I thought the dawn­ing of spring would be a good time to brush up on some basics when it comes to effec­tively nam­ing URLs. It’s cer­tainly not a strate­gic or fas­ci­nat­ing topic, but it is a com­mon SEO and Web team dis­cus­sion at Adobe, and one we have, or train on, a few times per month inter­nally.  Here are 10 “down and dirty” tips you should remem­ber to enhance your SEO effectiveness:

  1. Keyword-rich URLs do mat­ter.  How­ever, they are but one of many content-oriented sig­nals, so their impor­tance needs to be bal­anced in con­text with other parts of the SEO mix related to con­tent, link­ing, tech­ni­cal, and social fac­tors. Always, always write for humans first.
  2. Use sub­do­mains inten­tion­ally.  Ide­ally, their use is min­i­mal as they split out your domain’s value to another loca­tion.  How­ever, this is not a bat­tle worth fight­ing as there are many good rea­sons IT and Web teams use sub­do­mains – and search engines still rank them as sep­a­rate enti­ties.  Be sure you review dupli­cate con­tent, cross-linking oppor­tu­ni­ties, and the syn­ergy of con­tent between the sub­do­main and pri­mary domain.
  3. Be con­sis­tent when using case sen­si­tive names. This is espe­cially impor­tant when nam­ing anchor ele­ments because aboutus.html is not the same as AboutUs.html. In such cases, vis­i­tors will likely receive a 404 Miss­ing File error.  Best prac­tices rec­om­mend lower case nam­ing as a means to main­tain consistency.
  4. Some content-generating pub­lish­ing web­sites use a numeric code or hier­ar­chy to orga­nize site files – this way they can tag and track con­tent effec­tively in their CMS.  Another method is to use an inter­nal hier­ar­chy, invis­i­ble to end users, that depicts pri­mary pages as 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, etc. Sub­pages should then be named using 1.1, 2.1, and so on.
  5. Avoid using abbre­vi­a­tions when nam­ing files and fold­ers. Search engines strug­gle with index­ing nonuni­form names such as “youre” and “aren’t.”
  6. URL key­words are a fac­tor for  SEO suc­cess. Main­tain 3–5 key­words for file names with a max­i­mum of 50–60 char­ac­ters to avoid lengthy URLs.
  7. Limit use of dates when nam­ing site files and fold­ers. Sub­se­quent edit­ing can become prob­lem­atic and URL value is less­ened.  The pri­mary excep­tion is if arti­cles are date spe­cific (news arti­cles or blog posts). In that case, using dates helps keep your file setup more organized.
  8. Aim to keep pages closer to the root domain as crawlers assign more rel­e­vance to pages higher in the direc­tory struc­ture. For exam­ple, all other things being equal, www​.adobe​.com/​a​b​o​u​t​/​c​f​u​s​i​o​n​/​c​u​s​t​o​m​e​r​/​s​h​o​w​c​a​se/ estab­lishes lower rel­e­vancy when the page is indexed than www​.adobe​.com/​a​b​o​u​t​/​c​u​s​t​o​m​e​r​-​s​h​o​w​c​a​se/, which pro­vides higher rel­e­vance to spiders.
  9. To avoid con­fu­sion for both vis­i­tors and search engines, key­words for fold­ers and file names should be sep­a­rated with a hyphen.  Under­score is another option but not rec­om­mended as it can be dif­fi­cult to see when URLs are under­lined.  And using a space between words is also not rec­om­mended because a space is replaced by “%20” often when rewrit­ten on the Web.
  10. Sta­tic, keyword-based URLs are more effec­tive than parameter-based URLs. Avoid using unique iden­ti­fiers such as uid=123456, where each vis­i­tor gets a dif­fer­ent num­ber, or track­ing para­me­ters like source=xyz where xyz is dif­fer­ent for each refer­ring doc­u­ment.  How­ever, para­me­ters are dif­fi­cult to avoid because they pro­vide value to cus­tomers and inter­nal teams from IT and ecom­merce.  Two options are to rewrite para­me­ter URLs into keyword-supported URLs or, even bet­ter, add para­me­ters to your Google and Bing Web­mas­ter Tools accounts so they don’t impact list­ings in search results.

Con­sider this a bonus… Limit chang­ing URLs after pro­duc­tion. If not done per­fectly, you risk vis­i­tors get­ting a 404 error, and search engines will have more dif­fi­culty fol­low­ing the page. Keep your URLs as clean as pos­si­ble and you’ll find greater SEO suc­cess. Happy spring everyone!