SEO 101: What’s the Best URL Structure for SEO?
Many of your visitors will come to your website by clicking on a link, so you may wonder if it really matters what’s in the actual URL of a specific page.
It may surprise you to know that when it comes to on-site SEO, what your URLs look like is actually really important.
What is URL Structure?
Your website URL works as your address on the web. It’s the most direct way for someone to visit a page on your website. If you’re not familiar with the term, the URL is the thing that starts with either www or http.
In the early stages of starting a website, you want to sit down and figure out a standard structure for your website URLs. (If your website is already established and growing, it’s not too late to do this now, it just might require more work.)
Your URLs always start with the root domain for your website (e.g. www.yourwebsitename.com), so what you want to define is what follows for individual pages.
Your URL structure will directly relate to your larger site architecture. You want your URLs to both reference what’s on the specific page, as well as help situate the website visitor to where this page belongs on the larger website. For example, the URL for a post on your blog should look something like this: www.yourwebsitename.com/blog/nameofyourblogpost
At a glance to the URL, any visitor who reached the post through an outside link would quickly be able to see that they’re on a blog, as well some basic information about the specific blog post on the page.
Why Does URL Structure Matter?
Your URL structure matters for a few key reasons.
- First, for Google to consistently deliver relevant results to searchers, it has to know what each page in its index is about. The URL is one of the most important parts of the page Google looks at to determine what a page is about.
- Next, an intuitive URL structure makes your site easier to navigate for users. If someone browsing a retail website for clothes finds themselves on the page www.clothesretailer.com/womens/dresses/nameofspecificdress, they know the page belongs in the two categories that precede the final part of the html: women’s clothes and dresses. Savvy web users also know they can delete the last couple of parts of the URL (dresses/nameofspecificdress) to get back to the larger selection of women’s clothes.
- And lastly, the same thing that makes a good URL structure intuitive for users is good for search engines too. The search engine crawler can more easily make the relevant connections between different pages on your website – it can see that a particular item belongs in the same category as other dresses (even if “dress” isn’t in the product name), which belong in the larger category of women’s clothes on the site – information that helps the crawler better understand what different sections of the website are about and how they relate to each other.
As an added benefit, having those extra categories precede the specific keyword or product name in your URL adds in some extra relevant keywords without creating a URL that’s spammy. That gives Google just a little bit more information to make sure it understands what’s on the page and knows what keywords the page should show up in search for.
7 Tips for Creating a Good URL Structure
The URL is a pretty basic part of on-site optimization, but one that it’s important to get right. Here are a few good ways to make sure you use your URLs wisely.
1. Always edit a page’s URL to be relevant.
A surprising number of websites will still use automatically generated URLs that look like a string of gibberish. That’s skipping a big SEO opportunity, while also creating a more confusing experience for your visitors.
The first and most important thing you need to do for your website’s URLs is to simply commit to customizing each one based on what’s on the web page.
2. Follow a standard URL structure.
As discussed above, this will relate to your website’s overall organization and is an important rule to follow. Determine what categories and subcategories you’ll be using and how you’ll portray them in the URLs of web pages that belong in each category.
Be careful not to let things get too complicated here – too many categories will bog down your URLs and make them confusing rather than helpful: www.clothesretailer.com/womens/dresses/nameofspecificdress is an intuitive URL structure, while www.clothesretailer.com/womens/dresses/short-sleeves/purple/floral/knee-length/nameofspecificdress is taking things too far.
Stick to the main categories that are important for making your website more intuitive in its organization, and be as consistent as possible in the URL structure you use across the site.
3. Keep it short and simple.
Good URLs are short and to the point. Make sure you aren’t filling yours with any unnecessary words or characters, and avoid keyword stuffing. Having the same keyword in your URL more than once won’t do you any good.
While most of your visitors will use links or bookmarks to access specific pages of your website rather than going to the URL directly, you want it to at least be plausible that someone could remember a specific URL if they wanted to.
4. Use your primary keyword.
For every page on your website, you should have a primary target keyword in mind that you want it to rank for in the search engines. Obviously this should be something that specifically describes what’s on the web page, while also being a common term used by people looking for what’s on the page.
