Top 10 Fatal URL Design Mistakes
URL design? Is there any design involved at all in deciding how your website address and directory structure will look like?
Yes, there is, or at least there should be! Nonetheless I see the same mistakes all over the place as if URLs wouldn’t matter at all.
You have to consciously choose the website address each and every page or article on your site has. That’s proper URL design.
Why Clean URL Design Matters
Why even care for your website address or in other words URL (unified resource locator)?
Isn’t it something that you get automatically anyway? Can you even change it at all? Yes, and yes.
On WordPress and similar CMS tools you get a website and web page address by default.
The automatically given website address is not always the best choice though – even on WordPress.
Making mistakes that lead to a bad URL design means your website link or page address won’t get
and your content won’t get linked to or shared on social media as much as it would be with a clean URL.
Without proper URLs most of your other great user experience and search engine optimization measures get wasted.
Thus I decided to show the top 10 URL design mistakes which I encounter most frequently and which are in many cases fatal for your findability:
- Session IDs: What’s that? Yeah, I ask you, what’s that:
e967ef2d7f923aab20e10ddb4164a351? It’s a session ID that has been attached to a website address random. It’s different for every visitors so everyone has a different address! It’s like inviting people to a party and giving them different addresses.
- Apostrophes and other special characters:
%e2%80%93– This is an apostrophe in an URL. You can’t even share this address on some social sites. It does not technically work. Same thing applies to sharing by mail. You end up with a broken link at best.
- Numbers instead of speaking URLs: Decide,
angelina-jolie-naked– which URL speaks your language? Which address you’ll rather click?
- Multiple URLs for one page:
www.example.com, example.com, example.com/, example.com/index.php, example.com/index.php?All leading to one homepage? Now you have 6 homepages and counting! Use a canonical URLs script (WordPress 2.5+ already does by default) or a rel=canonical meta tag.
- Too many parameters which also change randomly. Ever tried to save a New York Times article as a bookmark? In many cases it’s a duplicate such as those below:
There are dozens of other combinations possible. This is even worse than #4!
- Only keywords in URL: Some bloggers tend to shorten their URLs inasmuch as their posting become totally boring. I won’t click
example.com/news/googlein case I see only the URL (like, say, in an email) but I will click
- Too many subdirectories or mimicked ones via URL rewrite:
world/politics/asia/korea/local/Huh? Do you know what I mean? When it’s that far down the hierarchy, why should I care at all? I want the frontpage news.
- Simply PHP crap: Do you remember the early Joomla CMS versions? Their standard URLs sucked big time:
option=com_content&view=article&id=72&Itemid=37They sucked for both Google and social media, the 2 most important traffic sources nowadays. As a user I don’t want to look at such crap either.
- Date based URLs:
2015/06/01/is fine in June 2015 but do you think I’ll click
2014/06/01? No! I won’t. In case you’re not into breaking news stop using the date as your most important first part of the URL.
- Changing URLs after publication: If you use a WordPress URL like mine
and change it after publishing to say
the people who arrive by way of social media following the old URL will just encounter an error. You can prevent that by using post numbers and descriptive URLs in WordPress:
Timeless URL Design Rules
To steer clean of making the above mistakes follow the 10 URL design rules. They are quite simple:
- Make the URLs clean
- Keep them simple
- Make a URL human and machine readable
- Use one URL per page
- No special characters besides a minus/hyphen “-” ideally
- Use slashes like real directories
- Enhance URLs with numbers but don’t rely on them
- Skip the date, it’s not the most important info
- Do not ever change URLs once set
- When you have to change URLs move them with a “301 permanently moved” redirect
When you abide by these rules and design your website addresses accordingly you will live long and prosper.
Achieving findability by appropriate URL design is not rocket science. It’s more about preventing stupid mistakes.
For deciding which URL structure is best in WordPress (not mine!) check out this how-to article of mine on WordPress URL design.
Also make sure to follow these “10 Coding Guidelines for Perfect Findability and Web Standards”.
Did I forget something? Tell me. I might add your suggestions to the actual post!
* (CC BY-SA 2.0) Creative Commons image by Brennen Bearnes
I think the most stuff is obviously, but it can’t be said enough.
