How to optimize site URLs for search engines

How to optimize site URLs for search engines

A permalink is a URL that points to a specific web page. As the name suggests, a permalink is a permanent URL and should not be changed once the page gets indexed by search engines.
Permalink structure is sometimes ignored, which is a major SEO mistake. Search engines will make a difference between a website with SEO friendly URLs and a website with URLs not SEO optimized.

Let me give you an example:

Optimized permalink:
http://www.example.com/ viewthread.php?tid=776867

Not optimized permalink:
http://www.example.com/topic/how-to-optimize-permalinks-for-seo

Do you see the difference? First example makes very hard to understand about what is the content of that page until you actually access that URL, while the second example will give you a clear idea that that page is teaching you how to optimize permalinks for SEO, without the need to access it.

A SEO friendly URL should contain your targeted keywords for that page. Those keywords should also be contained by title and meta description tag.

Permalinks are responsible in some cases for poor website ranking in search engine results.

The first example might look familiar if you occasionally access forums. Forum scripts have a pretty bad reputation in terms of SEO, because they are usually displayed rather weak in search engine results.

To the opposite side is WordPress, a content management system that gives users multiple options to easily optimize their sites for search engines. That’s why websites made with WordPress tend to be displayed very well in SERP.

It’s very easy to optimize permalinks structure for WordPress. WordPress allows you to choose a predefined structure for permalinks or create your own custom structure without the need of any additional plugins. However WordPress do not allow you to set the meta tags by default, but there are a ton of free plugins that will enhance this feature.

What is the best permalink structure?
There is no specific permalink structure which we can say that is the best. However, search engines seem to love short and simple URLs, like:

1) http://www.example.com/how-to-optimize-permalinks-for-seo
Permalinks containing posted date:

2) http://www.example.com/2014/11/07/how-to-optimize-permalinks-for-seo
Permalinks containing category:

3) http://www.example.com/tutorials/how-to-optimize-permalinks-for-seo

Personally, I like to use the first type of permalink and the third. The third one looks more organized and can increase the chance for that respective page to be found in SERP for additional keywords like : “tutorial how to optimize permalinks”, even if the word “tutorial” is not among the keywords for which the page is optimized for. This can be missed if you are using the permalink structure from first example.

Even example 2 has its own advantages. To ensure that search engine results are the most recent, many times people search for a keyword accompanied by year, month, or day of that interest. Having a permalink structure as in example 2, will definitely help your website to rank better for this type of search queries. Also, this way you can easily avoid duplicate permalinks.

It’s up to you to choose the structure that excites you most, but I recommend the third permalink example.

Best separator for permalinks

Only lower case letters (a-z), digits and special characters “+.-_” and some reserved characters used for their standard purposes may be used within a URL.

A good URL structure should not contain spaces. Spaces inside URLs will be encoded by web browsers. This means that spaces will be replaced with “%20″, resulting in an ugly URL structure which is humanly difficult to read and is not SEO friendly.

However, if we cannot use spaces, how can we separate the words to obtain readable and SEO friendly permalinks?

There are few symbols that can be used as a word separator within URLs, such as hyphen (-), point (.), comma (,) or plus (+). The most commons are hyphens and underscores. Hyphens are used by a very large number of websites, perhaps because they are automatically generated in WordPress URLs and how WordPress has become so popular, is self explanatory.

WordPress generates permalinks for posts and pages automatically based on post titles (you can manually edit them). A permalink can’t contain spaces or special characters. Special characters are removed automatically and spaces are replaced by hyphens.
Also underlines are quite common within website URLs. However, some people say that hyphens are better for SEO and personally I agree with them.

The fact that most sites which occupy leading positions in search engines results are using hyphens as separator for permalinks, make me think that hyphens are the best for SEO. So if you do not already use other separators, I recommend you to use hyphens in subsequent projects. If you already have a website with posts & pages already indexed in the search engines, do not start to change permalinks. Just use the hyphen for those that you will create in the future. I recommend you to avoid changing permalink structure until it’s unavoidable.

Also, there is the uncertainty about what website version is best for SEO: www or not-www. As I already mentioned, it is up to you. Just choose one and stick with it.

Use lowercase letters in URLs
Another bad practice is to use uppercase letters in URLs. Search engines can distinguish between uppercase and lowercase letters in URLs. Having two identical URLs, but one with lowercase and one with uppercase letters will be considered two different pages by search engines. This can lead to duplicate content penalties, will lower your website CTR and will make your page look spammy in SERP.

Give your pages a static permalink view
Search engines love static URLs. By static URLs I mean that search engines prefer pages like:

http://example.com/how-to-learn-seo.html

(Pages with .HTML extension are usually static pages and are not generated dynamically)
Rather than:

http://example.com/learn.php&cat=seo

(Which looks like a dynamic page generated with PHP)
Even if you use a CMS that does not add the extension .html to the end of page URL is OK, but is not advisable to have “&” or “?” symbols within permalinks because these symbols are a mark of PHP dynamically generated pages.

The most common way to turn a dynamically generated page URL into a SEO friendly URL is to use a .htaccess file and use the URL rewriting rules.

Written by Marius Enache

Marius is a programmer and internet marketer and is the founder of Marketingshot.com. He has over 4 years of experience working with WordPress, SEO and web design. In February 2014, started his way to internet marketing industry.

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