Short URLsDecember 20, 2022
Business owners and marketing pros alike are always looking for ways to make their websites more attractive to both users and search engine crawlers, and one of several ways to do so is through proper optimization of the URLs on your site. Specifically, while there are a few nuances to consider within this realm, there's a broad reality that tends to remain true across the board: The shorter and simpler your URLs are, the better your rankings and even user experience are likely to be.
At SEO Werkz, we're proud to assist clients with a wide range of SEO services, from web design and development to many on-site optimization areas, including URL configuration and numerous other programs. Why are simpler and shorter URLs generally the way to go in the SEO world, what are the risks of ignoring this area, and how can you go about simplifying your URLs across the board? Here's a primer on everything you need to know.
Why Shorter, Simpler URLs Matter
The simplest goal of any website URL is to make it easy for Google and other search engines to crawl the page and rank it accordingly. When you think about it, this is an easy problem to solve: Simply make your URLs short and sweet! The more characters a URL contains, the more difficult it is for Google to properly index and prioritize each page of your site; short links often give search engines a much easier time crawling and ranking your pages.
It's important to note that while length is definitely an important factor here, it's not the only one. In short, URL length is one of many factors Google takes into account when determining what a particular page's authority and ranking potential are. Let's also go over some of the others.
The complexity of the URL, which refers to the number of parameters and levels it takes to reach the page, can also play a role here. Even if two pages have short URLs, one with many parameters might not be given as much authority as its simpler counterpart.
An example of a complex URL might be one that contains a number of different parameters and levels, such as www.domainname.com/category1/subcategory2/productID-detail/. A short URL with only the bare essentials might look like www.domainname.com/productID/, since it's short enough to rank well, contains few (if any) extra characters and parameters, and is thus less complex as a whole.
Repetition is something search engines do not want to see within URLs. By this, we mean that search engines are not looking for certain words to appear over and over again within a short URL, so the less repetition you have in your short URL (and on your page overall), the better off you'll be when it comes to getting ranked organically.
An example of an extreme case might be www.domainname.com/category1category2category3productID-detail/. Try as we might, there is no easy way to view such a URL and see it as short or efficient; this particular short URL both uses too many words and contains repetition (in the form of the repeated category names), which is something you want to avoid at all costs when shortening your URLs.
When we talk about dynamic URLs, we're referring to a result of a search within a website driven by a database that's running a script of some kind, so the URL changes every time the site is viewed.
While it's true that shortening dynamic URLs can get complicated, this doesn't mean you should avoid shortening them at all costs. For example, www.domainname.com/products.php?productID=1234 could be shorted to www.domainname.com/products/1234, since shortening it wouldn't be much of an issue here.
Related somewhat to URL complexity is the question of whether any symbols within your short URL are easily understood or not by both humans and web crawlers. Since you want all elements of your short URLs to be readable, it's best to avoid using any symbols that might prove confusing in the short term.
For example, you don't want to use special characters like % or ! within short URLs; these can both lead to crawling and reading issues, and may even cause your short URLs to get broken up in a way that renders them useless from a search engine perspective.
Too great a quantity of subfolders
URL subfolders are vital tools that every website owner should have in their DIY toolkit. However, it's important not to use short URLs as a substitute for proper subfolder utilization; short URLs should be used only when they offer the most benefits and least drawbacks overall. Websites that use too many subfolders may eventually experience short URL problems with search engines, simply because short URLs are most effective when they're serving a purpose.
Risks of Not Optimizing URLs
If your website URLs have not been optimized, you're taking risks at both the user level and the search engine level. Long, complex URLs can lead to a few different issues:
User Intimidation or Spam Perception
When your URLs are too long or complex, many users will begin to view your site more like spam than anything else since short URLs are often perceived as being indicative of more relevant, high-quality websites. This is especially true if some subset of your users are experienced with any basic SEO or digital marketing themes -- this means they'll know the value of shorter URLs, and will wonder why your URLs are so long if you don't have a good reason for them to be as such.
Search engine rankings and crawling issues
If short URLs aren't properly implemented from a technical perspective, it's very possible that search engines will begin to notice crawlability or indexing issues. This is because short URLs are more effective than longer ones in most cases, so if short URLs are being cut off or separated in some way for search engines, then your overall site rankings may begin to suffer.
Another major risk posed by long, complex URLs: When users attempt to type or copy/paste them, the link may get broken in some way. This can lead to broken short URLs that no longer function, which obviously is not good for user experience or SEO.
In other cases, a user might accidentally remove certain parameters from the link, which could lead to it functioning improperly -- or not functioning at all.
Poor user experience
Finally, many website users utilize URLs as a way of "holding their place," if you will -- helping them understand where they are in their journey on your site. Some may even look to retrace their steps using URLs, especially if they've decided to make a purchase.
