The following series is pulled from a presentation I gave to a group of beauty bloggers hosted by L'Oreal in New York. Most of the presentation is geared toward how to make a blog more search engine and user-friendly, however I will expand many of the concepts here to include tips and strategies for sites selling products or services across all industries.

Search Engine Friendly URLs

Search Engine Friendly URLs

When developing a website, you can save yourself a lot of problems down the road by planning ahead before moving full speed into the site development process. One of the first site architectural issues to consider is how your URLs will read. This is especially important for e-commerce websites that quite often have long complicated URLs. But having good URL structure is still no less important for static websites.

Here are a few things you can do to give yourself search engine friendly URLs:

Keep it short

Just like your domain name, you want your URLs to be short. We're not talking three letter short, or even three word short, but short enough that it can easily be typed in the the browser's address bar.

A lot of ecommerce systems create long-complicated URLs that couldn't be retyped in the address bar without error if they were being dictated to you one letter, symbol and number at a time. Use words, directories and sub-directories strategically.

Use keywords

Again, just like your domain name, you want to use your keywords in the URL structure. If your site is organized properly, this shouldn't be a problem. Use your categories and sub-categories for your URL directories and sub-directories.

These two tips will go along way to giving your URLs more context and assisting (however small) with the optimization efforts.

Canonical URLs

Canonical URLsThe web is rife with duplicate content. Much of duplication is deliberate, done by screen scrapers and other nefarious means. When another site steals and duplicates your content you can submit a DMCA complaint to Google to try to get them to remove it. There are other legal remedies as well that I won't go into here.

But many sites are their own worst enemy when it comes to duplicate content problems. It is created by developers building systems that reproduce content across multiple URLs on the same site. When building your URL structure it is important to ensure you work in solutions to prevent potential duplicate content issues before they become a problem.

The home page is one that is the most often producing duplicate content to the search engines. Unchecked, your home page content can be indexed in the search engines with four different URLs creating a duplicated home page three times over.

  1. www.site.com
  2. www.site.com/index.html
  3. site.com
  4. site.com/index.html

There are some simple steps you can take to correct these problems so that all of the above URLs will redirect the visitor to www.site.com.

These types of issues are not found only on the home page but can raise their ugly heads all through the site. Consider these duplicate URLs:

  • www.site.com/directory/
  • www.site.com/directory/index.html
  • www.site.com/directory2/
  • www.site.com/directory2/index.html

Of the four URLs above, only two provide unique content. But the search engines see four pages.

Products pages also suffer from extreme duplication when they can be found through multiple navigation paths, each creating a different URL for the same product. While the best solution is to ensure that each product simply have no more than one URL to access it, there is a less absolute solution that can be implemented: The Canonical Tag.

Canonical Tag

<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/canonical-page.html"/>

Adding the canonical tag into the tags of any page that creates duplicate content tells the search engine which page is the "proper" one to be indexed. While the search engines use this as a guideline rather than a hard and fast rule, it's a decent band-aid measure you can easily implement until you get a more permanent fix in place.

There is great value in the permanent fix. The search engines have to index a page before they can read the canonical tag. All this extra indexing doesn't do you any good, slows down the spidering and dilutes the PageRank of the proper pages. Fixing these issues can greatly improve your overall site performance.

Broken Links

Broken Links

Broken links are more than just a nuisance to your visitors, it's a sure way to lose potential customers. Anytime someone comes across a broken link on or to your site, its an opportunity for them to leave. And they often take it.

The easiest way to find and correct broken links is to run monthly broken link checks with a program like Xenu Link Sleuth. Xenu will spider each and every link on your site to make sure it works. The report tells you of any links that don't work, whether they are internal (within your site) or external (points to other site's).

Running a Xenu report once per month ensures that over the course of any changes made to your site, all the links continue to lead where they should, and that links off-site are also still going to valid pages.

Sites with dead links have a tendency to perform less spectacularly in the search results as its a sign of lack of care and maintenance performed on the site.

404 Redirect

404 RedirectYou not only want to be aware of broken links on your site but you want to know about links on other sites that lead to old or non-existent pages on your site. You can do this by keeping an eye on your logs and looking for those coming in getting page not found errors. With this you can do three things:

1) Find out what pages are attempted to be accessed the most. If people are coming to a recently deleted page you either want to put something back up in its place or implement a 301 redirect from that page to the page that is the closest match.

2) Find out where the traffic is coming from. If other sites have links to you that don't work sometimes you can get that corrected by simply asking them to fix the link. They linked to you for a reason and it likely is in their audience's best interest to make sure the link works.

3) Implement a custom 404-redirect page. You won't be able to fix or redirect every broken link coming to your site but you can make sure that anybody coming to your site from a bad link gets more than the generic white "page not found" screen. By creating a customized page visitors can be redirected to relevant content on your site, you will keep more visitors and have an opportunity to convert them. You can read a longer tutorial on 404-redirects here.

Missed a part of this series?
Part 1: Everything You Need To Know About SEO
Part 2: Everything You Need To Know About Title Tags
Part 3: Everything You Need To Know About Meta Description and Keyword Tags
Part 4: Everything You Need To Know About Heading Tags and Alt Attributes
Part 5: Everything You Need To Know About Domain Names
Part 6: Everything You Need To Know About Search Engine Friendly URLs & Broken Links
Part 7: Everything You Need To Know About Site Architecture and Internal Linking
Part 8: Everything You Need To Know About Keywords
Part 9: Everything You Need To Know About Keyword Core Terms
Part 10: Everything You Need To Know About Keyword Qualifiers
Part 11: Everything You Need To Know About SEO Copywriting
Part 12: Everything You Need To Know About Page Content
Part 13: Everything You Need To Know About Links
Part 14: Everything You Need To Know About Link Anatomy
Part 15: Everything You Need To Know About Linking






Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.





Comments(6)

More golden nuggets to work through. About canonical issues...if I were to restate it, the canonical tag is basically making the 3 other versions that could be typed into the address bar invisible to the search engines?

Not invisible, but that you are asking that they are ignored and all link value assigned to the canonical pages.

Could you please tell me what the difference between the canonical tag and using htaccess to redirect non-www to www is? And at the moment, is it only Google using this canonical tag?

Alan, the canonical tag is a bandaid solution. The .htaccess redirects are the real deal and always the preferred solution. Google, Yahoo and MSN all respect the canonical tag.

Thank you for the tips to help people's problems with SEO and building SEO friendly URLs. I'll send this series of guides to my subordinates at the SEO web design company I work at. Though, I am also excited in experimenting on this guide to enrich my abilities in building SEO friendly URL.

Please don't use the word "redirect" with 404 explanations. :)

A '404 error' is never a redirect. The 404 status should be returned for the currently requested URL. There is no "redirect" involved.

I seem to spend a vast amount of my time fixing sites where requests for non-existent URLs are 302 redirected to a page at a different URL, this new URL then returning content that says "not found".

The correct handling is to directly return the 404 status code and the error message, without the URL in the URL bar of the browser changing.

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Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > SEO 101 - Part 6: Everything You Need to Know About Search Engine Friendly URLs & Broken Links