So, nice list that upgrades every little SEO cheat sheet. :)
If it’s so obvious why does the NYT fail at it? Why do I encounter these mistakes over and over each day? It’s obvious for SEO pros maybe, but far from all of it, for the rest of the world it’s not obvious at all.
Hm, bad SEO advisory maybe? Everyone publishing a website sooner or later deals with ”can i be googled“ and when you involve people that don’t have a clue on that then … bah, what do I care? NYT should know it better.
And no, I’m no SEO pro, wooh …
i’ll choose angelina-jolie-naked thanks!
Liking the new design Tad, nice and clean. Thumbs Up!
Great post. .NET has the same issues with their URLs as PHP. Many a software developer needs to rethink (or start thinking of) URLs in their web sites.
Yer nice re-design, very clean yet effective!
I hadnt really pondered these URL ideas before, great insight.
if the url is for anything in a series or as part of a set it should contain no numbers except at the end where its position in the series is defined the reason for this is that the firefox extention next please is very useful and that numbering system is the only system that works 100% + it makes it very easy for people who don’t use next please to tell whats what – i know thats rubbish wording but oh well ……….
SEO is just a bit of competition and all admins come at it differently and using different tools and CMS’s so the url results vary. Yes, its obvious, but no, URL’s where not all created equal. Throw alternate language in the mix, old cms constructs, bad programming and you get a non-level playing field, hopefully good for those who want to do this right and win at SEO.
You’re quite wrong about overly-short slugs, an oxymoron that, in any event, *is not the problem*; the fact that bloggers don’t even know what a slug is, and allow their software to use the full title punctuated by hyphens, is the problem.
I personally hate when people use dates in the URL. Personally I think its a waste of spaces and is useless information.
And I like what you said about spoken language instead of numbers. I run into that a lot. Stuff like /set1/image1.jpg and /set25/image006.jpg
Neither tell the user or the search engine anything about what they’re going to see.
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joomla and mambo have decent search engine friendly urls add-ons so you can turn /option=com_content&view=article&id=72&Itemid=37 into /angelina-jolie-naked/ :-)
Until I started getting involved in SEO I never considered any of this. In fact, someone once complemented me on my massive URLs with session IDs and GUIDs because he said that it looked complicated and so I must be earning my money!
Bu stepping back and looking at it like a normal human being – the URL can tell you so much and can be as important, or even more important, than the title. If I get to tinyurl preview and the URL looks dull then I won’t read the article.
Great tips Tad – keep up the excellent work on the blog!
[…] Top 10 Fatal URL Design Mistakes […]
these are all pretty basic, but certainly a good start
WordPress gets point number ten (changing a URL) correct automatically too, at least in version 2.5.
Good thing drupal has PathAuto to do clear URLs.
Dot Net Nuke is rubbish at URLs. zitgeek.aspx? etc. anyone?!
So what are we webdevelopers supposed to do on internationalized sites? You know, the ones in English, German and French? We got everything: nice, clean URLs and content negotiation so all users see the same URL but get it in their own language.
Should we rather use ugly internationalized URLs in the form /en/2008/google-files-for-bankruptcy/ and /de/2008/google-files-for-bankruptcy/? Does Google do content negotiation at all? I’ve been looking forever for information on this but haven’t found much to go on…
Thanks for any pointers.
This is really helpful!
You’d think these major news sites would WANT people to link to their pages, but they obviously don’t. Time after time, I find myself working to decipher the simplest form of the URL, just to link to their damn page.
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I think you have mentioned the 10 most important factors to be considered when settinng up a new website. Good work!
[…] – Top 10 Fatal URL Design Mistakes If there is one part of a website that you should make sure works properly, it’s the URL. […]
Hyphen versus under score? Does it matter?
That’s a good point about the hyphen. Actually there’s been some debate about whether underscores also apply… the consensus seems to be that the engines are starting to recognize underscore, but to err on the side of caution, stick with the hyphen.
john and Paul: In fact Google officially recognizes underscores by now. Plus “+”, comma “,” and others get recognized too but if you don’t know what you do stick with hyphens.
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These points cannot be emphasized too often and your post is an excellent expression of what’s important. You’ve got them all and made it clear and simple.
Of course most of them are important for search engines rather than human visitors, however the question of accented letters becomes a major point of confusion for human visitors. Will it be the accented version or the non-accented version if they’re trying to remember the URL? I always encourage folk to try to work with words that don’t include accents to avoid that dilemma.
great comments I’ve goofed up a few sites by making some of these mistakes in the past.
