Modern SEO Page-Naming Conventions

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Most search engine optimization (SEO) professionals spend a lot of their time optimizing the titles and descriptions of their Web pages to rank higher and attract more visitors, but many also forget to optimize another important aspect of a Web page that can affect its ranking: the URL.

As with title tags, URLs help describe a website and page to search engines and potential visitors, meaning that they should be updated (or at least checked) regularly to ensure they are relevant, accurate and enticing for users.

There are various “best practices” for URL structure that have popped up over the years, such as keeping them as short as possible, while remaining descriptive, and that they should indicate the different levels of a site’s structure by including folders and/or subfolders.

But those general tactics don’t always reflect the trends of the day, which is why we’re going to look at some modern page-naming conventions for three different query types (i.e. informational, navigational and transactional) utilized by SEO pros on the search results pages today. To do this, we’ll look at the top eight results (or seven from the navigational queries) for three different searches and for each type of query.

Informational

When it comes to informational page URLs, it is important to utilize keywords as much as possible, and to be aware of more long-tail search queries that may come up so you can include them in your URLs, as well.

top baby names
Two of the domains names in the URL for this query actually used keywords from the search, and one of them utilized the full query in the domain name (without hyphens). In addition, four (or 50 percent) of the URLs used the full keyword string, in order, somewhere in the address. Six of the results (75 percent) used hyphen to separate terms in the URL, while one of them (12.5 percent) did not separate the word at all. Five of the pages (62.5 percent) were located in folders on the site, according to the URLs, while three of them (37.5 percent) were organized by date. One of the URLs ended with a .html extension. The longest URL was 77 characters, while the shortest was just 21; the average character length was 49.

types of sushi
All eight of the URLs for this query used at least one of the search keywords; half of them used all three words, three of which (75 percent) used them all in order. Of the page names, 75 percent had the individual words separated by hyphens, while one did not separate them at all; one of the domain names even had a hyphen in it. Two, or 25 percent, of the pages were not located in any specific folders; one of the page was, while four of the URLs actually referenced pages that were located beneath multiple subfolders. Two URLs ended in a .asp extension, one in a .aspx and two others in .html extensions. The longest was 75 characters long; the shortest was 27 characters; the average was 50.9 characters.

best hip hop albums 2012
Every one of the URLs for this search used hyphens to separate different words in the page title at the end of the address. Four of these pages were located in folders on the website, as indicated by the URL, while two of those were actually in subfolders. However, two of them were actually organized by date, so where the folders were normally located in the other URLs, these pages instead had a year or specific date (e.g. /2012/08/31/). Moreover, one URL used a content ID number as a search parameter in the URL, while another one introduced the page title at the end of the address by prefacing it with “title.” before adding the name of the page. The longest URL was 91 characters long, and the shortest was 44 characters. The average for all of them was 67.5 characters.

Navigational

Navigational searches are those that are looking for something specific, so a smart brand knows that it should include its name in all of its URLs whenever possible. In addition, you should your industry’s most prominent keyword frequently. Plus, it helps to keep these address names as short and easy-to-remember as possible.

PetSmart
Five of the seven (71 percent) used this keyword somewhere in the URL, and three of them (43 percent) used it in the domain name. However, two (28.5 percent) don’t use the keyword at all. One of these pages (14 percent) is located on a subdomain, as well, while one is in a folder, and another is in a subfolder. The longest URL was 61 characters long, and the shortest was just 17. The average for all seven was 36.1 characters. 

Emergency 24
Four (57 percent) of these URLs included the keywords somewhere, and three of them had it in sequence. Just one of them used it in the domain name. One page was hosted on a subdomain, and 43 percent of the pages were located in folders on the site, with one of them buried in a subfolder. In the page names, two URLs separated individual words with hyphens, but one did nothing to separate them. One page ended its address with a .html extension and another with a .asp extension. The longest URL was 65 characters, and the shortest, like PetSmart, was only 17, but the average character-length for all seven URLs was 35.

Verizon Wireless
A whopping six out of seven (or 86 percent) of these URLS used both keywords, while four of them had that exact string, including the one that used it in the domain name. Two of the pages are hosted on subdomains, while interestingly, two of them start with a “www22.” subdomain. Five of the pages (71 percent) are located in folders, with one of those being in a subfolder. In the page names, one separates different words by using both hyphens and a “+” sign, while another one actually uses underscores to distinguish different terms.

