If your website is like a house, then your website’s URL is like that house’s address. It defines where your website lives online, similar to how your home address determines where you live in a neighborhood, helping your visitors easily find your site. URLs also help Google understand what your website's pages are about.
There are technically five elements of a URL, and they’re discreetly important for optimizing your site’s UX and SEO. To help you develop a concrete understanding of every part of a URL, let’s explore each of them in detail.
What are the parts of a URL?
A URL consists of five parts -- the scheme, subdomain, top-level domain, second-level domain, and subdirectory.
The scheme tells web servers which protocol to use when it accesses a page on your website.
Nowadays, HTTPS, which stands for Hypertest Transfer Protocol Secure, is the most common scheme. It tells your web browser to encrypt any information you enter onto the page, like your passwords or credit card information, so cybercriminals can’t access it. This security protocol protects your website visitors and implementing it will help your site rank better on Google.
Other schemes you might see are mailto://, which can open your computer’s default email service provider to help you draft an email to the email address you entered in the URL, and ftp://, which is a standard protocol for transferring computer files between a client and server on a computer network.
If your website is like a house, your subdomains are like specific rooms in that house. A subdomain in a URL indicates which particular page of your website the web browser should serve up. For instance, subdomains like “blog” or “offers” will provide your website’s blog page or offers page.
Subdomains also bucket your website into its main content categories and shows Google and your visitors that there's more information on your site than just a homepage.
Your second-level domain (SLD) is the name of your website. It helps people know they’re visiting a certain brand’s site. For instance, people who visit “mlb.com” know they’re on Major League Baseball’s website, without needing any more information.
The top-level domain (TLD) specifies what type of entity your organization registers as on the internet.
For example, “.com” is intended for commercial entities in the United States, so a lot of American businesses register with a top-level domain of “.com”. Similarly “.edu” is intended for academic institutions in the United States, so a lot of American colleges and universities register with a top-level domain of “.edu”.
A subdirectory helps people understand which particular section of a webpage they’re on.
For instance, if you own an online store that sells t-shirts, hats, and mugs, one of your website’s URLs could look like “https://shop.yourstore.com/hats”. With a subdomain of “shop” and a subdirectory of “hats”, this URL would serve up the “Hats” page, which lives under the “Shop” page.
URL Structure: Subtle Yet Essential
Even though URLs might seem simple and frivolous, they’re actually important for your website’s UX and SEO. And now that you understand the anatomy of a URL, check out the blog posts below to learn more about technical SEO.
Originally published Sep 25, 2018 6:00:00 AM, updated September 23 2020