With over 200 ranking factors to consider when it comes to Search Engine Optimization, it is no surprise that permalinks are often underrated. However, they can be highly beneficial for your wbeiste when done correctly. Today, we will see what permalinks are, and what is the best URL structure for SEO.
What is the best URL structure for SEO?
We have a long article ahead, so for those of you who just want to see the answer, here it is:
The best URL structure for SEO is the one that is clear, simple, and contains the main keywords of the blog post name while eliminating any irrelevant words. Ideally, it doesn’t go over 60 characters – a Backlinko’s study of 1 million URLs showed that shorter permalinks rank higher on Google. So, the ideal URL will look something like that:
With the disclaimer that, if your blog post name is really long, avoid using all of the words in your URL. Just the ones that are relevant, plus your main keyword, keeping it lower than 60 characters.
If you take a look at my blog post, its name is:
- Permalinks: What is the best URL structure for SEO?
However, the URL only includes the relevant keywords of it:
- /permalinks-best-url-structure-seo/ + my domain name mktoolboxsuite.com in front of it;
In this case, I removed extra keywords that don’t bring any value to my content, such as “what is”, “the”, or “for”.
Optionally, you could include the category as well, but only if your domain name is very short already. And if your blog categories are simple and well-organized. In some cases, including the category can lead to duplicate content, and we want to avoid that.
Of course, the science behind permalinks is not that simple. So, here is the longer version for those who want to understand why:
What is a Permalink?
A permalink is the full and permanent URL of a website, a page, or a blog post. Basically, it is a lot like your address – except that it’s the name of the “street” where your content lives. It is intended to remain unchanged for years to come, and to serve as a a persistent identifier on the Internet.
For example, if we take a look at this post, the permalink would be:
Where the first part, “mktoolboxsuite.com”, is the domain name, and everything else after “.com” is the slug. While all the URLs within a website always start with its domain name, you can (and should) change the slug across different pages and blog posts for maximum SEO value.
In other words, a permalink is really just the structure of your URL.
Slugs are extremely important for Search Engine Optimization. They not only serve as an identifier, but also provide context to search engines and web browsers about the content on your page. They tell them how to index your website.
For this reason, you should avoid having URLs that consist of random numbers and letters, because they:
- Are not attractive to website visitors;
- Not optimized for search engines;
- Provide no meaning or context concerning your content;
- And are definitely not friendly for sharing across social media channels.
For example, let’s say that you are writing a blog post on the best food brands for dogs. Would you have your URL look like this:
URL A: yourdomain.com/top-10-food-brands-dogs
Or this one?
URL B: yourdomain.com/abbc34232842hsdfj
As you can see, the first one is much more user-friendly, while the second one is practically unreadable. This will not only affect your SEO negatively, but will also make it difficult to index for search engines.
How does URL structures affect SEO?
According to Backlinko, there are over 200 ranking factors that Google uses to determine your position on its pages. And in fact, at least 2 of them have to do with permalinks:
As I explained in my article Search Engine Optimization for Beginners, keywords are the universal language of communication on the Internet. And no, I am not talking about conversations between one person and another.
Keywords are the way we communicate our content to search engines. Without them, they wouldn’t be able to understand the context of our website or pages, nor match it against people who are searching for something similar to what we offer.
So, when you include a keyword in your URL, you are basically telling Google “This page is about this keyword (topic)”.
In other words, keywords are key (that was a bad intent for a pun) to making your brand visible on the Internet. For this reason, they should be included in all the important places, and permalinks are one of them.
This means that the best URL structure for SEO will always include keywords that are relevant to the content on the page, giving you a slight boost in rankings.
Additionally, not all keywords are created equal – some of them have more volume than others. Simply put, it just means that people search for some things on Google more than others. For example, more people probably look for “cat pictures” than “pictures of cats playing with dogs“.
For this reason, always make sure to conduct a keyword research for your content. This way, you will ensure placing high-volume keyword not only on the page but in your URL as well.
2. URL length
Although URL length is not officially confirmed by Google as a ranking factor, many studies show that shorter permalinks can be highly beneficial for your rankings.
After analyzing over 1,000,000 Google search results, Backlinko found out that shorter URLs tend to rank higher than longer ones:
In fact, as we can see in the graph, the first position on Google has a permalink with an average of 50 characters.
In another study, Ahrefs also found a clear correlation between the character count of an URL, and the page’s respective rankings:
For this reason, keeping your URL short and sweet is much more SEO-friendly than a longer one. So, although it has not been officially confirmed by Google, it still seems to be a ranking factor after all! Also, search engines are not precisely transparent when it comes to their ranking factors either.
Choosing Permalink options in Wordpress
When you are creating a blog post or a page, your URL isn’t optimized by default. If you don’t do any modifications to your permalink, Wordpress will automatically create it for you with the structure that you have previously selected when configuring your blog.
