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A Digital Marketer’s Guide To URL Structure: Your Guide To The Perfect Web Address

16 min read

This guide will help you understand the parts of a URL, and how URL structure impacts SEO results. Ecwid provides SEO-friendly URLs, but many other web builder platforms have very poorly designed URLs. This article provides an introduction to technical SEO and resources to help you fix the problems commonly found in Wix, WordPress, Woocommerce, and Shopify.

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What Is A Website URL?

URL is an acronym that stands for Universal Resource Locator. Some people also use the abbreviation URI, which stands for Universal Resource Identifier. These two terms are interchangeable. You use URLs every day when you type the web address of a site into your browser.

A famous URL example is https://www.example.com. This web address is used to teach people about domain names and URLs. Today you will learn the URL parts in this address and why they are essential for digital marketing. You will also learn to create the best URL structure for your own website.

A good URL will make it easy for visitors to remember your website and find it on the internet.

Search engines and human visitors are highly influenced by the URLs that define your website. You can improve your search engine rankings, brand recognition, and conversions by optimizing your URLs.

URL Structure Is Important For Marketing & Security

URL protocol: HTTP vs HTTPS

The first part of the URL is called the protocol. This section contains the letters HTTP or HTTPS, followed by a colon and two forward slashes. You can see the protocol in bold red letters in our example URL, https://example.com.

If you want to get into the deep geeky details of what this means, we have a great article about HTTP protocol that you can read. If you want to keep it simple, all you need to know is that the S at the end of HTTPS stands for “secure”.

SSL is a technology that encrypts data that users enter into a website. In the early days of the internet, this technology did not exist. Once SSL was invented, HTTPS differentiated secure websites from older, insecure ones.

In the modern-day, both users and search engines strongly prefer websites that use the HTTPS protocol. Google penalizes websites that use the HTTP protocol in search results, and sometimes blocks those websites from search engine traffic. Savvy users will look for the HTTPS protocol as a sign of professionalism and security before buying from your website.

How to set up the HTTPS protocol for your website

In most cases, you don’t have to do anything special to request or configure the HTTPS protocol for your website. HTTPS is the default technology for modern websites, so most hosting companies and e-commerce platforms provide this protocol automatically.

If your website has the HTTPS protocol enabled, you will see a padlock in front of the URL in your web browser. If you do not see the padlock, contact tech support at your website hosting company or e-commerce platform. They should be able to fix the problem quickly.

Not secure HTTP connection

Not secure HTTP connection example

If you find yourself with a host that does not automatically provide SSL certificates, you should upgrade to a better host. Barring that, you can generate and install your SSL certificate for your site using the certificates and tutorials available at SSL For Free.

Mixed content warnings

You will get mixed content warnings if your HTTPS website links to HTTP URLs.

When a secure website links to photos, fonts, and code from insecure sources, these warnings often occur. In many cases, a browser will not display HTTP content in a website that uses the HTTPS protocol. Your website may appear broken to visitors, and hackers may be able to attack your website.

Google severely penalizes mixed content websites and may block search engine traffic to these sites entirely. Fixing mixed content issues is crucial for SEO and security.

If you use the Ecwid platform, you will not have to worry about this issue, aside from a few special scenarios. However, other web builders and e-commerce platforms may produce these errors, and you will need to fix them.

Fixing mixed content warnings can become a technical process involving auditing and fixing the code that runs your website. You may need to hire a developer. If you are experiencing this issue and would like to fix it yourself, this article from MediaTemple gives practical advice for troubleshooting and repairing mixed content issues.

Using Ecwid as your e-commerce platform will eliminate most issues with mixed content warnings. We automatically configure everything to work correctly. However, if you are embedding Ecwid in a website, you must make sure that the website also uses the HTTPS protocol. It is also essential that all image links for your product listings are using the HTTPS protocol.

Setting your canonical domain: should you use WWW?

Let’s take a look at our example URL again.  The full URL is https://www.example.com. However, most users will only remember example.com. If a person types “example.com” into their web browser, they will still be redirected to the correct website. This makes it easier for people to remember and find your website, but it does present some technical difficulties.

All of the following URLs will take you to example.com:

  • https://www.example.com
  • http://www.example.com
  • https://example.com
  • http://example.com
  • www.example.com
  • example.com

If the search engines index each of these URLs, it will appear that you have six duplicate pages on your website. Duplicate content penalties will destroy your search engine rankings, no matter how well the rest of your SEO strategy is implemented. Don’t worry; there is a simple fix for this problem.

You must decide on one version of your primary URL that you want Google to index. This version of your URL will be called your canonical domain. That’s just a fancy way of saying that it’s the most important one and the only one that Google should pay attention to.

So, should you use WWW or non-WWW?

From a technical standpoint, it doesn’t matter whether you use WWW in your canonical domain or not. This decision boils down to a branding preference. Some businesses prefer the balanced look of www.example.com, while others prefer the simplicity of example.com.

Once you decide which version of the URL to use, you need to be consistent about using that version of the URL in all of your web development and marketing efforts. You will want to use your canonical domain for all internal site links, backlinks from other sites, business directory listings, and off-site marketing material.

One argument favoring using www in your URL is that many publishing platforms will not automatically recognize a link entered without the www prefix. For example, if you type www.example.com into a Facebook post, Facebook will automatically recognize the URL as a link. Facebook will then display a site image, the site’s title, and meta description as part of the post.

