URL – possibly the dullest of all the internet initialisms. It could stand for ‘U R Lovely’, ‘Uttered Really Loudly’, ‘Unnecessarily Raucous Laughter’ or any number of potentially useful web slang phrases.
Sadly it just means Uniform Resource Locator. Or, to most people, a web address, which makes it another of those stupid internet abbreviations that actually take longer to spell out than say what it actually means. What the hell are we all doing rattling off “double-yoo double-yoo double-yoo dot…” when “world-wide web” could save us all vital milliseconds?
This said, you’ve probably noticed that many modern browsers and websites have started missing the ‘www’ part out of URLs. That’s because it’s a largely redundant anachronism – most of what we use our browsers for these days is on the web (as opposed to the intranets of old) so it doesn’t need specifying.
Keep it relevant
What’s important about a URL is the bit that comes after ‘www’: your domain name and then the URL structure that defines your pages.
You probably already know that URLs are important for SEO. Like your page titles and content, it’s an opportunity to tell search engines some keywords. But it’s also an opportunity to tell potential readers what the page is about too.
For example, on the Fifteen blog, our entry ‘How To: Use Instagram for your Business’, the URL is:
There’s no mistaking what the link is going to be about. If someone posted that on a forum without adding any descriptive text, you’d still know clicking it would probably tell you something about Instagram and how it can be used in business.
Use custom URLs
The part of the URL after the domain name is what we mean by ‘structure’. Some blogging platforms like WordPress give you the option to customise this, while Blogger.com sites default to this style of URL with a descriptive text string, helpfully punctuated by dashes for easy reading (try putting spaces in a URL and you’ll get ‘%20’ codes all over the place).
On the other hand, Tumblr posts, Instagram photos and Twitter tweets use numbers or seemingly random codes in their URLs. They’ll never get anywhere like that, the amateurs!
Obviously, we’re jesting – the majority of content on these sites is visual and reblogged without any description, so a textual URL would be impractical. But assuming your business website actually has something to say, you’ll want to say that something in your URLs too.
The first thing WordPress users should do when setting up their site is change from the ugly ‘?p=123’ default structure to one including the post name (Settings->Permalinks). As you can see in our example above, we’ve also cut out the ‘How to’ and some of the joining up words, but still retained a coherent phrase. In the briefest possible way, we’ve said exactly what the page is about, which is great for users and search engines alike.
Add additional info
The other thing you can do with URLs structures is add additional information before the part that describes the article itself (which is known as the ‘slug’). Our blog about split testing sits under the URL:
But it could have been:
We don’t include dates in our URL structure because most of our blog content isn’t time-sensitive. Hopefully this piece will still be relevant in a year’s time, so the date isn’t important. For more news-orientated sites, or an e-commerce site with regular special offers, dates are useful to include.
We also omit the ‘blog’ part because it’s superfluous. Users looking for information about split testing don’t care if they are reading a blog, a wiki, an article, a feature or a novel, providing the answers they need are in the post. An online shop, however, might want to distinguish their products from blog posts about those products by adding ‘shop’ and ‘blog’ to the URL structures of the respective sections.
But not too much info…
You want to get as much information into the URL structure as possible, but don’t get carried away. Believe it or not, there is an upper limit on how long a URL can be. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer will only tolerate web addresses up to 2,083 characters.
That’s about half of this blog if we replaced all the spaces with dashes, so there’s really no need to worry about this. But we mention this limit because, from a user point of view, less is sometimes more.
The URL should tell you what page you’re on as succinctly as possible. You also don’t want to give too much away before the user arrives at your site:
Let’s compare two click-bait articles about sharks (get it?):
On Buzzfeed, Australia editor Simon Crerar knows the words ‘shark catcher’ in his post’s slug are enough to pique your curiosity and click the link. The post is about a bloke who catches sharks and there are loads of photos of him, erm, catching sharks. What more could you possibly want to say in the URL?
A lot, apparently. The normally restrained (arf!) Daily Mail have put almost their entire headline into their slug. It’s not even necessary because you can go to:
and get the same page, so the rest is just there for SEO, and to be more descriptive. But it doesn’t do either, because about two thirds of the words in the URL don’t have any search value and the most important word – “shark” – is hidden in the middle.
The use of uppercase letters (best avoided in URLs), the weird orphan ‘s’ doing absolutely nothing, and the antiquated ‘.html’ tagged onto the end make this a really horrible URL, both aesthetically and practically.
If URL really did stand for ‘U R Lovely’, you wouldn’t say it about the Daily Mail link!