A website URL is the short-form acronym of Uniform Resource Locator.
But what does that really mean?
There are a few acronyms from the digital world that we’re all familiar with. We know that “HTML” is the language that websites are written in, and that a .PDF is a type of file. But you might not be able to explain what those terms really refer to.
An URL or Uniform Resource Locator refers to the location of a specific website, file, or page on the internet. Basically, it’s the address you’re trying to go to when you’re looking for information on the web. Every URL features multiple crucial parts, and the components of your URL will influence your site’s security, SEO, and even how easy it is to find you.
For instance, entering something like ww.google.com into your search bar will take you to Google’s homepage. But entering https://icatcare.org/app/uploads/2018/07/Thinking-of-getting-a-cat.png will take you to a picture of a cat.
Most of us don’t spend too much time thinking about website URLs. We know which sites we visit the most frequently, and we just tap on links to find the rest. However, if you run your own business or website, it’s important to have a good idea of how your URLs work.
The URL or web address that a customer adds to their address bar has a huge difference on the experience they have with your brand.
The History of the Internet URL
Today, the URL is a common part of the vocabulary we use every day, alongside things like FTP, or IP address. However, URLs weren’t always as popular as they are now. Back in the late 1960s, the world was introduced to the concept of ARPANET – the first network to use TCP/IP technology.
With this solution, it was possible to move documents and files between computers through a network. However, access to the documents would require various protocols and measures that would be far too complex for most internet users today. In the mid-1970s, ARPANET was the internet of the time, and that may be why most of us didn’t have access to “the internet”.
It wasn’t until the early 1990s that the web was built – a solution that sits on top of the internet, making it easier to find and link information. The three building blocks of the web were HTML, the HTTP protocol, and the URL.
HTML stands for Hypertext Mark-up Language, and it’s responsible for allowing text-based documents to render on a computer screen. HTTP is the Hypertext Transfer Protocol, which supports the sending and receiving and documents. Finally, the URL emerged as a consistent way for showing where a document was located on the web, and how it should be shown to customers.
The Anatomy of an URL
So, what does an URL break down into?
There are various components to a web page address, but the three most referenced are the protocol, the domain name, and the “path”.
1. The protocol
The protocol is the very first part of your URL. Whenever you visit a site online, the protocol is the “HTTP” or “HTTPS” bit at the beginning that tells your browser how it should communicate with the server that hosts the website.
Although these protocols aren’t always visible in your address bar, they’re always there, acting as a crucial identifier you use for sending and receiving information. Traditionally, the common protocol was HTTP, but that’s something that has begun to change recently. Now, if you want to stand out on the search engine of your choice, you need to prove that you’re securing your customer.
The HTTPS, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure encrypts the data sent between the server and browser. The extra layer of security also gives your URL a security padlock next to it on the search bar. These days, it’s extremely easy to implement HTTPS with something called an SSL plugin, and these often come included with your website building service.
2. The domain name
The domain name is probably the most well-known identifier for an URL. It’s the part that comes after the http://www. The domain name is the identifying feature of the specific site you want to visit, such as Google, for www.google.com. Be careful to ensure you’re buying a premium domain name so you don’t just have a version of the hostname with hyphens attached to it, like www.wix-mystore.com. This can make your site look less professional.
A domain name consists of two components: the top-level domain (TLD) name, and the name of the website. For instance, the website name for www.google.com would be google, while the TLD is .com. There are various kinds of TLD today, including .org (Wikipedia.org), .net. and .co.uk, but .com is still the most popular (and respectable).
When you’re building your own website, it’s important to think carefully about the name you’re going to give that site. Usually, the best option is your business name, matched with .com. You should think carefully about how memorable this URL will be, and whether it could read differently when written into an address bar.
While .com is the most credible TLD, you can also purchase domain names with other TLD suffixes just in case, too. This makes it less likely that some other business can steal your traffic. The domain name in your URL also impacts your mailto: email address.
3. The path
The path is the final part of the URL, but it’s still extremely important.
If you just wanted to visit the homepage of this website, for instance, you’d just go to https://staging.ecommerce-platforms.com. However, if you wanted to find a specific article about the top best eCommerce platforms for 2021, you’d visit: https://staging.ecommerce-platforms.com/articles/top-6-ecommerce-platform-reviews-2012-shopify-volusion-bigcommerce-magento-bigcartel-3dcart
The part after the TLD (.com), is the path of your URL, and it directs the browser to a specific part or page of the website. In the case above, the path leads you directly to a series of reviews for eCommerce platforms in 2021.