At times the worst part comes up when you already have your wordpress blog and changing soo many urls might need quite a few redirection. Why dont they give the
user this option of doing so during the time of installation.
These above resources are very good for anyone who starts their website.
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[…] Top Ten Fatal URL Design Mistakes […]
[…] Top 10 Fatal URL Design Mistakes […]
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[…] want your blog posts to be recognized by search engines and catch the attention of new visitors, use good keywords in the title of your blog post. Recently bloggers tend to shorten their URLs inasmuch as their posting become totally boring. I […]
so many way to mess up. potentially. I have made more than a few of these URL SEO mistakes.
I can’t believe you forgot the biggest one of all- URL’s that aren’t URL’s. In other words, if I cut and past the url of the page and send it to someone in an email, she doesn’t see the same page that I see. Even if the page came from a GET request. A LOT of php frameworks throw URL integrity out the window. and rails, and django.
I have known the rules, but I forget about the mistake:P. Anyways,what should I say about this article? Simple,easily understandable and content-rich.
yeah, I agree with all the points. I would just like to add one more thing. Its good to add a 404 custom error Page. This will, help you catch broken links and also let you visitors say inside the domain.
I don’t think people realize how important URLs are, but I guess their not very tech savy anyway. I’ve bookmarked your site …it seems to have a lot of useful info.
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Amazing article, These are simple but most of us do such mistake. this article will surelly help in increasing my PR and visitors.
hey can any one please suggest me what to do,i m getting this page has too many urls for my blog-http://what-what.net
thnx in advance
please do reply
You’re right – the use of special character entities in post titles is really common. I wonder if Google has learnt to tune these out yet?
Justin: Sadly that doesn’t work in WordPress. When you update a post to the point where you republish it five years later you lose the old link and all people who have bookamrked it get a 404.
I do it all the time, updating old postings and either changing the date or not. In both cases the URL would break the user experience.
Either people wouldn’t notice the post is up to date because the new date is at the bottom of the post or the URL would change altogether and lose it’s position in Google etc.
You have to emply a 301 redirect then etc. Way too much fuss.
Just skip the date.
I like seeing dates in the url, it means that I can easily identify when the news article was written.
If I see the following urls I know which one i’m going to click on….
(it’s the last one incase no one guessed).
I agree it’s not the best all the time, but for an established news site the design of the url becomes a greater factor than the seo benefits.
I try to make my title the same as my heading text the same as my URL. I was told this is good SEO. In my blog segment, I do employ the year, month, day in the URL. And I try to make the phrase catchy for the visitor.
Just stumbled across this article whilst doing some research for a client – nice one!! I’m gonna recommend it as prime reading for many of my other clients now!!
As an SEO for a new(ish) UK SEO Company one of the first things I aim for is the title/keyword in the domain … I love the comments in Joomla & Mambo – I’m with you all the way !!
I totally agree about Joomla & Mambo links. They do suck.
I found this article while researching for a client and couldn’t agree more with the tips. I always try to get keyword rich domain names AND get the company name too! Works a treat for me.
Are questionmarks in a url a problem?
Another thing, or SEO suicide should I say, is redirects. This is often overlooked and may result in lower SERPs. Whether it is an SSL site or not, I’d say do it the old school way and set your website using the full address which also includes the http.
Some great tips here. I didn’t know about StumbleUpon not accepting special characters in the links.
I will have to watch out because the pathauto for Drupal adds these types of characters into the URL when the characters exist in the Title’s of posts.
Great tips – this is one of my real bugbears as an SEO. Working with sites that have been developed by software developers in denial about the usability and SEOabilty of URLs containing database calls!
Thanks for sharing – I hope some of those guys read this!
unfortunately, free blogs cant be modified to be more url friendly.
After months of link building for one of my sites, I am starting to reap the rewards of the hard work. Having backlinks and live visitor traffic to your site are very important and I am beginning to think other elements such as titles, headings and URL composition are less important (still important but perhaps less weight in the grand scheme of the Google algorithm).
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I do love reading through these older posts, so much has changed with ‘search’ (SEO) over the years but somethings never change..
Always keep it simple!
Good advice Chris! I have to agree.