The Anatomy of a URL: What It Is And Why It Matters For SEO

URLs help users navigate content on the World Wide Web. Learn more about the parts of a URL, and how they impact the rankings of your site.
Luca Mussari

Luca Mussari

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Simply put, a URL is an address of a web page. An example of a URL is https://www.wikipedia.org/, the URL for the most famous free Internet-based encyclopaedia.

URL is nothing else than a short name for ‘Uniform Resource Locator’ and it represents the web address used to find pages on the internet. It’s important for businesses to understand how URLs work in order to get around online and find information quickly.

When creating new websites or optimising existing ones, URLs are also one of the most overlooked areas. 

They’re generally seen as just a string of letters or numbers that follow the domain name. But in reality, they are much more than that. In fact, they can be used for instance to tell if a website is secure, which countries that website targets as well as relevant information about the content hosted on a certain page.

So if your company is looking for a way to stand out from the competition or differentiate itself from its competitors, an SEO-friendly URL may be just what you need! 

This blog post will cover everything there is to know about URLs: what they mean and why you need one, how to create them and why they matter for SEO purposes.

Let’s dive straight into it.

Why Do You Need a URL?

A website needs an address to be found online – but not just any will do. Even though there’s no shortage of sites on the internet with addresses that are complex, particularly long or easily forgettable, it’s important to offer users a website address that is both memorable, short, and fully customised.

But how do I know if a website address already exists?

If you’re not sure if a website address already exists, there are a number of different ways to check. You can simply use the Google search bar or go straight to an advanced domain checking tool like Domain.com or Namecheap.

URL vs URI

A lot of time, people get confused about a URL and a URI. However, they are not the same thing.

A URL is the web address that a user types in to reach the site whereas a URI is rather a way of referencing something online, and we use them often when referring to files or information residing on different sites.

For example, a URL would be the address you type into your browser to visit a website such as “domainname.com” or “domain.com/blog-category/blog-post-name/”, while a URI which stands for ‘Uniform Resource Identifier’ would reference something on another site that might not have an associated URL like ‘blog.com/category/post-name’.

A URL is only a destination – it does not have any information about the content of the page, but URIs can point to things like images or PDFs that are hosted next to other webpages on sites such as Flickr and Google Docs respectively.

If you want more technical insight into what these two different terminologies mean, head over here for an article explaining the topic in detail.

The Parts Of A URL

At its most basic level, a URL usually consists of four parts: the HTTP/S protocol, the domain name and DNS, a path to file, and the Top-level-domain (TLD).

Here’s an example of a URL:

Parts of a URL

The HTTP/S Protocol

Unless you are accessing an old site that was created before protocols were introduced in 1993, then your URL will be using either Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) for sites where you need security from third-party hackers like public Wi-Fi networks; or Hypertext Transfer Protocol (commonly called ‘the internet’) which is what most people use on their laptops when they connect to websites such as Amazon and Wikipedia through non-secure connections.

Although Google never specifically declared HTTPS as a ranking factor many studies show the correlation between higher rankings and URLs that have HTTPS protocols implemented instead of HTTP. It’s important then that your site will be fully secure and that the HTTPS protocol will be enabled.

Usually, you can spot an HTTPS encrypted connection by looking at the address bar where you can see a lock symbol.

SSL Certificate Security Google Chrome Search Bar

Domain Name & DNS

These are two different terms with related meanings that you may also see when looking at URLs but don’t let them confuse you!

Domain names usually represent a company or brand name, and can be anything from google.com to instagram.com; this is the part of a URL that’s after the ‘https://’.

DNS stands instead for Domain Name System which is a platform where domain names are linked with IP Addresses: it converts human-friendly URLs into numerical strings so browsers know how to connect you to your website when reading an address such as domain.com/product-category/product-name.

Path To File and Website Sub-Directories or Folders

The ‘path to file’ is simply any part of the URL that comes after the domain name.

For example, if you are browsing google.com/news then the ‘/news’ is your path.

