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/about/cfusion/customer/showcase/ establishes lower relevancy when the page is indexed than www.adobe.com/about/customer-showcase/, 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!