An entire post, just on URLs? RLy?
Well, yes. I’m amazed how often I see leading eCommerce sites making basic mistakes with their URL structures that will hurt their SEO performance, even for sites that have just launched. So much so that I thought it worth a post.
Here’s my list of the top eight oversights, with examples I’ve noticed recently:
1. Not making the home page URL simply and only http://www.example.com
If people post a link to your website (e.g. on a blog), they’ll most likely link to it in the form http://www.example.com. Any form of redirect to another URL will mean some loss of pagerank. Also, any additional URLs on which the homepage is available are liable to create ‘duplicate content’, and potential loss of ranking.
Common mistakes are to have additional URLs for the home page at some or all of:
http://www.example.com/ (i.e. with the slash)
Debenhams launched their Irish online store last week and have at least three versions of the homepage indexed in Google, all caused by not making the home page simply and only http://www.debenhams.ie
2. Not redirecting non-www URLs to their www (canonical) version
Search engines will consider http://example.com/page (no ‘www’) and http://www.example.com/page as different pages (but with the same content). Better to 301-redirect the non-www visitor to the www equivalent, and reduce the potential for duplicate content being indexed.
The new Debenhams Irish website also makes this mistake. Both www and non-www versions of the pages exist.
I prefer www versions to the non-www, because that is the form that users will most likely type, unprompted, and even 301 redirects result in some loss of link juice (so better to redirect non-www to www than vice versa).
3. Using 302-redirects instead of 301-redirects
I was surprised to discover both Cotswold Outdoor and Best Buy guilty of this one. There are two ways of redirecting users to a different URL: temporary redirects (302) and permanent redirects (301). Both Cotswold and Best Buy were using 302 redirects to point traffic that landed on their non-www pages to their www canonical version.
302 redirects pass (virtually) no “link-juice”, whereas 301s pass most (but not all) of it. [The fact that they don’t pass all of it is the reason to make your homepage URL simply http://www.example.com, not, for example, http://www.example.com/index.htm]
4. Using numbers in URLs instead of keywords (e.g. for categories/ products)
Mind the Gap’s mistake here: this is their URL for their men’s shirts category page:
Whereas here’s the one for Debenhams’ UK site:
By having keywords (rather than numbers) in the URL, you also get the added benefit that any time someone posts a link that is just the URL (so the URL is the anchor text), you get keywords in the anchor text. Win!
(Here’s Matt Cutts on using keywords within URLs if you want more detail)
5. Having URLs that are too long
Compare the Debenhams’ men’s shirt URL above, with this for the same category from Cotswold Outdoors:
It’s far more intimidating for a user (so less likely to be clicked), and likely dilutes the impact of the keywords that are in there.
"Dynamic" URLs can be a problem here (ones with strings of query parameters like "?parameter=123456" appended to the URL). These tend to generate both long URLs and potentially multiple URLs with the same (i.e. duplicate) content. Rewrite your URLs to be short, use keywords (not numbers) and remove query parameters.
6. Using capital letters in URLs
This isn’t, strictly speaking, a problem in itself. But the potential for duplicate content arising from accidental capitalised and non-capitalised versions of URLs (I’ve seen it happen) makes me recommend avoiding the use of any capital letters in URLs and sticking to lowercase.
7. Not separating keywords in the URL, or separating them with an underscore, not a dash (hyphen)
If your URL contains multiple keywords in a file or folder name, use a dash (hyphen), not an underscore to separate them.
Do like Debenhams’ UK site:
Not like Jack Wills, who doubly offend: running together some keywords without separators, and using an underscore, not a hyphen when they do separate words:
It’s a five-year old posting, but Matt Cutts from Google explains why here. I’ve not read anything that refutes it since then, even though Matt did say at the time that Google was working on a solution.
More on SEO for URLs from the ever-excellent SEOmoz:
And from Google themselves: