What’s In A Name? How a URL Can Affect A Site’s Usability

Often overlooked due to the fact that they aren’t the biggest ranking factor used by search engines, the structure of URLs can have a major impact on the SEO and usability factors of a website. The keywords contained within a URL are much more than just a location tool. Relevant to both the user and search engines, URLs help to assess and describe what each page on a site is about and what kind of product or services it provides. The better the URL optimization, the higher it will rank in organic search engine results.

While a great deal of thought may be put into the main URL of a website, the inner pages are very important to give thought to in terms of usability. Many times, for these pages – a URL is automatically generated that can easily be optimized to better serve the site and its visitors.

Being aware of the pitfalls that a URL can fall into, as well as following a few tips to optimize usability can lead to increased conversion and heightened visibility.

Start Making Sense

  • Unless a page isn’t loading, there is no reason that a site visitor should be brought to an Error 404 page. Redirect any inactive pages to content that may be relevant to the search or a directory of other pages that may be useful.
  • Avoid URLs that may look like spam or are too leading. Conduct an ‘expectancy test’ to determine what a user thinks would be on the page based on its title without seeing the actual content on the page.
  • Put simply, users should be able to understand what information the URL will direct to. Just like writing for a content strategy, URLs should be given as much thought as page content.
  • Ensure the URL is easy to remember and simple to type in without much thought or reference.


Develop a Structure

  • Avoid long or over complicated URLs, keep it short and simple.
  • Links and file names should begin with the most important content that is on the page. Foretold with the URL with a tile, filename or heading.
  • Use Descriptors that are relevant to the the content of the page.
  • Separate Words with hyphens as opposed to underscores (underscores are used to bind words together).
  • URLs must be all lowercase.
  • Cut down on the use of filler, or ‘stop’ words such as: and, the, but, for. If they are part of a trademark or help to clarify a subject, keep them, but its best to edit them for avoiding these usually unnecessary words.

Optimize for SEO

  • The better the URL optimization, the higher it will rank in organic search engine results.
  • Create an architectural structure for all pages to help the search engines classify all content available beginning with the root, or homepage.
  • Use punctuation.

Aside from traditional marketing and social media outlets, optimizing URLs is one of the most effective ways to get content noticed by interested users and search engines.Putting in the time to optimize this often overlooked content can be critical to growing the user base of a company and increasing market share.

Vanessa Petersen

As Executive Director of Brand Strategy based in ArtVersion’s Portland office, Vanessa manages both national and West Coast accounts. She brings with her a passion for strategy with extensive experience in creative marketing, brand growth and development. She is a true advocate of storytelling and brand building from the inside out, and her keen knowledge of the marketplace, trend patterns and usability lead her to identify opportunities that can inspire powerful design strategies.

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