Make sure your primary keyword is part of the page’s URL. It may work to simply use the keyword as the part of the URL specific to your page (e.g. www.yourwebsitename.com/relevant-category/primary-keyword).
If the web page is for an article or blog post, the main words in the article’s headline can usually be pulled out to make a strong headline that includes the primary keyword and clearly describes what’s on the page. For example, a post called 10 Tips to Find the Perfect Summer Dress that has the target keyword “summer dress”, could become the URL www.clothesretailer.com/blog/find-perfect-summer-dress
5. Use hyphens to separate words.
You can’t include spaces in a URL, so SEO best practice is to use hyphens to separate words. This will signal to Google where the breaks between words are, and make it easier for your visitors to understand URLs than if the words all ran together.
6. Remove stop words.
You want URLs to be short and simple, which means you never need things like pronouns and articles. So when translating a page title into a URL structure, drop any common stop words in the title, such as: a, the, and, or, but, an, of, etc.
This part’s a little more technical, but still important. You don’t want Google registering different versions of the same page on your website as distinct pages. So if you have the same web page that’s tied to more than one URL for any reason, you’re diluting its SEO value.
The most common version of this is when you have web pages for both http://yourwebsite.com and www.yourwebsite.com, or if you have a secure version of a page at https://yourwebsite.com along with the two versions mentioned above. Whatever the reason, you want each URL for the same page to be consolidated in the eyes of Google so that a link back to one of them counts for all versions.
You can communicate that to Google by using the canonical tag on every variation of the page that clarifies which URL should be considered the main URL to represent all versions.
Setting Your URL Structure
Getting a standard URL structure into place can take some time and planning, but once you have your main structure defined, picking the right URL for each web page on your site can be one of the easiest parts of on-site SEO. Make sure you customize your URLs for best results every time. It’s an easy way to improve your SEO and create a better visitor experience in a small way.
Don’t miss the rest of our SEO 101 series!
- How Do Search Engines Work?
- How to Write Compelling Title Tags
- How to Write the Best Meta Descriptions
- Best Practices for Website Architecture
Give your site a boost with HostGator’s expert SEO services. Learn more here.
SEO (search engine optimization) involves a lot of different parts. For busy business owners that know SEO is important (you’ve sure heard it enough times), it can be tempting to skip some of the smaller steps involved in on-site SEO.
But every little thing you can do to strengthen your website’s SEO makes a difference — especially if it’s something other sites may be overlooking.
Taking time to optimize your images for SEO is a simple and important step to making your website more competitive in the search engines. It’s the kind of little thing many businesses let slip through the cracks, which is precisely why doing it can give you a competitive advantage in snagging your target keywords in the SERPs (search engine results pages).
And as with many SEO best practices, most steps involved in image SEO also improve the visitor experience. So the work you put into it won’t just increase the chances people can find your site, it will also mean they like it more once they’re on it.
What You'll Learn...
- SEO 101: What’s the Best URL Structure for SEO?
- What is URL Structure?
- Why Does URL Structure Matter?
- 7 Tips for Creating a Good URL Structure
- Setting Your URL Structure
- Why Images Are Important for SEO
- 12 Tips to Improve Your SEO for Images
- 1. Use relevant, high-quality images.
- 2. Customize the filename.
- 3. Use alt text.
- 4. Add image captions.
- 5. Reduce the image file size.
- 6. Find the right quality-to-size ratio.
- 7. Choose the right file type.
- 8. Add images to your sitemap.
- 9. Use responsive images.
- 10. Use lazy loading.
- 11. Use schema for products and recipes, where relevant.
- 12. Host images on your own site.
- Make the Time for Image SEO
Why Images Are Important for SEO
So much of how we understand SEO is all about text and keywords, but images have a role to play as well. For one thing, they’re a huge part of the user experience.
Think about it: if you found yourself on a webpage that looked like a Word doc with nothing but text on a white background, you wouldn’t feel like the website was trustworthy or memorable.
Over the years, researchers have conducted studies that confirm visuals help people process information faster and remember it more effectively. That means images can make your website content more powerful and engaging.
