When search engine algorithms evaluate a website, they consider every element from the text and images to data files and HTML code. If you want a chance at ranking on page one, all of these elements need to be just the way that Google likes.

Search engine optimization (SEO) addresses each of these elements to ensure they’re as user-friendly as possible. And URLs are no exception.

Though they’re treated as an afterthought by a lot of digital marketing professionals, URLs actually play an important part in your SEO strategy. Today we cover SEO-friendly URLs: why they’re important and what you can do to improve them for Google.

What is an SEO-friendly URL?

There are hundreds of ranking factors that Google uses to determine the order of listings on a search engine results page (SERP). Several of these factors are related to URLs. In fact, of Google’s ranking factors, at least four are directly related to the URL itself.

Because web pages have unique addresses, they have to be distinct from one another while also telling search engines what they’re about. An SEO-friendly URL is a carefully-crafted web address that incorporates target keywords and an organized structure that crawlers can easily understand.

Presenting the content topic in a way that’s easy to read and understand makes it simpler for search engines to categorize your web page.

In all, there are six main components of a URL:

  1. Protocol: Tells the browser how to fetch data from the website
  2. Domain name: A website’s internet address
  3. Subdomain: The secondary web address of a larger website (think a “shop” for an e-commerce site: shop.example.com)
  4. Top-level domain (TLD): Shows what category a website belongs to online (government, professional organization, standard website, etc.)
  5. Subfolder: Tells which subtopic a web page fits into within the website itself
  6. Slug: Information about the contents of the specific web page

A diagram showing the anatomy of SEO-friendly URLs.

Search engine crawlers assess the location and relevant topic information of your web page’s URL to determine how it fits within the larger website.

In order for the algorithm to accurately interpret the URL, its structure has to be organized and it must contain relevant keywords or phrases that allude to its contents. If not, Google may consider it inaccurate and rank it lower on SERPs.

Creating an SEO-friendly URL involves five main steps that generate a simple but effective website experience that helps users and crawlers understand your content.

Step 1: Use HTTPs

A search engine’s number one goal is offering users valuable, unique information with each result. But their goal is also safety. If you’re going to draw users to your website, you have to be able to protect them while they’re on it.

The best way to provide security is with an HTTPs data transfer encryption protocol. Unlike standard HTTP protocol, HTTPs protects the connection between your server, preventing malicious hackers from stealing your visitors’ data.

You can use HTTPs for SEO after installing an SSL certificate, which can be a relatively simple process. Regardless of its simplicity, it’s a necessary step. If you don’t use HTTPs encryption, Google will send a warning to users that your website is not safe, which can very easily result in a major loss of consumer trust, and for you, a significant drop in traffic.

Step 2: Make sure your URL reflects user-friendly navigation

The format you use in your URL can make your website much easier to navigate. By grouping web pages into subcategories, you are giving search engine crawlers an outline of how you think they should categorize your content.

Structuring your URL format around the various categories on your website will make it easier for users to find specific content. It will also help you understand which content areas are more popular and potentially worth diving deeper into.

Here is an example of what easily-navigable URLs might look like:


This lets the user know what the main topic of the site is, which area they’re in, and what the page content will tell them.

If you’re deciding between subfolders and subdomains for your website organization, subfolders are the best SEO option. Search engines treat subdomains as independent websites from the main site. This means that the web pages on a subdomain rank separately from the larger website and can ultimately sabotage your main site’s ranking performance.

A SERP showing the NYT cooking subdomain.

The more high-quality content you have on your website, the more that search engines will value your contribution to the subject. While subdomains can do well if properly managed and regularly updated, they ultimately detract from the depth and expertise that you could be building on your main website.

Using subfolders allows you to keep an organized URL structure while also making sure that all your content ranks for your main website, driving traffic to one ultimate source.

Step 3: Keep it simple

Have you ever been sent a website link consisting of dozens of special characters, numbers, and letters that seemed to go on forever? This format doesn’t provide a great user experience, and it won’t give crawlers or users any information about your web page.

