UI/UX Principles

UI/UX Principle #32: Optimize URLs for Users and Search Engines

June 22, 2016

URLs are a navigation tool for both users and search engines.

Google, Bing, and other search engines are becoming more sophisticated, and it’s important to consider the “user experience” for them as well.

Consider the UX of Domain Names and URLs

URLs rarely change. They shouldn’t change if you want users to return to your site repeatedly. Nielsen Norman research shows that people often guess domain names rather than searching for them. Similarly, they might use a bookmark or history list if they’ve already visited the site. Even though they might seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of the experience, URLs are seen and they matter. Thought should be put into choosing domain names and URL structure.

A URL starts with a domain name, and it should ideally be:

  • Easy to remember
  • Easy to spell and type
  • Clear as possible
  • Authentic to the service

After you establish a good domain name, it’s best to create URLs that are:

  • Descriptive. Relevant keywords can be used to strategically link navigation to content on the page. This is also good for SEO.
  • Consistent with your site organization and structure
  • “Hackable,” meaning that users can move to higher levels of your site by hacking off the end of the URL

These elements create clean and meaningful URLs that give direction to users and search engines.

URLs that Link Navigation to Content Help Direct Users

In “The Missing Element of Redesign,” Denise Jacobs writes “In literature, an allusion is an implied or indirect reference to a person, event or thing or to another part of the text. In casual meaning, an allusion is a direct or implied reference to something. [ . . . ] On the more meta scale of a website, a well-crafted URL can be an allusion to the content below.”

A URL that is crafted as a brief descriptor with relevant keywords will illustrate what associated content users can expect to encounter.

A URL that references the text below allows users to quickly identify if the post or page is relevant to their query.

By thinking of URLs as signposts that allude to what users can expect to encounter, you can quickly offer users a glimpse of the content and point them in their desired direction.

Other Do’s and Don’ts for Optimized URLs

In URL Optimization: Best practices to increase usability & organize traffic, the author suggests that URL optimization is akin to good copywriting. It necessitates paying attention to certain rules and best practices that maximize your ability to organize and direct page traffic. The author offers a few Do’s and Dont’s of URL writing:

Do’s

  • Avoid words such as a, for, the
  • Place important keywords at the beginning of the URL
  • Use hyphens instead of underscores, as this is the way that Google and other search engines prefer to crawl and index URLs.

Dont’s

  • Don’t repeat words: Try not to repeat keywords between category and product (page) name
  • Don’t CAPITALIZE keywords
  • Avoid dynamically generated URLs, because this can lead to duplicates due to session ids, sorting options, etc.

URLs can be improved and optimized, just like any other aspect of UX, as Rand Fishkin suggests in 15 SEO Best Practices for Structuring URLs. He offers a list of best practices that govern the creation of good URLs. Three are particularly important to this conversation:

  1. The more readable by human beings, the better
  2. Keywords in URLs are still a good thing
  3. Shorter > longer

The above lists aren’t be-all and end-all summaries of URL best practices, but they do provide a solid starting point. Consider optimizing your URLs by paying attention to the aforementioned points.

If a URL becomes too complicated, a good rule of thumb is: if you make it easy to read for users, it will probably be easy to read for search engines. Extensive research into Natural language processing is being conducted at Microsoft and Google, which reinforces this point.

Conclusion

In an increasingly crowded Internet space, the little details matter, and URLs should be analyzed for usability. Search engine optimization is important and we recommend considering the search engine as a key user of your site. By making sure your URL is well thought out, you’ll not only increase usability but also increase your chances of getting noticed.

Founder and CEO of Fresh Consulting, student of all things creative, innovative, and fresh, professional snowboard instructor trainer, father.

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