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URLs are the core structure that search engines work with. Not only is a URL the easiest unique identifier of any given document in their database, but it is also the first clue to relevancy in rankings.
For example, the instant the URL of https://www.furniture.co.uk/ is first discovered by a search engine, even before a spider is dispatched to grab the document or resource, the engine can determine a lot about what to expect there just from the protocol, top-level domain, and potentially, the choice of recognisable words in the domain. In this example above, we have a secure server page, on a UK specific domain, named ‘furniture’, and this URL points to the root of the www sub-domain.
If the spider that grabbed that page then located a link to the URL http://www.furniture.co.uk/sofas/ then it can see there is further structure to the site, and indeed a whole sub-directory given to equity sofas. URLs can contain significant semantic cues that aid in applying effective ranking.
Usability in URLs
Certain common rules from the field of Usability also apply to the best practices for SEO. A URL that is meaningful and well-structured for people is usually just as meaningful and well-structured to a search engine. Additionally, just as a shorter URL is preferred by people, because it is easier to type, easier to remember, and less prone to ‘break’ if pasted into an email, so a shorter URL is generally preferred by a search engine.
Simplification of URLs
Whenever possible, the simplest URL should be favoured.
Never link to http://www.domain.com/index.htm if http://www.domain.com/ leads to the same place.
Never use http://www.domain.com/contact-us/index.htm?contact-us if http://www.domain.com/contact-us/ is the same resource. It would be my recommendation to use www.domain.com/contact/ as it is the simplest, yet most meaningful. The home user doesn’t use the forms to contact us, but may wish to contact you.
Keywords in URLs
Having important keywords within URLs can help those resources to rank higher in search results for the keywords. Balancing this factor against the corollary factor of shorter URLs being better is an art rather than a science, and varies by website, by audience, and by search engine.
Look out for part 9 next week…