Images are a big part of how we experience a web page. That matters for SEO because Google’s algorithm pays attention to behavioral metrics that reflect user experience, like bounce rates and the amount of time visitors spend on a web page.
And images can also be optimized to more directly boost SEO as well. Where most visitors to your page will only see the image itself, search engine crawlers see text behind the image that you can fill in to tell them what you want them to see.
12 Tips to Improve Your SEO for Images
Follow these tips to optimize the images on your website for search engines.
1. Use relevant, high-quality images.
This is crucial for the user experience side of SEO. An image that’s unrelated to the content on the page will be confusing for the user, and one that’s blurry or badly cropped will just make your page look bad and unprofessional. Make sure every image you use has a clear relationship to what’s on the page and looks good.
You have to be careful not to use any images that you don’t have the rights to, but you can find lots of resources online that provide free images businesses can use. And DIY design tools like Canva now make creating original graphics affordable, fast, and easy, even for non-designers.
Commit some time for each page you create and blog post you publish to figuring out at least one good image to include – bonus points if you can find a few.
2. Customize the filename.
This is one of those steps that’s so easy it’s amazing everyone doesn’t do it.
Before you add an image to your website, take time to customize the filename. Change it to something that’s relevant to the image and, if possible, includes one of your target keywords for the page. For example, if your web page is about a backpack product you sell, the image could be named something like brandname-backpack.jpg.
Most visitors will never see the filename, but it gives you a way to provide the search engines a little more information about what’s on the page and the best keywords to associate with it.
3. Use alt text.
This is another part of the webpage that most visitors won’t see, but search engine crawlers do. You can provide alt text for every image you add to your website that will show up in place of your image if a browser has trouble loading it or if a visitor uses a screen reader.
This text is one more part of the page that you can use to signal to search engines what the page is about. Always update the alt text for your images. Include your primary keyword for the page and something descriptive of the image itself. If you use WordPress, there’s an alt text field you can fill in to do this.
If you prefer to use HTML, you can add alt=”your alt text” to your image tag.
Alt text is useful for SEO but, just as importantly, it’s a good way to improve your website’s accessibility. So those few minutes you take to give your SEO a boost can also make your website’s experience more inclusive for visitors.
Captions are yet another text field you have the option to include for each image on your website, but this time it’s one that your visitors can see. When it makes sense, use the caption field to add an explanation of the image or to provide further information about it to the viewer.
Image captions can potentially be one more opportunity to include your target keyword on the page, but don’t force it. Only include a caption if there’s a natural way to do so that won’t take away from the visitor’s experience.
Adding captions is a good idea in general, but there’s not one clear rule for how best to use them. In some cases, captions can be a good opportunity to add a little personality or insert a joke. If that improves the user experience more than adding in your keyword would improve your SEO, then it’s the better option. Use your best judgment here.
5. Reduce the image file size.
You do the hard work of finding or creating an image, the next step is to load it to your site, right? Not quite yet.
Often, the file size of an image is much larger than it needs to be for the size it will show up on your website. Taking a few seconds before you load it to reduce the file size can ensure it won’t slow your website down. Site speed is an SEO ranking factor, so if your visitors have to wait a while for a page on your site to load, it’s bad for the user experience and your SEO.
If you use a CMS like WordPress, resizing how an image appears on your website after you load it to the CMS is super easy – but it means that you still have the large file size that slows things down on the backend.
You can make your website faster while still displaying images at a high resolution by resizing your image files before you load them to your website. Often this is easy to do with programs that come standard on most computers, like Mac’s Preview program or Microsoft Paint. Or if you have Adobe Photoshop, you can use the “Save for Web” command to help you find the smallest file size that still provides a good resolution.
6. Find the right quality-to-size ratio.
This part’s a little tricky, because you want your images to look really good (see: the “high quality” part of #1), but you don’t want them to be big enough to slow down your website.
So as you go through the steps above, keep an eye out to make sure your image doesn’t suddenly become blurry or start to show up so small that you can’t tell what it is.
Test out every image on your website on multiple types of devices and screen sizes to make sure it still looks OK even after you’ve reduced the size. Sometimes it’s a matter of finding the happy medium between file size and visual quality.