You can find your permalink set up under the headline of the page/post that you are creating:
For example, my permalink structure is my domain name + blog post name. And of course, I usually modify it later to only include relevant keywords, without any unnecessary ones.
However, depending on your blog configuration, this might not be the case for you. To change your URL structure, go to Settings – Permalinks:
Now, let’s go over the different options, and see which ones are the best for SEO.
Starting with the Plain option, it is safe to say that it is probably the worst one when it comes to Search Engine Optimization. It is really just a random post identification number, and doesn’t provide any valuable information. Neither to users nor search engines.
Yes, one would argue that it is short and sweet. “Short” might be true, but it’s definitely not sweet! It doesn’t include any relevant keywords on the topic that you are writing about, so search engines will not be able to find any meaning in it.
Additionally, it is not user-friendly for sharing on social media. Including keywords and having an URL structure that can be easily read and understood by actual people increases their trust in clicking on the link. Otherwise, they could just ignore it.
Day and Name
This option can be tempting for some content creators. Especially if they are blogging multiple times a day, as it helps them differentiate their content more easily.
If you select this configuration, the slug will include the day in which your post went live, and the name of your post.
However, it is usually not a recommended option either.
The reason why is that, when you add a date to your post, it becomes visible to the public. This might be okay for the first months or year in which the article was published, because your content will be new and fresh. However, as time goes by, it is suddenly not such a good idea anymore.
People are naturally looking for content that is more recent and up to date, so if they see a post from 5 years ago, they will probably not click on it because they will think that it’s outdated. Even if it has evergreen information that still holds true to this day, they will be less inclined to trust in it.
Additionally, including the full date makes your URL longer than just having your blog post name. And, as we already saw, shorter links tend to rank higher than longer ones!
Month and name
This URL structure is very similar to the previous one. Except that instead of having the full date, you only have the month, year, and of course your blog post name:
The reasoning behind why it’s not the best SEO option is basically the same. It gives your content something like a “due date”, after which it starts looking outdated. So, people are less inclined to click on it, thinking that the information is no longer up to date with what they are looking for.
On the good side, it is a bit shorter than the Day and Name option. So, if you have to select between these two, this option is a little bit better for Search Engine Optimization!
The next permalink structure is very similar to the first one that we saw. It includes a unique identifier number, and provides very little information to search engines about the content on your page.
So, if you are looking to maximize SEO value, it is safe to ignore it completely!
Out of all permalink structure options, this seems to be the best one for optimizing your URL for search engines, and for boosting your rankings.
However, as I mentioned earlier, selecting this URL structure doesn’t mean that your permalink is automatically optimized for SEO. You will need to do some quick, manual work yourself:
- Make sure to include keywords that are relevant for the topic on the page/blog post. This way, you will help users and search engines understand what your content is about.
- Eliminate extra keywords that don’t provide any value. They only make your URL unnecessarily longer, and will not help your rankings.
- Use hyphens to separate the words in your permalink. For example, instead of building your URL as yourdomain.com/pricingplans, make it yourdomain.com/pricing-plans. This way, you will make it easier for humans and search engines to understand what your page is about.
- Remove “stop words” such as “at”, “any”, “which”, “before”. They are a waste of valuable space, and don’t help search engines understand the context of your content.
- Keep your permalink under 60, or even better, under 50 characters. As we already mentioned, shorter URLs tend to rank higher than longer ones.
The Custom Structure option allows you to build your own permalink structure, with a set of pre-established tags to choose from. After that, Wordpress will apply it automatically for you on each blog post or page. It will separate tags by adding % before and after each tag:
This structure is not recommended for SEO purposes. The main reason why is because your URLs will become really long, heavy, and non-user friendly. We already discussed that longer permalinks typically rank lower than shorter ones.
Should you include the category in your URL?
A frequently asked question about URL structures is whether including the category in the permalink is a good idea. Categories by themselves are not bad for SEO. In fact, they can be even beneficial because they include more keywords, and thus provide additional information about your content.
They also help search engines understand how your site is organized.
However, they also:
- Make your permalinks longer;
- Under certain circumstances, they can create the possibility of accidentally having duplicate content. Which means that the same post will be published under different categories, and duplicate content is never a good idea.
Generally speaking, if your domain name is already nice and short, and your categories are descriptive and neatly-organized, you could opt for including the category in your URL. However, be careful because it can impact the length of your slug, which does not have much added value for Google.
Personally, I think that not including category names is a better option, and it makes your URL tidier and easier to read. However, if you decide to include them, make sure that you only select one category per post. Otherwise, you might end up with duplicate content.
More Best Practices
Apart from what we already mentioned, there are some other best practices to keep in mind when building your permalink structure:
Exclude Special Characters
Avoid using special characters like the percentage sign, backslash, hash, tilde, and others. The main reason why is because they can introduce security risks and be an object of malicious cyber attacks.