Other examples of Paths can be the following:

/blog/, /products/, /contact-us/, /about-us/.

Website sub-directories or sub-folders in the URL are a container for pages within a specific category or section on your main domain, also called root domain or main directory/folder.

For example, if you are browsing to www.samsung.com/uk/smartphones/galaxy-note/ then the ‘/smartphones/galaxy-note/’ is your Path whereas ‘/smartphones/’ would be a sub-directory in that URL for pages specifically about smartphones and it may contain several sub-directories of related content or pages within that category.

Top-level-domain (TLD)

A Top-level-domain or TLD is the last part of a URL which often refers to either what country your website is based or operates in or what type of company your website represents.

For example, .com is a TLD often used for commercial websites whereas .gov stands for government-based websites and would be the last part in an URL such as company.com. The ‘.uk’ represents instead where this site resides within the UK domain registry system (.co.uk).

Most Popular TLDs in 2021

Source: hebergementwebs.com

Additional URL Components

www. vs non-www. : The three Ws are an optional part of a URL that identifies a site as a part of the World Wide Web. Back in the day, they used to be a standard for all websites on the internet, while now whether they are included or not, it’s down to preference.

Subdomain: This is a URL that goes after the main domain, such as stage.domainname.com. In this example, ‘stage’ is the subdomain, ‘domainname’ is the primary domain and ‘.com’ is the top-level domain (TLD). The most popular reason why website owners would use a subdomain is to create staging sites or online stores. This is because they might require higher security layers compared to the main domain.

Query Strings and Variables: The query string is the part that comes after the ‘?’ in a URL. Variables instead are used to send information from one page of a website to another. For example

UTM Parameters: UTM parameters are different from query strings and variables. They are composed of three or four parts and can be used to gather website metrics like the number of clicks, where visitors came from (referral), how much time they spent on the site etc.

URL Slugs: A slug is the part of a URL that identifies a particular page on a website in an easy-to-read form. In other words, it’s the human-readable name of a webpage. They can appear in several formats, but most often they have one or two words with an ending that tells what type of page it is (e.g., “about/”, “blog/” etc).

How To Optimise A URL For SEO

A website URL has an important role to play in search engine optimisation since it tells the search engine where to find a web page.

An SEO-friendly URL is one that:

  • has a unique, short, descriptive and easy-to-read text that reflects what the page is about
  • has keywords and key search phrases in the beginning so they’re easy for humans and search engines to identify
  • uses only hyphens (-) to separate words as opposed to underscores (_)
  • uses only lowercase and never capital letters
  • does not include special characters such as # or %, or any other symbols, as most search engines will find them to be irrelevant
  • avoid question marks (or query string as we learned) where possible
  • does not include a file extension like .html or .php at the end as this leads to a better-looking and cleaner URL which is good for user experience
  • has a clear and logical parent/child structure to help search engines and users understand the relationship between different sections of the site. For instance, in our previous example www.samsung.com/uk/smartphones/galaxy-note/, ‘/galaxy-note/’ would be the child, whereas ‘/smartphones/’ would be the parent page. This means that the ‘/galaxy-note/’ is a page within the ‘/smartphones’ section of the site which will have the benefit of clarifying to users and search engines the section where the page sits and help target search queries such as ‘samsung note smartphone’ or ‘samsung note phones’ within the URL

Summary

Hopefully, you should be now familiar with what a URL is, its components and how to build the perfect SEO-friendly URL.

What are you waiting for? Go and check out the URLs on your site and start making them awesome for search engines and users. Remember to redirect old URLs when you make changes though (!) as they might have already attracted backlinks and gained significant traffic to your site.

Let me know your experience with improving URL structure on your site and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions!

Book Your Free SEO Consultation Now

Luca Mussari
This article was written by Luca Mussari, a UK-based SEO Consultant operating worldwide. Luca has 6+ years of international experience working on SEO and content marketing projects across a range of industries, including e-commerce, finance and tech. If you need any SEO advice or would like him to look at your next project then get in touch to arrange a free SEO consultation.

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