This auto link detection is not limited to your own publishing efforts. When your fans share your www link on social media, their posts will also feature the expanded version of your link. The fancy link converts better, so this will result in more visits to your website. If you’ve already trained your audience to recognize your URL with www, they will reward you with a richer sharing experience.

How do I set my canonical domain?

The best way to establish your canonical domain is by using a 301 redirect. Let’s say that you want your canonical domain to be www.example.com. You would create a redirect to send all traffic from example.com to www.example.com.

A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect. You set it once and forget it. When Google sees this redirect, the search bots will understand which version of your domain to index. The best way to set a 301 redirect is by editing the .htaccess file on your server.

Ecwid does this for you automatically, but other platforms may require configuration. SEMRush has published a detailed tutorial that explains how to set up 301 redirects. If your hosting provider or e-commerce platform does not automatically create these redirects for you and fails to provide you with the ability to create your own, you need to move your website!

Choosing Your Domain

What is a domain?

Your domain is your online brand. It will be a word or phrase of your choice, followed by a TLD. TLD stands for Top Level Domain, and refers to various domain name extensions such as .com, .org, .biz, etc. You can see the domain name in red letters in our example URL, https://example.com.

Your domain name must be unique. Before you can register a new domain, it will be checked against every other registered domain in the world. You should have several ideas for the domain that you would like, because your first choice might already be taken.

Which TLD should you choose?

Always buy a .com domain name.

Most people automatically type the .com domain extension when they look up a website. If you have a different domain extension, your visitors will have to take extra steps to remember your URL and enter it correctly.

Some businesses choose to buy the .org and .biz versions of their domain and park them. This protects your brand by preventing others from developing competing or conflicting content in your namespace. Some brands will also buy common misspellings of their domain name under all three major TLDs. A visitor to any of these domains would be redirected to the brand’s primary domain.

How to choose the best domain for your brand

There are a few rules for choosing a good domain name:

  1. Make sure it is easy to spell. Avoid long or complicated words.
  2. Keep it short. Use no more than two to three short words.
  3. Make sure that common misspellings of your domain don’t link to competitors or questionable online content.
  4. Don’t use hyphens. People will forget to use them.
  5. Check if your domain name is also available throughout the online namespace. It is best to find a domain that you can use as an account name for Facebook, Instagram, and other social channels. NameCheckr is an excellent tool for this research.

There are various approaches to choosing a domain name. Some people like to use their business name. Other people like to describe their goods or services. Local businesses often include the name of their service area. Some companies choose to use modifiers such as “best”, “luxury”, or “happy” to define the brand’s position further.

Buying an existing domain

Some businesses choose to buy an existing or expiring domain. Buying an existing domain allows you to benefit from advanced domain age, established domain authority, type-in traffic, and an existing backlink profile. This strategy can work well if the previous website hosted a brand with a compatible niche to your own.

Be sure to do an SEO audit to ensure the domain is healthy. Pay particular attention to the quality of the backlinks. If you are going to buy an existing domain, try to buy the branded social media accounts that go with it. Use Namechkr.com to see if the social media usernames are available to register for free.

If you buy an existing domain to repurpose for your brand, you must have a carefully thought out wildcard redirect policy in place. Google may still have old pages of the site indexed. Your redirects can bring the search bots to your new content.

It is best to use a professional domain broker or an escrow account when buying a domain. There should be a written contract in place before the deal is funded. The buyer puts the money in escrow and releases the funds to the seller when the domain transfer is complete. A domain transfer takes up to a week to complete and involves several steps that you may feel more comfortable having handled by a professional.

Understanding File Paths

Each page of your website has a unique URL. For example, your website is about cleaning and has four pages. These pages are named Home, About, Services, and Contact. The URLs for these pages would look something like this:

  • Home — https://www.example.com/
  • About — https://www.example.com/best-cleaning-company
  • Services — https://www.example.com/best-cleaning-services
  • Contact — https://www.example.com/talk-to-the-cleaners

As you can see, each page’s URL is unique. The red sections of these URLs are called the file path. These example URLs have file paths that are optimized for SEO. The URLs are short, easy to remember, and feature SEO keywords. If your URLs look like this, you are on the right track!

Many website builders and e-commerce platforms produce bad URLS that will hurt your search rankings. You must know how to spot these bad URLs and fix them. If you use Ecwid, you don’t have to worry about bad URLs. We’ve been offering SEO-friendly web addresses since 2017.

Make Your Life Easier By Outsourcing Technical SEO

The process of producing SEO-friendly URLs and site structure is known as technical SEO. You can have great keyword research, great copy, and great meta-data but your site still won’t rank if you have poorly structured URLs.

Managing your technical SEO is very tedious and time-consuming. There is a steep learning curve, and technology is constantly evolving. SEO professionals must always study new trends as well as perform frequent website audits and updates.

You should focus on running your business and let the SEO experts at Ecwid make sure that your site is properly set up. Unlike many other platforms, our code is clean, secure, and SEO-friendly. You don’t have to fix anything!

Do you want to learn more about SEO for online stores?

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About the author

Max has been working in the ecommerce industry for the last six years helping brands to establish and level-up content marketing and SEO. Despite that, he has experience with entrepreneurship. He is a fiction writer in his free time.

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