For this reason, it is very important to adhere to a safe and consistent protocol when it comes to working with URLs on the web. You can check the safe characters in this chart:
Use Canonical Tags
When two or more of your URLs contain similar content, it can be confusing for Google’s crawlers (the so-called spiders). When it comes to Search Engine Optimization, it means that you are diluting your SEO value across multiple URLs.
This can also happen a lot if you have two versions for your web pages, one with “http”, and another one with an “https” protocol. In any case, you should avoid duplicate content because it not only confuses search engines, but can also lead to penalization under certain circumstances.
Additionally, duplicate or very similar content means that it will be hard for Google to understand which URL to prioritize and position in front of the other.
For this reason, it is very important that each URL within your website is well-consolidated. You can do this by using canonical tags.
To sum it up, canonical tags let Google know which URL is the master version of all the possible ones. By using them, you tell search engines that this link
Use Dynamic strings carefully
Compared to static URLs, which do not change unless the changes are coded into the HTML, dynamic URLs are the result of a specific query to the database of a website. They are common among some e-commerce platforms.
However, they go against the rules that we just specified in this article. Dynamic URLs usually don’t have a logical folder structure, and are not easy to read or understand by users. They also do not include keywords, and we already saw that keywords are very important for Search Engine Optimization.
Although dynamic URL strings are perfectly crawable by search engines, they are not user nor SEO-friendly.
Consolidate different website versions
Usually, domains have two major versions indexed by search engines. That is, the www version, and its non-www counterpart. On top of that, we also have the complexity of secure (https) and non-secure (http) protocols, with the obvious preference being given to the safe one.
Many companies use the 301 redirect to consolidate these versions, pointing them to one particular URL that counts as the “official” destination. In the case where redirects can’t be done, users can also specify their preferred version in Google Search Console.
For those of you who don’t know, Search Console is a free web service offered by Google that helps with website indexing, and also provides tools that facilitate search engine positioning.
The biggest problem with having multiple versions of your website is backlinks. When someone makes a reference to your website in a backlink within their own, they usually point to only one version of it. So, if the backlink points to the “https” one, the “http” is not getting the backlinks.
Which means that if you have a single, consolidated version, all of the possible backlinks will be pointing to it, without diluting the link juice across multiple versions. For this reason, it is very important to have everything consolidated in one place.
After you’ve tackled all the best practices mentioned above, the next one is to make sure that search engines know what is happening on your website.
This is where XML sitemaps come in handy.
An XML sitemap is basically a roadmap of your website. It tells search engines how your pages and posts are structured and related to each other, and in what direction crawlers will need to go once a page is visited. Aka, which will be the next one on the roadmap.
When you submit an XML sitemap to search engines, you submit a list of all of your website’s URLs. There are two main reasons why you need to do that:
- It helps search engines like Google discover and navigate through your pages more easily. If a page doesn’t have any internal links pointing to it, it can be hard to find by crawlers, which is where XML sitemaps can help.
- The sitemap can serve as a reference when choosing canonical URLs on your website. As we saw, choosing a preferred URL is necessary when it comes to duplicate pages. With a sitemap, you can tell Google which will be your preferred (canonical URL).
Generally speaking, if a specific URL is not mentioned on the sitemap of a website, it can be much harder to find so it can be indexed on Google. For search engines, it will mean that it doesn’t form part of your website’s content.
Should you change your SEO structure?
Let’s be honest, getting it right with the best URL structure from the very beginning of a new website’s creation is not very common. Unless they are accompanied by experts, many people learn on the go.
Which means that a lot of permalinks will be created before realizing that it might not be the best structure!
A lot of people wonder if it’s worth changing the whole URL structure of a website just for SEO reasons. Well, the answer is not as simple as it seems.
According to Yoast, if you’ve been blogging for a while, and have a lot of permalinks generated with a structure that is not precisely the best for SEO, do not hurry into making drastic decisions.
This decision will also depend on your current structure. For example, if you have been using dates or categories for a while, taking them off your URL might not make such a huge difference. And, on another hand, it could mean a lot of very careful and precise work to make sure that you are doing it right.
However, if you’ve been using numeric or plain URLs for a while, it is always a good idea to switch to ones with keywords that are actually user-friendly. This will significantly improve the potential of your blog to be better indexed on Google.
Best URL structure for SEO: Conclusion
Of course, although there are structures that are better than others in terms of SEO, it is important to remember that every business has its own goals and means to achieve them. So, it will take some careful evaluation to decide what will work best for you.
However, for the majority of businesses, Search Engine Optimization is key for getting more organic traffic. For this reason, it is always a great idea to follow the best SEO practices to make sure that you are appearing on search engines in front of your competitors.
Now, it’s your turn! What is the current URL structure that you are using, and are you happy with the results? Do you plan on changing it any time soon? Let me know in the comments below!
As always, I hope you enjoyed the article, and I hope to see you in the next one?