Do URLs matter?December 13, 2016
When was the last time you typed a specific URL into address bar of your browser?
For most users, searching the web is the only way to find content. The search bar has replaced the address bar. The word “Google” is actually a popular search term on Google.com. Even if you know a specific URL, most users aren’t typing it out–we rely on autofill. And if you find a specific page or site you want to revisit, you can always rely on good old-fashioned bookmarks to save them.
Knowing all this, the question then becomes, “do URLs even matter?"
Dissecting a URL
In one sample URL above, we had “kanye-west-visits-trump-tower” followed by a series of seemingly random numbers (406273016). A typical web user would likely ignore these extra digits, and focus on the keywords they wish to find. The numbers are likely means to ensure a unique and permanent URL for each article on the news site, but meaningless to the article content.
In the other URL from our site, the “about/danmoriarty” indicates both the content of the page (keywords), and the hierarchy in the site structure (this article is part of the overall “About” section of the website). The additional context given by the site structure increases user confidence in the relevance of the page URL, as well as adding additional keywords to the search results (“about”).
Using both site structure and keywords in a URL is the most effective way to get your content seen. So does everyone follow this pattern? Sometimes.
Should URL Paths Match Site Navigation?
The way you organize site content matters. This includes your main site navigation as well as sections and subsections of content within your site. Who does it matter to? Search engines and site users.
When a user is reviewing a list of search results, they not only see the page titles and page summaries running down the page. They also are seeing the actual URLs of each page. These URLs are either reinforcing user confidence in your site, or turning you away.
If a user seeing the keywords they are searching for within the URL, it increases user trust. If a user sees 2 different links for men’s pants, and one is “shop/mens-pants” and the other is “browse/category.do?cid=80799#pageId=0&department=75”, the easier to read version wins every time.
In addition to the visual appearance in search results, having navigation paths in a URL can be a search boost. Using categories in your URL structure gives users context on what the page may be about, and allows you to use keywords without being spammy in the URL. In the example above, you can see that having the path of "mens-clothing" in the URL does affect search results, and would increase confidence in the end user choosing this link.
These aren't the only reasons, of course. The most obvious advantage of having content organized in logical and consistent navigation categories? Better user experience.
Final Word on URLs
URLs do matter. Not because anyone is typing them in the browser, but because of search engines, how content gets indexed, and how users browse search results.
If you have relevant page content and a relevant page title, you’re halfway there. Have a URL that includes the page title and site structure, but nothing too deep and long. Users will then find your content easier, and feel more confident choosing the links they find.