The acronym URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is a universal naming format, an address that identifies a resource on the Internet. This is how a browser can retrieve content requested by a user from the remote server. In other words, the URL is an identifier, an "address" which makes it possible to find a page among the billions of resources that make up the web.
An URL is made up of the following elements:
The name of the protocol: the "language" used by your browser to access the resource. The most widely used protocol on the web is HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS (HTTPS), the protocol for exchanging web pages in HTML format over a secure channel (its insecure counterpart being HTTP).
Username and password (optional): allow you to specify the access parameters to a secure server. This option is not recommended because the password is visible in the URL.
Server name: domain name of the computer hosting the requested resource.
Port number (optional): the "front door" of a server through which to request a resource. The port associated by default with the https protocol is port number 443 (80 for http). When the server's web service is associated with port number 443, the port number is optional because the browser will automatically use this port when it contacts the server.
The path to the resource: it allows the server to know in which location the resource is located, that is to say the location (directory) and the name of the requested file.
Why is URL important in SEO?
For enhanced ergonomics and referencing
Clear and concise urls bring significant advantages:
For users, because your URL is not only directly visible in their browser, but is also one of the first elements of your site presented to them in a Google research. Therefore, clear URLs directly inform the user of the content of your pages, allow them easy access and improve your visit rate.
For search engines (and therefore your SEO), because the URL can make it easier for them to understand the topic addressed on the page: integrating keywords into your URL can therefore promote its referencing.
How to optimize it for SEO?
The 3 axes to watch out for when creating an URL
Keywords : Your url does not necessarily contain the main keywords of your query. This is not a ranking factor of Google! Even if on the query "women's shoes" above, we see that all the results of the 1st page have put this keyword in their url, it is only ergonomics and especially not SEO.
The Size: it is generally recommended to have URLs of less than 100 characters, which in most cases is sufficient to include the main keyword while keeping the URL concise.
The Usability: as mentioned above, a readable and clear URL both for your users and for the search engines will help you improve your attractiveness:
- Avoid URLs with incomprehensible dynamic (http://mondomain.com/?param36=qsdjYJkf1), or at least use “canonical” URLs (see useful remarks below).
- Prefer the dashes "-" to the underscores "_" to separate your words.
- Avoid complex characters and accents ("é", "%", "ç" ...), they require special encoding which makes your URL less attractive.
- Avoid defining a too deep URL hierarchy like "http://mondomain.com/products/clothes/shoes/town_footwear/men/red/size39/pdt1 ″.
It is recommended to stick to a maximum of two or three hierarchy levels.
URLs provide information to search engines about a page's content, its context and its target. They must be customized in order to provide a perfect understanding of the content of the site and the target. Each URL must in fact meet the following criteria:
Insert in your URL the main keyword covering the theme addressed on your page (at least in the categories and products pages: the url of the home page must be simple!).
Clear and readable
"-" dashes allowed
Avoid: dynamic URLs, “_” underscores, special characters, symbols, accents, capital letters and hierarchies that are too deep.
Do not contain capital letters, accents, special characters, and punctuation (apostrophes…)
Do not contain a "?" (unless it links to the correct content with the abbreviation "=").
Organize your content, the way your URL will be written will give information about its importance.
Block your "technical" URLs (pages that have no interest in being directly referenced by search engines, such as test pages for a new version of your site, payment pages, etc.) with robots.txt: the time spent by the search engines on your website is not unlimited, that’s why they better focus on pages which are important to you!
Put "canonical" tags to your URLs when necessary: some pages can sometimes create duplicate content when generated dynamically, in which case it is better to indicate a reference version that the search engine should index.
The 3 main cases of errors and how to correct them
A crawler can help you spot problems with URLs more quickly. In any case, if you have the inventory of the pages of your website, the 3 check points below will then be possible.
The Smartkeyword technical audit also provides them.
CASE 1: Size - URLs that are too long
Check that your URLs are 100 characters long maximum.
In the case where they exceed this limit:
Check the traffic currently brought by this page, as well as its business interest for you:
If it's a very large page and its length remains "reasonable" (around 110-120) => it is better to keep the URL as it is so as not to penalize its traffic and conversion.
If it’s a page with a very long URL (more than 120 characters) and which currently brings little traffic, or that you are ready to "sacrifice" it momentarily => the best is then to modify the URL and to do a 303 redirect from the old to the new one. Most CMS (like WordPress for example) do this automatically. Be careful, in that case, don’t forget to modify the links pointing to the old URL so that they now point to the new one without going through the redirection. Likewise for Netlinking, if backlinks pointed to this page, the ideal would be to contact these sites in order to modify the URL of the link.
Why in the last case is there a “sacrifice” of traffic?
When setting up a redirect, it takes a little time for Google to understand the change and consider the new page: therefore, there is inevitably a dip in traffic linked to a loss of position, which generally lasts a week, but it all depends on the usual crawl frequency / quality of your site.
Moreover, if we are not careful enough and if we forget to modify the internal and external links (backlinks) with the new URL, it is possible that the modified page (new URL) will not find its previous position.
CASE 2: Special characters :
Make sure your URLs don't have the following special characters: “_” underscore, special characters, symbols, accents, uppercase, punctuation.
The authorized character is the dash "-".
Analyze pages with special characters in the same way as above for URLs that are too long.
CASE 3: Duplicate Content :
This is DUST (Different URL Same Text): two different URLs with 100% identical content.
Some crawlers can spot them, as well as the Smartkeyword audit.
Duplicate content in itself: complicates the crawl of the website by the robot, for no reason.
Impact on the internal mesh: the duplication of URLs causes confusion at the mesh level. Indeed, if while writing an article, the editor places a link towards the "wrong" URL rather than the right one, this right URL will have an underexploited mesh because it will not receive the links which it should actually receive.
Note that even if we add 301 redirects from the "wrong" URLs to the "right" ones, this will not solve the problem because the 301s will reduce the quality of internal links and the transmission of SEO "juice" (PageRank), and, consequently, devalue the internal mesh.
The most common example is when a page exists under 2 URLs: one ending with "/" and the other not.
Here's how to correct these duplicates:
Check that the canonical URL tags point to a single URL, which will be called the "correct" URL. NB: on some CMS it is automatic.
For duplicate URLs, you have to set up 301 redirects from the "wrong" URLs to the "right" one.
Review its mesh to make sure that we are only linking to the "right" pages, in order to avoid adding redirects to our internal mesh.
Note: these duplicate cases can also be identified using Title tags for example (duplicate tags).
Here we are, now URL analysis has no secrets for you! :)
What's next ?
Now that your URL is optimized with Smartkeyword, let's move on to H1 optimization.