Why does the URL structure of a site matter? Why do us SEOs place so much value on it?
It matters because it makes the location of content easy to identify, both to search engines and users.
Let’s focus on search engines this time round. As we go through, bear in mind, as well as considering search engines, we also consider users. For now, let’s zero in on search engines.
Search engines discover and organise information (i.e. content).
When someone searches for a piece of content using a search engine, the engine presents a list of options to the searcher.
This list is ranked, starting with what they believe is the most relevant to the query.
One of the many factors search engines use to determine how content is ranked is by using the URL of the specified content.
In fact, the way search engines discover content is by the URL. Here’s a quote from Google:
“Without your pages’ URLs, our systems cannot crawl, index, and ultimately present your information in Search.”
So, think about this –
We put content in pages, and pages require URLs.
We know search engines require URLs to find content.
So can we use this knowledge to our advantage and influence the way search engines crawl and rank our content? Just by structuring the URLs on the site alone?
You see, this is why SEO is an Art and a Science.
We have content structured on the page it sits on.
We give the page a URL, which identifies the content.
And then we structure the URLs on the site, influencing the way the site ranks, determined by the value of the content.
The URL structure of your site can make it easy, or complicated, for your content to rank.
You see, with a URL structure alone, you can strategically indicate to search engines the most authoritative (valuable) content on the site.
As SEOs, we aim to effectively structure a website so that it is easy to find and understand the content within it.
Doing this, strategically, helps build the authority of the site, both on a domain level, and an individual page level.
Now, there are a number of tools and metrics we use to determine the authority of a website. Going over them will be too detailed for this topic.
For now, let’s surmise authority as a way of showing the value of a domain and its individual pages.
Now, by domain, I mean the entire website – the combination of all pages that make the site one whole entity.
Page level is where it gets more interesting.
Let’s take the homepage of a site as an example.
In most cases, the homepage of a site is the most authoritative page.
One of the reasons for this is because it is the entrance, the landing page (if you like), to the entire domain.
The URL for the homepage IS the name of the domain. It’s the first URL directory of the site.
This directory is unique because it contains the only page on this level.
Let’s consider this level 0.
The Telegraph Site Structure Illustration
Using The Telegraph as an example, Telegraph.co.uk, is Level 0.
Now, on the site, they have different areas, or sections, or categories – however you want to call it. Politics, Sports, Business, etc, that each have their own directory URL.
These all come after Telegraph.co.uk. So, we have:
These are all Level 1.
Level 2 will be pages on the site that sit under Level 1 pages.
Let’s use Telegraph.co.uk/business/ as an example.
What are the pages sitting within this directory?
And several others…
What does this mean to search engines?
The message being sent to search engines is:
We have a page on the site – Business.
This page has content that is all about Business. This content is found with our URL Telegraph.co.uk/business/.
Having content about Business as a topic is broad. Therefore, we’ve organised our Business content into areas, or sections, or categories
These can easily be identified with their own unique URLs, which in this case, are all structured within the Business directory on our site.
We’re aware we have hundreds (or thousands) of pages, which can make finding content complicated.
We have made it easier for you to crawl and understand by having URLs that are digestible.
That are organised.
That are structured with a hierarchy.
We have Level 0, which you can interpret to be the most authoritative page on the site.
The next most important set of pages are those we have placed on Level 1.
You can consider our Level 2 pages as the 3rd most important set of pages on the site.
Now, let me say this, I’m using a huge website only as an example.
I’ve zeroed in on a singular area for illustrative purposes.
There are several more complexities to this site.
However, I use it purposefully to show how a site, no matter how complex, can have its URL structured in a way that helps the site be crawled, indexed, and ranked by search engines.
The goal of doing this is to put the site in the best position to generate organic traffic.
The Telegraph are aware that URLs are a ranking signal.
They’ve used this knowledge to their advantage and organised their site using a hierarchical URL structure, thereby influencing the authority of pages.
Do you see why SEOs give so much consideration to the URL structure of a site?
If URLs are used to identify contents –
and contents are in pages –
and the authority of pages matter –
can we be strategic and structure the website so pages we deem the most important are the most authoritative, thereby influencing the way search engines rank these pages?
OK, so, we’ve gone deep on this one.
I don’t want to make these episodes too technical but I felt to go in-depth with this one.
Again, this is just a singular explanation of URL structures.
There is so much more to it – I didn’t even cover flat vs hierarchical structures.
There is a lot to SEO, which contributes to making it an Art and a Science.
Do you see how an SEO can strategically structure your site, influencing the flow of authority across the site?
If you’re in the process of building a website, do you see why it’s a good idea to have SEO involved from the very beginning?