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I am building a URL strategy for a new website. Which is a better URL format, and why?

  • /top-level-category/second-level-category/page-title

or

  • /page-title-top-level-category-second-level-category

or some hybrid approach, maybe

  • /page-title-top-level-category
  • /top-level-category/page-title-second-level-category
  • /top-level-category/page-title

I've Googled around a fair bit and found some conflicting answers. SEOMoz suggests that the style I mentioned first seems to be best, but other sources indicate that keeping URLs short and pages in the top level directory can help keep SEO ranking high.

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Definitely related. I didn't see that in my initial search for an answer to this question. Thanks. –  Chris M Sep 8 '11 at 20:29
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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I have some experience in testing this out on a very large site (2+ million pages, PR8 homepage, 5m+ monthly uniques).

My findings:

  1. Nesting of URLs (folder construct) - either Flat or Nested - has no measurable impact on SEO performance (e.g. ranking)
  2. Shorter URLs do perform better than longer ones (which is where I think "flat" structures have been advocated, but for the wrong reason), especially in CTR from search results
  3. My preference (which tries to balance SEO and UI/UX) is /top-level-category/page-title

I look forward to seeing other's opinions on this.

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"Shorter URLs do perform better than longer ones" - How short? Or how long is too long? If dealing with CTR, is it whatever fits in the SERPs? –  w3d Sep 7 '11 at 0:39
    
We didn't do a character-length optimization to find an actual range, I can only tell you that longer URL versions of similar pages (where the titles/descriptions(snippets) were relatively similar) had a slightly lower average Click Through Rate (CTR) than their shorter variants. It's worth noting that the way Google handles snippets, URLs in results etc has changed slightly since we ran this comparison (as part of a large carve-out migration) –  Mike Hudson Sep 7 '11 at 6:55
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I generally choose an option which best fits my site and is bost SEO and user-friendly. I have never tested everything on such a large scale as Mike Hudson said, but in general I try to limit my links to 100-150 characters at most.

If I have a site which has a domain name of say 20 characters (including http://www. and the .com extension) I may include top level categories in the links. Otherwise I leave the page name directly after the domain name.

If you want to have some type of differentiation and organization using categories and it is a must to have them in the link, then I don't think it hurts, SEO wise. But in general you can just leave the page name after your site name and use navigation within the site to get users where you want them to go.

Cheers,

Daniel.

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I agree with what Mike Hudson said, that there is no noticeable effect when it comes to subdirectories as long as the total URL length is reasonable.

The key thing that I've noticed when it comes to category based folders is that the whole objective has to be to reinforce the keywords of the page without duplication (aka stuffing). So, you don't want...

shoes/mensshoes/formalmensshoes/formal-mens-shoes-specificproductname.htm

...but something simple like this...

shoes/mens/specificproductname.htm

In addition to it performing better so far as 'bots are concerned, CTR tends to be better since what the link is about is clearer to potential visitors.

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