7. Choose the right file type.
You’ve probably noticed that there are three main types of image files, but you may not really understand the difference between each. Understanding the different file types can help you choose the best one for your needs:
- JPG is one of the most common file formats because it uses small file sizes and is widely supported. But the image quality isn’t always as good as with PNG files and the format doesn’t support transparent backgrounds, so there are some cases where JPG won’t work.
- PNG is a file format for images that provides a high resolution and can support a text description of the image that’s good for SEO. The main downside of PNG is that it tends to require larger file sizes than JPG and GIF. It’s often best for complex images and those that include text.
- GIF doesn’t support as wide of a color range as the other two, but it can be a good choice for simpler images. It supports small file sizes and transparent backgrounds.
For photos, JPG often works well. For designed graphics, GIF and PNG are more common and if you need a higher quality version, the PNG is the way to go.
8. Add images to your sitemap.
Google encourages website owners to submit a sitemap to them to help them better crawl your pages and get them added to the index. They also allow you to include images in your sitemap or alternately, create a separate image sitemap to submit.
If you use WordPress, there are plugins you can use to generate an image sitemap for you, such as Google XML Sitemap for Images and Undira All Image Sitemap. If you prefer to do it yourself, Google provides information on creating an image sitemap here.
By giving Google clear information about the images on your website, you increase the likelihood of them showing up in Google Image Search, which increases your website’s overall findability.
9. Use responsive images.
By now, you’ve probably heard all about responsive websites. Going responsive is the best way to make sure your website looks good on all device types, no matter the screen size, while making sure all users see the same information. Using responsive images is part of that.
When you add an image to your website, you can make it responsive by using the HTML code srcset. This lets browsers know to select the image file size that makes the most sense for the screen size the user is on automatically and load that. It’s a super convenient tool that takes care of responsive sizing for you, so you don’t need to worry about it.
If you heard “HTML code” and basically started to tune out, don’t worry. If your website runs on WordPress, the CMS takes care of this for you. As long as you’re using WordPress 4.4 or later (which you definitely should be by now), your images will automatically have the srcset code applied without you having to do anything.
10. Use lazy loading.
Being lazy isn’t always a bad thing, and definitely not when you’re talking about lazy loading.
Lazy loading is a technique that can increase your website loading speed by having your website wait to load the images lower on the page last. Visitors won’t be stuck waiting to see any content while their browser tries to load everything on the entire page, instead they can start to see the most important page elements and trust the rest will load by the time they get there.
This tactic can be especially useful for websites that have long pages. If seeing the full page on your site requires a lot of scrolling, then why should visitors have to wait for images way down at the bottom of the page to load before they can read the text at the top?
If you use WordPress, the easiest way to implement lazy loading is with a plugin. Lazy loading is one of many features included in the JetPack plugin if you want to go that route. Or you can consider one that just provides lazy loading, like a3 Lazy Load or Lazy Load.
11. Use schema for products and recipes, where relevant.
Schema markup is one more tool you have for telling Google what’s on a page. For certain types of content, it provides search engines with data that helps them serve up useful information to searchers right on the SERP.
When you search for a recipe or product and see star ratings, calories, pricing, or inventory information next to the result in Google, that’s because the website uses schema markup.
Schema markup is only relevant for some types of content, but if your website includes those types of content, then it’s a smart way to further optimize your site. Using the relevant schema markup can potentially make some of your pages more noticeable in search results by including your image alongside the result. And within Image search, Google will often use schema to display a badge in the results telling users what type of content the image is for.
12. Host images on your own site.
While it may be tempting to host your image on a third-party website like Imgur to save space, doing so involves a real risk. Anytime those sites are overloaded with traffic, your images could fail to load, creating a confusing experience on your website and making your brand look bad.
You’ll be better served by hosting the images on your own website and using the advice provided above to make your image file size smaller so they don’t slow down your web pages any more than necessary. And when you go with a reliable hosting provider, you’ll always know your images (and the rest of your website) will show up as they should for your visitors.
Make the Time for Image SEO
Image SEO is relatively easy, as far as SEO goes. By committing a little extra time to find the right images and optimize them for search every time you add a page to your website, you can give your pages an extra edge in the search engines.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.