SEO friendly URLs: One simple hack to help you sell more online

Flickr image courtesy elPadawanOne of the most effective ways to boost your ecommerce site’s SEO performance is also one of the simplest.

You need to optimise your URLs to include descriptive, relevant keyphrases.

That’s pretty much it. Blog post over.

Okay, I’ll give you a little more detail. It really is almost that simple though.

Why your ecommerce URLs matter

URL’s are important. Google takes notice. It’s not just a bunch of letters after your domain name with a few slashes added in.

For those of you playing at home (and those of us that pretend we know what these techie acronyms are when really we have no idea), URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator. It’s the thing you type into your browser to find a specific webpage.

Flickr Image Courtesy Descrier

URLs are the pathway to the pages on your website for both Google, customers and people linking to your content. For search engines, the URL is like the spine of your book in an inconceivably crowded library. If it doesn’t explain the nature of your content, you’ve got yourself an uphill battle to dominate rankings page one.

A page can still rank strongly with a poor URL structure if it has optimised page titles, headings and content. But it’s so much easier to make sure your URL is bang on perfect before you attack the more complex, chunky tasks of your on page SEO.

Developing a clean URL structure

When you have an ecommerce site with thousands of products, thousands of pages and thousands of URL’s you need to make sure you have a ‘clean URL structure’ to give your web pages the best chance in search engine results.

What do I mean by clean URL structure?

  • Just describe your page,
  • There’s no need for joining words like ‘and’, ‘the’, ‘a’ etc
  • Don’t include anything that doesn’t explain your content
  • Separate words using hypens, not underscores or one long word
  • No punctuation, symbols or hieroglyphics

Think KISS. Keep it splendidly simple. That’s how it goes, right?

The less complicated your URL structure, the easier it is for search engines to find, understand and refer your content.

These days almost all CMS platforms make it easy to have SEO friendly URLs.

What is a good URL for SEO performance?

Pencils out. Take notes…

This is an example of a good SEO friendly URL

This is simple, descriptive and aligns with best practices.

What is a poor URL for SEO performance?

A bad URL is one with too many unnecessary folders (any time there is a backslash “/” this is another folder that Google has to crawl).

You can read our post on ecommerce site architecture to get a good handle on how best to organise the folders of your website.

Use hyphens, not slashes. Use words not numbers, unless they’re a critical part of the product or category description. Mathematical symbols are out. Show your URL to your dad. If he can offer a solid guess as to what your page is all about, you’re travelling okay with it.

This is an example of a poor URL

Domain names are not as important for ecommerce SEO

If you are starting a new ecommerce business, don’t stress about the SEO ramifications of your brand name. Just use what will work best for you and your customers.

Exact match domains names are losing more and more importance with Google as time goes on.

Exact match domains are those that include the exact combination of keywords that your customer will type into a search engine. If you were selling Digital cameras, an exact match domain would be, yup, you guessed it - www.digitalcameras.com.au.

domain names aren't as SEO important as URLs

Back in the vintage days (let’s be honest, old days – us SEO stalwarts like to humour ourselves) of the internet when search engines were less sophisticated, an exact match domain could have a reasonable influence on your rankings.

Times have changed for the better. Your content is what matters now. You can’t just ace these irrelevant technical features to game the rankings system.

There are advantages to exact match domains, it is often easy to remember and it can position the site as a specialist quickly. Don’t discount them completely.

I just wouldn’t go out of way to get an exact match domain for the sake of it.

A branded domain such as www.novoshoes.com.au can be even more memorable as an exact match like www.mensleathershoes.com.au.

It also allows you the freedom to expand your product range without confusing your customers. It would be a stretch for mensleathershoes.com to start selling women’s shoes, canvas shoes, or god forbid – socks.

pricing differences of domain names

We still see the odd exact match domain ranking well, particularly in less competitive industries. Usually they have been around for a long time, so better SEO performance can be attributed more to domain age and link profile, much less the domain name itself.

Change your online store URLs sparingly

If you decide that you need to change URLs, aim to change it only once, plan carefully and think it through. One change will be unlikely to cause you any rankings backlash.

Remember, URLs are Google’s pathway to your website. If these pathways no longer exist, Google’s tether to your site is broken. You’ll have to work on building the new route to show that page in its search results.

Flickr Image Courtesy Highways Agency

Don’t forget to Redirect to your new URL!

It’s super easy and effective to update your URL for search engine friendliness. But, remember the whole pathway bit?

Your URL is the connection from the search engine to your page. If you change it, you break it.

So you need to use a redirect to let Google know that your content is still around - it’s just got a new, improved and more relevant URL.

There are 2 main types of redirects. There are permanent, known as 301 redirects or temporary, known as 302 redirects.

In this scenario we only want to use 301’s.

Apart from providing a permanent tether from your old URL, they also pass page rank (link juice) between the pages of your site. 302 redirects won't be able to do this for you.

How to set up 301 redirects

Many CMS platforms include functionality that allows you to setup 301 redirects easily. If you’re not sure on this, ask your help desk or account manager contact.

Depending on the platform and language your site uses, you can also usually setup 301 redirects using your HT access file. The “.htaccess” file is a file found in the root folder on your server. There are plenty of great guides around the web to using the HT access file for redirects, such as those here and here.

If it sounds like we’ve drifted into some vaguely English but mostly cryptic techie language, you’d be right. Your website developer will know exactly what all this caper means. It might be time for a phone call or email for some help.

Oh, and one last tip…

Your online store needs to be on the same domain as your blog

Every now and then we still come across a website who hosts its blog on a separate subdomain to their core website or ecommerce store. For example, the ecommerce store is at digitalcameras.com.au and the blog is on blog.digitalcameras.blogspot.com.

Besides being a poor user experience when visitors jump between the two URLs, any backlinks built to your blog won’t be helping your web store climb the rankings. These two URLs live on completely different domains, so Google analyses and treats them completely differently. Cue rankings sadness...

Because you all know how important content marketing is to ecommerce SEO, I’m sure you’re all blogging regularly!

If so, you’re constantly adding new content that helps your potential customers and gives you more chance to find new prospects in Google search results.

The rankings points and backlinks from your blog will be constantly increasing, so you want the rest of your site to mooch of the benefits. It’s much easier to get links, shares and media mentions for your blog content than your product and category pages, so you want to make sure your whole site benefits from your outstanding ecommerce content marketing strategy.

If you'd like to understand exactly how you can score more repeat customers with a killer content marketing strategy, you better jump on over and download our ecommerce content marketing guide. There’s a super specific framework for online retailers to learn how to build a profitable blog audience and turn it into repeat customers.

SEO friendly URLs can give you a rankings boost.

Content marketing could change your business.

Get amongst it before your competitors get the jump on you.

 

Download your guide to managing ecommerce SEO
Author

Nathan Manning

Nathan’s SEO knowledge runs so deep that fellow gorillas question his ability to maintain a social life. Seriously, there’s a lot to know - but this guy is an SEO Rainman. Somehow, he’s still the first primate to the bar, sharing a story with craft beer in hand. After co-founding the agency, Nathan has sharpened his online marketing wisdom into a fearsome internet-dominating weapon. And as any prophet-appropriating digital native knows, the keyboard is mightier than the sword - so Nathan brings his ecommerce marketing wisdom to our Jungle Gym learners as often as he can.
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