If your URLs are long and confusing, however, your users may just decide not to bother with them at all. This leaves short URLs as one of your best tools for making sure that your site's user experience is the best it can be: By simply shortening and simplifying, you can potentially draw more users in and keep them engaged.
Methods of Creating User-Friendly Website URLs
Luckily, there are a number of methods available for optimizing URLs and making them as user-friendly as possible. Some of these involve the assistance of quality SEO pros like the team at SEO Werkz; others are simple enough that business owners may be able to carry them out on their own. Let's look at some of the top themes to manage in this area.
Start with a keyword
Keywords are vital for numerous parts of SEO, and URLs are no exception. To optimize short URLs, start with a keyword and use it as the basis of your URL: Doing so ensures that both users and search engine crawlers will know exactly what each short URL is supposed to convey.
Simple, short and catchy
While you're launching various pages on your website, look for simple ways to make your URLs short and catchy. A short URL with an easy-to-catch core concept can lead to much higher user engagement, since it's more likely that users will remember the short URL and your site as a whole will appear more relevant in search results.
Use hyphens for separation
The hyphen is one of the simplest ways to separate different parts of short URLs. Not only does this idea match some of the approaches used by popular short URL services like Bitly, but it also helps to ensure that short URLs don't get broken while being entered or copied by users.
Specifically, Google advises against using underscores or spaces in URLs, and prefers to see short, descriptive words separated by hyphens. It should be noted that there are some exceptions to this (spaces in particular are sometimes necessary for specific short URL services), but the general principle holds true across most short URL services and scenarios: Use hyphens to separate your words in short URLs whenever possible.
One important tip here, however: Hyphens (plus dashes and numbers) should be avoided in the main URL domain -- that is, anything before the .com. The proper location for these is within the URL tail, where they can be used in several positive ways.
Consistency with headers
Another tool at your disposal for optimizing your URLs and making them user-friendly is the maintain consistency between the URLs and your various H1 headers on specific pages. This may seem like something that's only relevant to the wiring of your website, but it actually impacts short URLs as well: For example, if you're using short words and phrases for short URLs, making sure that those short words and phrases are used in your H1 headers can help users comprehend what each short URL is supposed to convey.
In most cases this won't actually matter -- most modern servers treat uppercase and lowercase letters the same way when they're present in URLs. However, there are still some that don't, and you'll get into trouble if you're not consistent.
For this reason, we recommend sticking exclusively with lowercase letters for short URLs. While there's technically no reason that this rule is necessary, it does ensure that your short URLs will function across the board -- and if you're looking to include keywords in short URLs, having lowercase words makes them even easier to understand.
Don't use dates
First and foremost, dates in your URLs make them longer -- and as we discussed earlier, short URLs are more ideal than longer ones. Beyond that, you simply don't need dates to make short URLs work effectively.
In addition, dates in the URL make it much harder to update content since short URLs that include dates will invariably need to be changed. Since short URLs are short for a reason, refrain from including any date information in your short URL.
We went over subfolders earlier, and ensuring they're properly organized and formatted plays a major role in short URL optimization. If short URLs are placed within subfolders, you'll need to be sure that the short URL follows a clear pattern -- one that makes sense for both users and crawlers alike.
While HTTPS is more about security than URLs directly, it is a part of the URL, so it's worth mentioning. HTTPS is the modern standard, one that replaced HTTP over the last decade or so, and more specifically it serves to encrypt all of the links on your site. Not only does this make short URLs better for user experience (since they're easier to copy), but it also adds another layer of security that short URLs will need.
Avoid dynamic URLs
While dynamic URLs that can change based on a number of variables are a quick and easy way to create short URLs, they're not the best idea in terms of short URL optimization. That's because dynamic short URLs tend to be longer than static ones -- and if you're looking to include keywords or other pertinent information for search engine crawlers, that means you'll need to leave that information out of your short URLs.
In some cases, existing websites will have already been built without great attention to optimizing URLs. You may have a functioning site, but one that's full of long, complex URLs that are hurting your chances of success.
One option in this situation is the use of various URL rewriting tools. These are simple, straightforward programs that change troublesome short URLs into better ones -- they essentially rewrite short URLs for you, making them both more appealing and more helpful to users.
In cases like this, URL rewriting programs are invaluable in helping you create the short URL strategy you need from scratch. By working through your website with a rewriter in tow, you can quickly change all of your short URLs into short, effective ones that meet all of the criteria we've discussed.
However, we don't recommend simply performing this action alone without also coordinating with your SEO expert. URL rewriting programs are great for shortening short URLs, but they can't do much else to help you optimize those short URLs -- and there's a good reason for that.
When you work with our team, we'll show you several other professional methods of short URL optimization that can help you keep short URLs short while still providing users with the content they're looking for. In this way, short URL rewriters can be used to great effect in conjunction with a more comprehensive short URL strategy.
For more on why short, simple URLs are the name of the game in SEO, or to learn about any of our URL or other on-site optimization services, speak to the team at SEO Werkz today.