Let’s start at the beginning. What is a ‘URL’? The term URL is an acronym for “uniform resource locator”, which is what’s entered in the address bar of your internet browser to navigate to a particulate website.
We should see URLs in terms of how they point to the site itself or specific pages. In fact, every online element of a website boasts a unique URL, including photos, videos and other links.
URL’s are a necessary part of web design. To be honest, they are the very foundation of a creating a website and choosing the right URL for your business is a deciding factor in how quickly and easily people find you on the vast internet space.
Consider these, if you will:
- There are 220 million domain names in the world today
- Over a 100 million domain names were registered in 2012
- As of late 2015, the US had 74 million registered domain names
- Premium domains can be sold for $100,000 or higher
- The average cost of registering a domain is $7-35 – Source
Why Choosing the Right URL is So Important
In order to determine how your website is structured, you need to select your URL appropriately because it affects your search engine ranking. Unfortunately, this is where many businesses get it wrong and hence often get trumped in search page rankings.
Get this right from the get go: your site’s URL structure is very important in the sense that the more organized it is, the easier it will be for major search engines like Google to “crawl” it. Therefore, a completely logical structure that’s also easily mapped out is highly desirable. To make things easier from an SEO perspective, make sure:
- Your URL is straightforward; if your URL includes copied pieces of content, they should all have canonical URLs. This prevents any potentially confusing redirects on the website.
- The URL needs to be meaningful and must have correct and relevant keywords, while avoiding any numbers or punctuation marks.
URLs are also very important to businesses because of how they are used:
- URLs are the piece of text that link to company web pages.
- They are commonly printed on flyers, billboards, business cards and mentioned in emails.
- URLs are often mentioned by not only your own sales and marketing staff but also people who have used your services or plan to in the future.
- Most important of all, URLs play a key role in how your pages rank on search result pages.
How Are URLs Different From Domain Names?
People sometimes find it confusing to differentiate between URLs and domain names. In fact, some outright believe they are more or less the same, which isn’t true at all, to say the least. Let’s peel away those layers of doubt and set the record straight:
A website address is what’s used to connect to a specific site or web page (such as our New York Office page), though where those addresses come from needs to be understood. A domain name is generally a string of letters that refers to a particular section of the internet, i.e. an area of authority, control or administrative autonomy. So the next time you find it even mildly confusing to differentiate between a Domain Name System (DNS) and a URL, you can look at the former as a system for hierarchical distributed naming which pertains to services, computers or resources found on a private network. When you typically see “.net” or “.edu” at the end of URLs, you’ll know they belong to a specific domain.
The latter, URL, is simply a way of pointing to a website address by combining the DNS with a file path syntax which starts with “www”. So for instance, www.t-nation.com is a URL which belongs to the generic “.com” domain, while www.evergladesuniversity.edu is also a URL, specifically belonging to the “.edu” domain which is a resource or specific area on the internet reserved for websites of academic institutions.
WordPress and other such platforms give you options to customize URLs, including the date, category etc. It’s important to be wise when selecting one.
The Right Way to Structure Your URL: A Few Key Things to Remember
In order to have a good understanding of how to properly structure your URL and use it effectively for business purposes, keep the following in mind:
Should it Start With or Without “www”?
Even though there is a difference between “http://everglades.edu” and “http://www.everglades.edu”, its how you use them that really matters. So there’s no ‘which one is better’ in this case, but rather how consistent you are in using them throughout. When you use the “www” part, it acts as a sub-domain to your web link and treated as such. What you need to do is avoid hostname issues that your website is based on.
Once your website is established, search for your desired domain name on Google and see what’s being used as the primary URL. And, if Google has listed your URL without the “www” part, go with the same. Rather than trying to bypass Google’s ranking algorithm, adjust your URL around it.
Hyphens or Underscores?
It is generally better to use hyphens. Why? Even though it doesn’t have a major difference on how Google ranks you, there is a benefit to be had from a user experience perspective. Here’s the thing: URLs with an underscore often get disguised or mistaken for an underline in the link. An everyday user may interpret this is a space or “dash”. This absence of a character is considered a misstep in the structure of your URL. As you can imagine, this can very well lead to a bunch of broken links and visitors will get an error page instead.
Can I Use Numbers in my URL?
Content Management Systems make it convenient to have numbers in your URL; however, including numbers isn’t a good thing from a user perspective, much like capital letters (nobody wants to use the Shift key repeatedly while quickly entering URLs, even though it doesn’t really matter…psychologically it does). There are, however, situations where a number might be applicable to your brand name or range of products, but keep in mind it should never appear in your URL by default, unless deemed 100% necessary.
URLs Should Be Easy to Remember
The “keep it simple” rule of marketing applies to URLs as well. Remember, you want people to visit you time and time again, and for that they should be able to easily recall your URL. A URL that’s easily remembered is not only more visitor-friendly but also valued better by search engine algorithms; Google advises to keep your site structure as simple and easy to remember as possible.
URLs Need to Be Keyword-rich
The process of people finding your business starts with a search engine query. As we discussed during the start of this article, your business URL is something that can help you rank higher on search engines. Get in the habit of including keywords in your URLs. But remember that they need to sound logical. Don’t stuff your URL with too many keywords unless you want a penalty from Google.