The great thing about the URL path is that you can usually customize it for SEO purposes. For instance, if you’re trying to rank for the keywords “content marketing team”, you could go into WordPress, click on the Permalinks section in your Settings, and adjust the path to read content-marketing-team.
Remember, you can’t use spaces in an URL, so dashes are often the next best thing.
How to Create SEO Friendly Website URLs
Now that you know what a website URL is, you can begin adapting your own specific page URLs to suit the needs of the search engines. There are various factors that can dictate how the search engines rank your websites, and a good URL is just part of the package. The right URL ensures that it’s easy for search engines to see exactly what your pages are about.
Here are some top tips to make your URLs more SEO friendly:
- Use your keywords in the path: Every SEO optimized page on your website should have a target keyword, as well as some secondary keywords you want to rank for. Putting that keyword in the path shows Google what your page is about, so it knows where to rank you when customers search for certain terms. For instance, if your page is about SEO consultants, your path might be www.website.com/SEO-consultants. Use your path as a way of showing both the search engines and customers what they can expect from each page.
- Avoid keyword stuffing: Although using a target keyword in your URL is a good idea, packing your URL with all the keywords you can think of isn’t a great plan. This is something Google refers to as a “black hat” tactic, and it can lead to penalties from Google. For instance, your URL with keyword stuffing might look like this: www.website.com/SEO-consultant-SEOConsultant-SEO-consultants
- Keep it short and sweet: Have you ever noticed that a short link just looks more professional and trustworthy? Long and complicated URLs often turn us off the website in question. Plus, extra-long URLs can be tougher for websites to read. Keep your URL link short and sweet by avoiding too many extra worlds in the path. When customers are typing searches into their web browser, they don’t want to spend forever remembering your URL.
- Avoid stop words: Stop words are a problem for your URLS. These are any words that breaks up the keyword stream in your URL slug. Words like for, and, the, and in are all stop words. Removing stop words will simplify your slug while still showing your customers and the search engines what the website page is about. For instance, instead of having www.website.com/the-best-digital-marketer-in-london, you’d just have www.website.com/best-digital-marketer-london.
- Use all lowercase characters: The simpler your URL is, the better. Staying away from forward slashes, question mark and exclamation marks is usually a good idea. It’s also helpful to get rid of any capital letters, as most internet users will automatically type in lowercase online. Staying in lower case makes it easier for customers to reach the right file transfer online
- Use dashes (and that’s it) As mentioned above, the more complicated components in your URL, the tougher it is to find. Things like an ampersand or a equals sign will make your universal resource locator more complex. Ensure that the only characters you use other than letters and numbers are dashes. Most sites on the world wide web use dashes to separate words, such as: www.example.com/computer-network-dns
Another point to keep in mind when you’re creating your URL, is that simplicity is always best. If your want your URL to be SEO friendly, then you need to remove anything that’s not going to help your customers find the right file name. Cutting down the number of folders in the final part of a URL can help to make things easier.
To define your folders, look for your forward slashes after your site’s subdomain and .com TLD. For instance, you might have an URL like this: www.website.com/pet-food/cat-food.
You can simplify your URL or URI (uniform resource identifier) by getting rid of the initial folder in the slog (pet-food). This is often a good idea when you want to avoid taking focus away from the target keyword of your website.
Making the Most of a Website URL
It’s easy to see how people get confused with website URLs and how to optimize them. Getting your URL structure right impacts your SEO, and your ability to thrive online. Unfortunately, there are many complicated components and terms to discover, from domain syntax to your website porn number, to what kind of web server you should use.
The good news is that you can learn a lot about URLs on this website, from Wikipedia, online videos, and more. Plus, many of the site-building tools available for budding business owners come with solutions to make building the ideal URLs a little easier.
There are websites out there that allow you to adjust your website URL according to your specific ranking needs. You can also find solutions that suggest the best URL based on your chosen keywords. Just remember to keep an eye on your results and where your traffic comes from. Watching the number of people who click on your site from the search results will help you to see whether your URL choices are driving extra traffic.
Additionally, keep in mind that URL optimization is only one aspect of good SEO. You’ll also need to think about keywords, backlinks, and building your authority online.
Like many aspects of building a digital business online, URLs are often more complex than they initially appear. Fortunately, getting a closer look at the basics of your URL structure will help you to make better choices for the growth of your company.