Quite often, the way to find out if something is fraudulent is to compare it with the real deal – something authentic. Now, this is not to say that unfriendly URLs are fraudulent in any way; it’s just that they’re untidy, dirty and definitely not liked by search engines. So before we begin discussing the ramifications of using one or the other, let’s take a look at just what they look like side by side:
A Search Engine Friendly URL:
An Unfriendly URL:
Some of the visible differences of the URL structure are immediate – the length and type of characters used are vastly different. However, before we delve deeper into the nuances of the two, it’s important to note that the unfriendly URL is not technically incorrect per se; it just falls well below the modern day coding standards and sufficient technical capabilities needed to maximize its potential.
What a URL Should Contain
In essence, a search-engine-friendly URL should clearly include the following three items:
- The Domain Name
- Content Category
- Article Title
By clearly specifying the domain name, the content category and the article title, the user knows which site he’s at, which category he’s reading, and the name of the title. So in other words, the URL actually makes sense and means something. In comparison to an unfriendly URL which contains virtually no useful elements to a user or a search engine bot, the friendly URL encompasses all the requirements necessary to help achieve good rankings in the SERPs.
As you can see from our example above, unfriendly URLs are difficult to type, do not promote usability, and can potentially pose a security risk. In a content management system (CMS) environment, unfriendly URLs are commonplace. While the CMS may be robust and efficient, in the creative process, no forethought may have been given to the URL.
Search engine bots are finicky (especially Google) – any whiff of anything that remotely smells like a dodgy query string, and they will take their presence elsewhere.
Optimizing Your URL
There are certain elements that can be changed in an unfriendly URL for various reasons. An ampersand, for example (otherwise known as an ‘&’) can be changed to ‘&’. The reason for doing this is because a common error can occur. The ‘&’ is assumed to begin a reference to an entity and browsers can recover from this kind of error but mistakes do happen in certain cases.
Let’s say our URL contained the following query string:
For the part of the URL that is in bold, many browsers convert ‘©=3’ to ‘©=3’ and correctly so. Subsequently, in conversion, the link would then fail.
SEO Friendly URL Recommendations
- Try and keep the URL short
- Avoid using query strings
- Use all lowercase letters – even though domain names are not case sensitive, the rest of the URL is. There was recently some discussion at the Webmaster World forums about using Pascal Casing. While there might be some advantages to using Pascal Casing, I would err on the side of caution and consistency and keep all of your URLs lowercase.
- Use hyphens instead of underscores. it is still considered best practice to use hyphens instead of underscores because most search engines will not seperate
- Keep the URL structure logical
- Include keywords in the domain name
It is no fluke that when googling ‘SEO friendly URLs’ that a Sitepoint article is in first place. The URL is probably the tidiest in the top 10 SERP listings – http://www.sitepoint.com/article/search-engine-friendly-urls. By itself, using tidy URLs may not have such a dramatic impact as link building or optimized title tags, but it can make a difference between a number one listing and a listing below the fold. So if you haven’t thought about implementing friendly URLs on your website or blog, I’d say there’s no bigger incentive than a number one spot in the SERPs.