Local SEO Practices for Structuring URLs

Written by: Jason Bayless | May 21, 2015

To an SEO expert, a URL (united resource locator) holds a great deal more information than just the location of a web page. It offers key signals that enable search engines to understand what the content of the page is all about along with its purpose and target market. Like any other signal, some are strong, some are weak, and some can even come up missing. Here are some important signals that search engines observe from URLs when trying to figure out the content on the page, who is the target audience, and where to rank it in the search results.

1. Use the Exact Target Keyword

If possible, use your exact target keyword or keyword phrase when creating your URL. This may be somewhat difficult to do concerning your home page. However, it should be relatively easy on your blog articles or service pages.

How to use the exact keyword ‘red velvet sofa’:

Good URL: http://mydomain.com/furniture/red-velvet-sofa
Bad URL: http://mydomain.com/color-134-sofas

2. URLs Need to be Clearly Readable

If you can’t easily read each and every word in the URL, then the search engines can’t either. This creates a big problem since search engines understand that humans read URLs prior to clicking on them in order to help them understand the page’s content. Search engines aren’t able to decipher dynamic, confusing URLs. In fact, they won’t even try. Instead, they simply read the words within the URL the same as they read the page’s content. This enables them to understand your content better so they can effectively connect you to your target audience.

3. Broken URLs: Use 301 Redirect

If you have to modify a URL for any reason, keep in mind that you’re removing a page that Google has already indexed and that other sites are already linking to. Search engines will remove a high ranking web page if they can’t find the content on the old URL. The solution is to inform the search engines by simply adding a 301 redirect from your previous URL to point at your new URL.

4. Don’t Use Underscores

Don’t use underscores to separate the words in the URL. Use dashes instead. Google has made this very clear. Their specific algorithm was created to read hyphens in URLs and general content, not underscores. If you want to rank high in Google, you have to follow their rules.

Good URL: http://mydomain.com/red-velvet-sofa
Bad URL: http://mydomain.com/red_velvet_sofa

5. Utilize Canonical URLs

Sometimes, dynamic pages will accidentally generate duplicate content. Use canonical URLs so you won’t get penalized for something you never meant to happen.

Preferred Domain Redirect:
Steer clear of the possibility of Google thinking you might have duplicate content. For instance, mydomain.com and www.mydomaincom are viewed as two completely different sites as far as search engines are concerned. In order to fix this, establish your preferred domain redirect using one or the other. In doing so, it will simply redirect your non-preferred domain to point at your preferred domain.

6. Add Your Mobile URLs to a Sitemap

Inform Google and other major search engines which web pages on your website are mobile-friendly in a sitemap. Overall, mobile-friendly pages usually rank higher when it comes to mobile search results. Some people claim that it’s not necessary to specify mobile-friendly pages if your website is responsive. However, many people still do it just to be safe.

7. Upload a Favicon

What’s a favicon? A favicon is the small icon that sits next to your browser’s URL. There are many benefits to adding one. Search engines like Google and Bing have even considered including them in the search results. Favicons naturally stand out in browser bookmarks, which help with brand recognition and overall trust. Although there isn’t a direct SEO causation from having a favicon on your website, there is a definitive connection. Overall, it’s good to have one.

Use as many of these good local SEO practices as you can for creating your URLs. It will boost your rankings as well as improve user experience.