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

  • found
  • clicked
  • visited

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Numbers instead of speaking URLs: Decide, 123 or angelina-jolie-naked – which URL speaks your language? Which address you’ll rather click?
  4. Multiple URLs for one page:,,,, 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.
  5. 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!
  6. Only keywords in URL: Some bloggers tend to shorten their URLs inasmuch as their posting become totally boring. I won’t click in case I see only the URL (like, say, in an email) but I will click
  7. 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.
  8. 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=37 They 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.
  9. Date based URLs: 2015/06/01/ is fine in June 2015 but do you think I’ll click 2005/06/01/ or even 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.
  10. 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:

  1. Make the URLs clean
  2. Keep them simple
  3. Make a URL human and machine readable
  4. Use one URL per page
  5. No special characters besides a minus/hyphen “-” ideally
  6. Use slashes like real directories
  7. Enhance URLs with numbers but don’t rely on them
  8. Skip the date, it’s not the most important info
  9. Do not ever change URLs once set
  10. 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