The whole “optimising URLs” malarky for SEO has been around for yonks now, and spamming the crap out of your URLs by stuffing them with keywords has been around for nearly as long. Note to spammers: this is why the rest of us can’t have nice things.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with taking the SEO crap out of URLs in favour of providing streamlined, aesthetically pleasing versions that focus on a coherent structure which looks nice in the address bar, rather than something stuffed to the gills with anything relevant for search purposes.

So for a perfume shop category, for example, instead of:

Consider something sleek and sexy like this:

Note that I’m still going for the use of relevant search keywords at relevant points, but I’m not trying to explicitly state absolutely everything about the damned URL in question, I’m not including blindingly obvious terms like “shop” and I’m not repeating any single word. The second URL looks less spammy and a helluva lot nicer for users.

But don’t we need to include shop to capture that keyword volume? No, of course not – Google’s semantic understanding is skyrocketing every day, and you can be damned sure it (and every other search engine out there) will have no trouble at all understanding that you’ve got a shopping site on your hands. There are plenty of clues to look out for.

Another common example is the shudder-worthy “about us” section which so many SEOs dread. Instead of /about/ or /us/ I try keeping this structure relevant to the organisation in question. A third sector client’s “About” section might sit in /charity/ while a creative marketer might be /agency/. Heck, if it comes to it you could use anything logical that you like here – just don’t stuff in something moronically generic like /about-us/ or similar.

I’m also an enormous fan of removing “stop words” like “and” or “the” and so forth. Call me mad, but I think something like this:

reads a heck of a lot better than something like this:

Which in fact brings me nicely to my next point – hyphen-itis! While it is good practice to use hyphens rather than underscores (or, heaven forbid, spaces) because search engines interpret a – as a space (so red-boots would be “red boots” whereas red_boots would be “red_boots) I absolutely loathe those spam-tastic URLs which load in the hyphens and go on for ages, like

Ugh. Yuck. How about:

Doesn’t that look nicer? Note again I’m removing the “well, duh” options like “shop” and “shoes” – it is already apparent from the earlier portions of the URL that we’re selling shoes as opposed to, say, highly specialised underpants, so there’s no need to state it again. Keeps spam potential low.

In fact when it comes to eCommerce or any kind mass catalogue I always ask if there is potential for any individual item to appear in multiple categories – if so it is often better to have one absolute URL (like /product-name rather than /category/product-name) which avoids a lot of duplication and shenanigans with canonicals in order to keep things orderly. If you do your individual item URLs sensibly you get more benefits from the tidy site structure than you would from stuffing keywords everywhere into the URL path anyway!

That’s probably enough of a rant on URLs for now – just remember these key principles:

  • Streamline and keep hyphenation to a minimum
  • Strip out unnecessary specifiers like “shop” or “catalogue”
  • Avoid non-specifics like “about” and think of a better contextual alternative
  • Remove stop words like “and” or “the” and so on
  • Avoid repetition of terms in a URL
  • URLs should be sensible and readable for humans, not optimised for search engines!

The best part? This works. I always take this approach when doing site migrations – along with a full 301 plan and a lot of work to improve the content and other SEO-friendliness of the site – but it just goes to show how with proper planning and a decent, rather than stuffed, URL structure, you can still get super-sexy organic results!