Organic search is the most consistent, long-term way to drive traffic to your website — if you can perform well on the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). While many SEO factors are out of your control, such as who you're competing with and what they're doing, you can still benefit from on-page optimization, which is very much in your control.
One on-page best practice is optimizing your URL slug for each page and post you create. It's one of those SEO best practices that's actually stood the test of time, left relatively unscathed by violent little penguins and fuzzy-yet-aggressive pandas.
What Is a URL Slug?
A slug refers to the part of the URL that identifies the address of the individual page. The slug is located at the end of the URL after the domain and any subdirectories.
Let's use a physical address as an analogy. If your website was a complex filled with offices, your domain is the address where the "complex" can be found. The slug, then, would be a box number or suite number that corresponds to a specific place in that complex.
Just as that box or suite number directs people to the correct office in the complex, a URL slug directs your browser to the correct page on your site, differentiating it from all the others on your domain.
URL Slug Example
Let's take our URL for this post:
Here are the elements of this URL:
- Protocol: https
- Subdomain: blog.
- Domain: hubspot.com
- Subdirectory: marketing
- URL Slug: how-to-optimize-urls-for-search
At minimum, a URL is composed of the protocol and the domain. Other elements are added depending on the page and where it is within your site's structure.
In this example, it's really clear from the subdomain and subdirectory where you are — you're on HubSpot's blog in the Marketing section. From there, you can tell what you're going to read about on the Marketing section of HubSpot's blog — how to optimize URLs for search. Search engines get it. Readers get it. It doesn't look like spam. All good.
URL Slug Best Practices
- Keep it as simple as possible.
- Take out the extra words in the page part of the URL slug.
- Include relevant keywords.
- Don't keyword stuff.
- Make it reader-friendly.
- Separate words with hyphens.
- Don't use slugs that already belong to other pages.
- Avoid using dynamically generated URLs.
- Standardize your URL naming conventions.
1. Keep it as simple as possible.
In SEO, where much is left to experimentation and theory, it doesn't get much better than the search engine telling you exactly what it prefers. According to Google, "A site's URL structure should be as simple as possible."
A shorter URL also has the added benefit of being easier to remember should your website visitor want to return to the content without bookmarking it.
2. Take out the extra words in the page part of the URL slug.
In the spirit of keeping things simple, words that add little or no meaning to the URL — like "and" or "that" — can be removed for the sake of brevity and/or readability. Here's a before & after of this post's URL, for instance:
I removed "your" for brevity and the fact that it didn't add any value for readers or search engines. I removed "quick tip" for the same reasons since most website visitors will know it's a quick tip from the title or description.
I could go either way in keeping "for" in, but I decided to keep it in because it helps make the URL more readable for humans. If anyone stumbles on this URL elsewhere, I'd like it to be readable so they understand the contents of the page and feel they can trust the site.
In theory, I could've also chosen "url-slug" as the slug. This would've been more desirable in terms of simplicity, but ultimately, I wanted to URL to convey value to readers by explaining what they're getting from the post.
3. Include relevant keywords.
One way search engines and humans learn about your page contents is through the keywords in the URL. Include keywords in your URL slug, but be sure they align with the actual page contents. Luckily, this URL is already pretty well-optimized as it is, because it's a long-tail search term on its own.
4. Don't keyword stuff.
Even though this article may be useful for a number of different keywords, that doesn't mean I should have them all in the URL. Otherwise, you're left with a mess like this:
Wow, that looks ugly.
Keyword stuffing in content, titles, and URLs is an outdated tactic and only hurts your SEO and the experience on your site. Instead of cramming keywords into the slug, choose a single keyword for the URL and let the content on the page drive the rest of the conversation.
5. Make it reader-friendly.
We talked about this a little already, but it's worth reiterating. Both search engines and readers should be able to look at your URL and understand what they might find should they click to the other side. That means when you add a bunch of keywords and delete those little extraneous words, you should end up with a URL that still makes sense.
6. Separate words with hyphens.
Don't use underscores to separate words or try to squish a bunch of words together. The hyphens are meant to help with readability. Use them.
7. Don't use slugs that already belong to other pages.
Your office/home only has one address, and only one office/home exists at that address. This goes for your website.
Using similar or duplicate slugs can result errors or Google seeing pages as duplicate content. Either scenario will hurt your SEO performance.
You can also consider updating the settings in your CMS to prevent this from happening accidentally.
8. Avoid using dynamically generated URLs.
A dynamic URL contains parameters that are automatically generated when the page is loaded. This is in contrast to a static URL that is consistent every time it's accessed.
Dynamic URLs can cause crawling issues, which will result in poor performance.
9. Standardize your URL naming conventions.
Create a standard process for naming URLs, a system that can be applied to any of the pages and posts you create. This will help you develop a more consistent experience across your site and make navigation simpler and easier for your website visitors.
Your URLs are an important element of on-page SEO, and just one element to consider as you build your site's foundation. By implementing the above best practices for URL slugs and optimizing pages according to additional SEO guidelines, you're one step further to increasing your visibility on search engines such as Google.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in April 2014 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.