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Practice Guide: The Perfect URL Structure in a Few Steps

In this article, you will learn about the factors to consider when creating your URL structure, as well as the technical capabilities you can utilize to create a clear website.

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Structure and Length of URLs

A URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is a defined address that points to the location of a file on a server and retrieves it. In order to prevent server problems and redirects, you should not change a selected URL. It is, therefore, advisable to choose a well thought-out structure from the outset.

For example, a simple URL can include the following components:

  • Protocol prefix (https://),

  • Hostname name (www.samplepage.de/),

  • Subdirectory (directory1/) and

  • File name (file1.html)

https:// www.samplepage.de/directory1/filei1.html

Microsoft provides a policy for its own browser in terms of URL length. In order for Internet Explorer to correctly interpret Web addresses, a URL should contain a maximum of 2,048 characters. However, it is cut off in the search results after a certain length (approximately 80 characters). Therefore, it should be as short as possible and as long as necessary.

Short web addresses also have the advantage of increasing the click-through rate of the snippet, making it easier to share and more memorable to users. Many content management systems have the option of manually adjusting automatically-generated addresses. If you want to shorten URLs for online marketing or social networking, you can use Google's URL Shortener.

When creating a URL, be aware of the following:

  • Avoid superfluous stop words, such as articles (the) and conjunctions (and, or).

  • Keep as close to the root directory as possible.

  • Avoid abbreviations and cryptic signs.

  • Use hyphens to separate words, avoiding plus signs and underscores.

  • Write out umlauts and check CMS to ensure that they are correctly displayed.

  • If there are mandatory numbers in the URL, be sure to separate them. Otherwise, Google could interpret it as a date and view your articles as obsolete.

  • Use only lowercase letters to avoid complications on some server types.

  • Avoid parameters such as session IDs, filters, and referral parameters.

Correct Use of Keywords in the URL

Keywords play an important role in the URL. Googlebot can better interpret pages that contain matching keywords in the content URL. Matt Cutts explained in a 2014 video that there is no specific default for the number of keywords in the path or filename. However, he recommends that the URL be primarily user-friendly and that it should not be exaggerated with keywords, so as not to risk the snippet not being clicked:


"Think about it like a user though: A user would probably prefer something like tools, if every single thing is in the file name (…) it can start to look a little more spammy (…) Users might not klick on it they might not think of it as being quite a good a search result."


In the area of Local SEO, the combination of several terms plays a prominent role. For many professions or businesses, it can be an advantage to name the location in the URL. As in the case of texts, however, the following applies: If the use of key data is exaggerated, there is a risk of Keyword Stuffing.

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Figure 1: Top placements for the search combination "Tax advisers London"

Webmasters can quickly get good rankings with niche topics and a precise longtail keyword strategy, as readers often enter questions and word combinations into the search bar.

Expressive URLs

For both search engines and users, "expressive URLs" are ideal to quickly understand the content of a page. For the automated compilation of resources, the web browser does not differentiate as to whether the URL consists of numbers and abbreviations, or words. This does not apply to users. They already want to know what is on your page in the snippet. Make it as easy as possible for impatient online readers and choose an understandable and clear URL.

For the search "cooking eggs properly," Google suggests pages with similar word combinations in the URL. A good example of a clear, talking URL is the page of goodhousekeepring.com. With the words "How to make perfect hard boiled eggs" the shop immediately comes to the point.

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Figure 2: URL contains search term

Understandable and, if possible, relatively short URLs also have advantages if you want to communicate them verbally and on printed advertising material such as business cards. In addition, they can be easily inserted into e-mails, posted on social media, tweeted, or liked.

Ordered Directory Structure

A meaningful directory structure can cause the visitor to stay on a page longer than a branched or illogical one. You should not create more than four directories, otherwise the reader can be easily confused and may jump off. The aspect thereby has a beneficial effect on usability and the click-through rate.

Shop systems, in particular, need a well thought-out URL structure. If the product title, including criteria such as color or size, is included in the URL, very long URLs can arise. A logical hierarchy ensures order.

In its "Purses," section Esprit uses the logical URL:


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Figure 3: Expressive use of a URL for an online fashion shop

If you click on a product, a very concise, formulated, expressive URL appears with the corresponding product image, in the example a "floral imitation leather wallet":


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Figure 4: Expressive use of a URL for an online fashion shop

Avoid Duplicates: htaccess and Canonical Tag

Duplicate content often results when similar content can be reached via two different URLs, for example with or without "www." This problem also applies to different protocols. The content of the page http://examplepage.de would be identical to https://examplepage.de. If you're unlucky, Google indexes the http variant here, although as a website operator, of course, you would rather see the https variant in the index.

Decide for a version to be indexed. Then give the server the command to redirect to the other version using a 301-redirect . This status code informs the browser of a permanent forwarding. In this case, we recommend that you create a file named htaccess, utilize the mod=rewrite command, and save it in the main directory of the domain.

If the website with www. is to be indexed, the code to be inserted looks as follows:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST}!^www\.examplepage\.com$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www\.examplepage\.com/$1 [L,R=301]

If the website without www. is to be displayed, then the following should be coded:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST}!^mypage\.com$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://mypage.com/$1 [L,R=301]

Even without code change, you can tell Google which page to index - in the Google Search Console. In order to do so, click on the screw icon on the right and then on the "Website settings" menu item. Here, you choose the version with or without www.

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Figure 5: Specify the URL to be indexed in the Search Console

It is often unavoidable to display duplicate content, especially for online shops. Sometimes there is identical content on three URLs when a product appears in three different categories. In this case, you can use the canonical tag. It points to the URL to be indexed within the document. Google then knows which of the three URLs you would like to have in the index.

www.fasion-online.com/jackets/winter-jackets/blue-jackets (defined as canonical)
www.fasion-online.com/jackets/summer-jackets/blue-jackets ("duplicate version")
www.fasion-online.com/jackets/rain-jackets/blue-jackets ("duplicate version")

If you want to define the first URL as canonical in this example, you have to specify it as such in the source code. Then write the following note in the codes of the two "duplicate" versions in the <head>-area:

<rel="canonical" href="www.fasion-online.com/jackets/winter-jackets/blue-jackets" />

Top Level Domains and Subdomains

So-called subdomains are available for large content areas. These are based on the same root domain and are treated by Google as subdirectories. Subdomains are particularly useful for companies that want to separate different topics.

Different language versions can also be distributed to subdomains. For example, the company Langenscheidt (https://www.langenscheidt.com) has a German top level domain (.de) as well as an international .com domain. Langenscheidt has five subdomains: de., en., fr., es., and .it under its .com domain for their online dictionaries. This enables independent dictionaries to be created for German, English, French, Spanish, and Italian.

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Figure 6: Subdomains for online dictionaries


The international encyclopedia Wikipedia could not exist without subdomains in this form. There are subdomains for all 295 languages, even for minority languages such as Upper Sorbian (obs.) or varieties such as Sater Frisian (stq.).


A URL structure should be chosen carefully, as this can offer advantages for search engine optimization and user friendliness. A meaningful URL structure can offer advantages, on the one hand, by way of good rankings in search engines and on the other hand, by higher user friendliness and associated better click rates in the search results, together with improved willingness to share URLs. However, if you choose to customize your URL structure, you should be very careful. The old URL structure must be redirected to the new structure 100% correctly - if this is not done, backlinks and direct entries, for example via bookmarks, will be broken. This results in a loss of ranking and user annoyance.

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Published on May 31, 2017 by Eva Wagner