One URL for One Piece of Content
As we mentioned earlier, canonicalization should be avoided at all costs. Each page on your website must be matched with one piece of content at a time. A number of e-commerce and Content Management Systems let you easily create duplicate content by the use of IDs, URL parameters and printer pages. However, many CMS systems can handle this duplication issue, although we would urge you to check your site regularly for such issues. As for the printer pages, use print style sheets so that users have printable templates for printing out your website content.
Good to know:
- Shorter URLs always rank better on search engines
- Using URL shorteners can increase clickthrough rate by 34%
Migrating to a New URL – Case Study
A digital marketing and media agency, Omoii Ltd. wanted to change its name to It Works Media Limited. Naturally, a change in the business’s URL was required, which is something a lot of companies do during their tenure.
However, all of this had to be done without negatively impacting SEO performance or customer visits. This is what the company did to retain 90% of their keyword rankings while switching URLs.
Before changing the URL, the company analyzed their external link profile to determine which external links point to what respective pages. Open Site Explorer was used to list top performing pages, as in, those with the most links. All the necessary information was tracked on an Excel sheet and the URLs were matched to the new domain structure, which helped the company build a URL map.
After highlighting which content had the most links, all of it had to be migrated to the new site. This wasn’t all that complicated as the same CMS system was used. A lot of content was updated, some of the data got a much needed tweaking and more source references were added; a repurposing of existing content, so to speak.
Once all the content was migrated to the new development site, the URL map from OSE was used while on an excel sheet, the new content URLs were added next to the old ones. This helped quite a lot in visualizing how the new site might work with existing content and allowed them to quickly find alternate URLs for some of the content which was removed.
301 redirects and .htaccess file
The next step was to use the URL map to forge 301 directs; this lets the search engines know that the old URL has been permanently moved to the new location and that any existing SEO rankings should be shifted to the new URL as well. This is a crucial step which warrants extra attention and ensures your organic rankings are not impacted.
The .htaccess file is responsible for controlling these redirects and stays on the old domain letting browsers and search engines know that all content has been moved to the new URL.
Once the new website went live, the .htaccess file was checked again to make sure it was working as needed; all old URLs were being redirected to the new company pages. Also, it is recommended that Google Webmaster tools be used for a week at least in order to keep a check on 404 errors, and then update the /htaccess file to reconcile missed URLs your users might be still using.
OSE is also good for determining if external links are leading to 404 error pages.
The end result: By following this planned strategy and execution, the business was able to retain 90% of their target keyword rankings while having no negative impact on organic traffic. In addition, new rankings were gained for the new URL, increasing more traffic to the business.
If you’re unable to retain your current business URL for some reason, this is a great way to migrate to the new URL while having minimal to no impact on your search engine ranking. To better understand what it takes to seamlessly migrate your business URL or build an effective one from the ground up, contact one of our digital marketing experts at 1.888.566.2577 for a FREE consultation.
Successfully Choosing the Right URL for Your Business: 5 Key Strategies
Simplicity is the Way to Go
There’s no need to force your customers to think hard about what the business is or what it does. Yes, it should be unique and creative but those two attributes should not overrule common sense. Even though misspellings, acronyms and made up words can be eye-catching and creative, they do not rank well on search engines. Go with simplicity and something that is understood right away.
Go For the “.com” Domain
Many startups today like their URLs to end in “.ly” instead of the commonly used “.com”. While it might sound quirky for a small business that’s just starting out, it will certainly not help in terms of search engine ranking. The “.ly” domain name actually happens to be the country code for Libya. So if you’re looking to rank high in that specific region, go for it. Otherwise, stick to .com.
Use Language That Customers Like Using
Companies love using their own brand of language to talk about what they offer, which is perfectly fine. However, just to give you a quick example, avoid using the words “corporate furniture” whereas people are using the term “office furniture” to look for the same. Be aware of the language people are using to find businesses in your niche, zero in on a keyword and use that throughout.
Optimize Interior Pages
Having a great brand name is sometimes not enough, and rather than changing your entire URL just to include the product keyword, you can add the same to your interior pages URLs. For instance, www.rootcare.com/californiadentists might be the main page describing your services. Since you don’t have the main keyword in your home domain, you can settle for the second half of the URL which does contain a primary keyword, dentists, in the California region.
Get a Keyword-focused URL Independent of the Business Name
Let’s assume your dentistry practice www/rootcare.com is located somewhere in the state of California. It can work wonders to place you higher in search rankings if you get another URL such as www.bestcaliforniadentists.com and redirect traffic from your main page to this one.
URLs – The Future
As we speak, “short, liquid domain names” are selling like hotcakes, which is no surprise. The internet continues to grow and short domain names will continue to not only become rarer but skyrocket in terms of value.
If you’re paying anywhere between $1000 to $3000 for a four-letter .com domain, the value will most likely increase by at least 10-20 times in a decade.
Even though many businesses arrive late in the industry, it does not mean they can’t invest in the future. What you need to do is grab the best domain names your budget allows and sticking to them for long-term appreciation.
The AOK Marketing Edge
In order to completely understand the A-to-Z of selecting the right URL or domain name for your business, invest your trust and resources into AOK Marketing, a pioneer in the digital marketing sphere that’s been catering to businesses in leading industries for nearly two decades.
Save long-term costs and attract more traffic to your web pages by selecting the most ideal URL that not only speaks about your product but makes it easier for prospects to identify and resonate with your services. Get in touch with us at 1.888.566.2577 for a completely FREE consultation or contact us directly.