Transactional

Most of us use the Web to shop, at least on occasion, and so many of our daily searches have to do with potential transactions we’re thinking of making. For SEO pros, this means it is important to include possible keywords in a page’s URL structure, but that it is more important to organize and name your site’s folders and subfolders so that they aren’t too long and add a lot of unnecessary clutter to your URLs, because, as you’ll see, many of these URLs are already quite long. More than likely you’re going to have a lot of products that could be searched for, and you need to be able to find them easily on your server without using cumbersome folder names.

basketball hoop prices
Two sets of two pages for this keyword actually came from the same domain name (walmart.com and amazon.com, respectively). Seven of the eight pages use at least one of these keywords in the URL, including one that used “basketball” in the domain name, while two of the addresses used “basketball hoop” together. Two URLs used content IDs to indicate specific products, while one of them used a catalog ID. Six of the pages were located on subfolders. Five of them (62.5 percent) separated individual words in the page title by using hyphens. The longest URL was 107 characters long, while the shortest was 24; the average of all eight was 60.8 characters.

black office chair wheels
Two (25 percent) of these URLS did not include any of the keywords, but two had one keyword, another two had three keywords and the other two had all four keywords, including one that had them all in sequence. Seven of these pages (87.5 percent) were located in folders, and 75 percent of them were in some kind of subfolder. Six of the addresses used hyphens to separate individual words in the page titles, while four of them used product IDs to identify the unique products on each page. One URL ended with a .html extension, and another ended with a .php extension. The longest URL was a massive 123 characters, and the shortest was 39. The average length of all eight URLs was 70.3 characters.

used bookstore chicago
All eight of these URLs used at least one of the keywords from the query, and seven of those actually used all three words; three (37.5 percent) even used all of the words in sequence, and two (25 percent) used some of the keywords in the site’s domain name. Four of the pages are located in folders (one of them in a subfolder), but one of the pages is organized by date, much like with the informational queries. Four of the page names separate individual words with hyphens (although one also uses an underscore mark), but one of them uses “+” signs. One page, which is actually a site’s search results page, uses the command “search?” before including the keywords being searched for on that page. One of the pages ends with a .html extension, and other actually ends with a .story extension. The longest URL is 105 characters long, but the shortest is just 23. The average URL length for this query is 66.4 characters. 

 
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11 comments

David S Freid aka SEO Seattle® 03-12-2013 3:58 PM

It was not so long ago that in order to rank high in a competitive search term such as those mentioned in your article that the term had to be apart of the actual domain. Good to see that has changed.

Chris Sheehy 03-12-2013 4:15 PM

The focus is heavily concentrated on character count - I wonder what the word counts were?  If they could be reported upon, I would be interested in seeing an update to this article.  Being that I favor focusing on word counts instead of character counts (I know I'm not alone), the additional data would be most welcome.  Great article Michael!

RandyG 03-12-2013 5:32 PM

if i have a site that consists of 20 pages should I have several pages in subfolder or all in the root or does it matter for an information service site?

site is www.no-more-odor.com

EllisW 03-12-2013 5:44 PM

maybe im not looking hard enough but it would be great to see the actual urls found as a guide to us seo nooobs

Donna Duncan 03-13-2013 12:09 AM

A lot of detail in this article. I'm wondering if you drew any conclusions and would like to share that with us.

ChasB 03-13-2013 8:50 AM

The URL for this post begs scrutiny - I count seven folders deep. [/content/blogs/posts/archive/2013/03/12/ has no SEO value]. Difficult URL to share unless verbally - no wonder bit.ly and tiny.url are popular. There was an axiom from days gone by of placing the page no more than three clicks away from the root (as part of a good user ex). The rise of CMS (and particularly Wordpress) has made this convoluted folder structure prevalent. Good luck finding this article in a few months using site navigation alone. DD's request for an article conclusion is spot on, and the lack of URL examples noted by EllisW makes one wonder if there's an editor working at Website magazine.  

DanC 03-13-2013 8:55 AM

It would be nice to see the URL's talked about in the article, Some of us that are new to SEO need to see what is being described.

GregW 03-13-2013 11:34 AM

Seems the article spent a lot of time throwing statistics but very little time analyzing what works in each of the situations. I assume that keywords in the URL are still a very effective technique, as before. What has changed, if anything? The article is titles "page naming conventions" but focuses on page URL conventions. I assumed we were going to discuss title tags, etc.

Web Design Firm 03-14-2013 5:32 AM

Michael thanks for the info on url naming. Good stuff to know. I still see a lot of websites who ignore the importance of url naming.

AdrienneJ 05-09-2013 11:21 AM

Agreed, I had hoped for more analysis of conclusions.  We are currently trying to determine if we should have a completely flat, one-level URL structure or have at least one level down.

NewTress Virgin Hair 02-26-2014 9:18 AM

Detailed, but not analyzed. It seems that three common facets can be drawn: the use of keywords, regardless of the purpose of the website, in the URL is important. Keeping character counts long and reducing the number of sub-folders is important and also making folders logical and easy to follow is important, probably more for user perspectives / memorability than search engines.

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