When creating URLs, simplicity is key. Factors like word choice, URL length, and special characters need to be chosen carefully. Here are some guidelines you can follow for crafting simple SEO-friendly URLs:

  • Remove random strings of letters and numbers.
  • Make sure your content management system (WordPress, Wix, etc.) doesn’t add dates or blog post titles to your URL.
  • Create shorter URLs of 3-5 words per slug.
  • Avoid using stop words like “a,” “but,” “an,” etc. to fill space.
  • Don’t use dynamic URL parameters (like the one pictured below).

You should avoid dynamic URL parameters because they can disrupt a smooth indexing process and lead to issues with duplicate content, ultimately resulting in lower rankings. You can fix this with canonical tags, but a dynamic URL isn’t worth the hassle.An example of a parameter on the end of a non SEO-friendly URL.Users are more likely to click on Google search results that look credible. Having a confusing URL structure with seemingly random information makes it look like your web page wasn’t thoughtfully or expertly created.

Plus, long URLs can often look like spam, making users question whether they should visit the website at all. Providing concise, short URLs signals to people that your website isn’t going to waste their time or cause any technical problems.

Step 4: Include your keyword

One of the most important URL components for SEO is the slug. This is because the slug is where you can incorporate your target keywords for the page.

When creating the slug, it’s a good practice to just use your keyword phrase with hyphens as separators (not underscores) between words. Remember, the simpler the URL, the higher its readability and value to both crawlers and users.

Using only the keyword for your slug is important because it:

  1. Tells the search engine exactly which search terms your page is targeting.
  2. Makes the URL acceptable as anchor text for backlinks because it clearly shows where the link leads to when clicked.
  3. Creates a friendly URL structure for organizing your web pages.

You want to make sure you avoid keyword stuffing in the URL because the overall goal is to provide the most value in the least amount of space possible.

An easy formula to follow is: https://example.com/subtopic/keyword

This is an effective format because it takes virtually no time to type and provides the important keyword information right away. Take this example from our blog:

A screenshot of the Granwehr blog showing an SEO-friendly URL slug.

You’ll notice that the slug for this blog post is simply the keyword “blog SEO,” showing a clear correlation between the URL and the content. As a bonus, this can also make a content marketing team’s job easier.

For them, locating specific pages of content on our sitemap is quick and easy because it’s organized by keyword. Using keywords as the slug will save you a lot of time searching for past page titles among new URLs.

Step 5: Optimize your format

You need to make sure your URL follows a user-friendly, crawler-friendly format. Google recommends that you use dashes between individual words in your URL. This makes the URL easier for crawlers to understand, especially given that most web pages use keyword phrases containing multiple words.

The following example shows how the URL provides important context for sharing on social media.

An example of an SEO-friendly URL compared to a non SEO-friendly URL on social media.The first Facebook post mentions a link that could contain information on any subject. On the other hand, the second post shares a link that clearly tells the reader what the page is about.

Use hyphens to separate words (instead of underscores) because more people are familiar with hyphens and they’re more easily-recognized by crawlers. In fact, there is a whole list of unsafe characters to avoid in your URL. Some of these include blank spaces, <, |, {, and more.

All of the information after the URL’s domain is case-sensitive. This means that if you use both lower and uppercase letters and searchers type them incorrectly, the server could send them to a redirect or error page. Using only lowercase letters makes the URL easier to type (no shift key) and ensures that no URL-related issues occur.

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A polished, SEO-friendly URL is necessary for each page to rank to its potential. When users see web page addresses, they make quick assessments about the relevancy, usability, and security of the websites listed on SERPs. With a short and simple URL that includes keywords, you can inspire confidence, build brand credibility, and improve click-through rates to your most valuable pages.

Want to see how you’re doing with SEO? Get an instant SEO audit below. Or, schedule a free consultation to see how intent SEO can boost search traffic revenue by 700%.