ones like MealID=5918&ItemID=4583. This will help your website rank better in search engines like Google and make your site more useable for customers as well! If you’re considering a website redesign, or want squeeze a little more SEO juice out of it, talk to your developer about URL rewriting. You’ll be glad you did.
Confused already? I will do my best to make this post understandable my the least technologically advanced person at your business. Let’s start with the absolute basics.
URL stands for uniform resource locator. It allows your web browser to know what file to show. Think of it as the address for your office. If you want a prospective customer to find you that has never been there, you have to give them some sort of address for them to get there. To keep it simple, URLs do that same thing for browsers, they just point to files that live on servers instead of a physical address. The URL for our website is http://www.protocol80.com. The URL contains the domain name that you have purchased from GoDaddy or Network solutions. As a SMB what else do you need to know?
To be simplistic, URL hierarchy allows you to access pages further into your website. Take a look at this sample URL: http://www.YourWebsite.com/Products/New-Products.aspx. This points to a file called New-Products.aspx that lives in a folder called Products that lives in the root folder of YourWebsite.com. Easy enough? It’s the same as when you are looking through files on your computer. What happens when you get a little more complex?
Let’s look at http://www.YourWebsite.com/Products/Used.aspx?Guid=b6a3-efs8-4af. The end of that url (Guid=b6a3-efs8-4af) probably means nothing to you. It does mean something on the web. It is a unique identifier that points to a specific product within a database. So what?
Whether they pay attention to it or not, users look at the URL. Something like Guid=b6a3-efs8-4af means much less to a user than Shiny-Blue-Widget. If the word shiny blue widget in the URL I may or may not notice it, but if I do it will be easier to understand where I am…and if I bookmark the site I might actually remember where it goes instead of a bunch of gobbledygook at the end of a URL. Small, yes, but it can make a difference. Let’s take a look at them side by side:
You probably have a hard time comparing yourself to a search engine, but they have the same issue as you. A search engine has no idea what GUID=dfsj-fdas-342vf4 is so they cannot translate it to that specific product. A search engine relies on text that correlates what people search with to show relevant results. If you are using Shiny-Blue-Widgets in your URL, in the product name, in the page title and wherever else is relevant, a search engine can better understand what it is looking at, therefore more likely to rank the site within the search engine results page.
Generally I like to provide tips that you can do yourself…unfortunately this is one you probably can’t handle. Sorry folks. You may be thinking to yourself, why even use a unique identifier. Well, databases can be complicated. The URL has to point to a specific record within a database. In order to do it without snag, it must be unique. Think of it like a person’s social security number. There are several people named John Smith, but none of their social security numbers are the same. Obviously there is a little more to it than a couple of paragraphs, but this is what you should understand. Bring it up next time you talk to your developer.
Think you have an opportunity to improve your website with URL rewriting, we would be happy to help.
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