SEO

Should URL Structure Follow Site Structure?

It’s a frequently heard advice when talking about URL structures:

Your URL structure should follow your site’s navigation as closely as possible. This way Google understands your site structure better.

For example Kissmetrics states it on its blog:
https://blog.kissmetrics.com/site-structure-enhance-seo/

So does Moz.com when talking about URL Structure best practices:
Moz.com url structure site navigationBut is this actually true? Let’s dive into this.

URL Structure vs. Site Structure

So, where does this discussion come from?
It’s something that every slightly organized mind struggles with when deciding on url structures. Should it match the site’s structure? Should it match the site’s navigation?

URL’s basically look like this:

https://www.example.com/example/example/some-keywords
or, technically speaking
https://subdomain.domain.tld/folder/subfolder/page-slug

This is used because the way websites are built (most of the time) is that they are actually a giant folder with a lot of pages, structured within subfolders.

Seems normal so far. But how do we handle pages that could be in more than one (sub)folder?

I know, right?

Can we still use the site structure as a guidance to url structure?

URL Structures: Best Practices

What should your URL structure look like when you follow the best practices?

  • Readable: Your URL should be readable by both humans and search engines. Don’t see anything change in this part.
  • Keywords: Your URL should contain your focus keyword, but you can’t stuff it in there a million times. So what’s the point in having a url like /shoes/red-shoes/red-shoes-with-white-unicorn-prints?
  • Short: Your URL should be as short as possible. Hmmm…

Ranking Correlations

Bleh, best practices. Let’s check Moz’s ranking correlation study from 2015 for clues:
URL Structure Ranking FactorsFolder depth of URL (measured by number of trailing slashes) has a -0.03 Spearman correlation with higher rankings. URL length in characters even has a -0.11 Spearman correlation.

I couldn’t find any other relevant ranking factors. This is a debate that’s very hard to measure. Do folders / subfolders pass Page Authority? We don’t know. I’m not sure how we could measure correctly to isolate the benefits of having your site structure in your URL structure.

Keep in mind that these are correlations in the end. This proves no causal effect whatsoever. You could expect that many non-SEO-optimized websites that have /these-urls-that-are-way-too-long/and-have/many/subfolders are responsible for this…

Search Result

So you’ll just do it for the search result, right?

Breadcrumb trail:
You want your search result to have this shiny breadcrumb trial that ‘shows Google understands your website structure’:
URL Structure Breadcrumbs

Well actually this has more to do with your breadcrumbs being formatted right, then it has to do with URL structure:
Breadcrumb versus url

Sitelinks:
Yes, ok, but you still need it so Google can understand your site’s structure enough to provide sitelinks, don’t you?
sitelinks url structure

Nope:
Sitelinks URL structure

This is koelkaststore.be’s url structure in a Tree:
url structure tree

How does Google read structure?

Well, I’m wondering too. But from what I see in this example, I’m guessing that internal links used in navigation and throughout the website are way more important than URL structure. Look at their homepage:

I’ve marked the sitelinks generated by Google

My best guess is a combination of these factors:

  1. Total Number of Internal Links
  2. Breadcrumbs
  3. Other Vertical Linking
  4. Horizontal Linking
  5. Page Depth Measured By Minimum Clicks From Root Domain

The big question is if URL structure should be added to this list… Could be that ‘Page Depth Measured By Trailing Slashes’ or ‘Folder Depth‘ is also a way to read structure, but I’m starting to doubt it.

It’s not their XML Sitemap, although there’s some other interesting stuff going on there. 😀

BTW: I assume that when generating sitelinks for the search result, these metrics are also in play:

  • Clickthrough Rate from Search Result
  • Search Volume
  • User Behavior Signals
  • Number of External Links / Referring Domains

Just use the damn structure!

So you’re still willing to use your site structure for SEO reasons?
Then here’s my final argument: You’re wasting your crawl budget.

If, because of your site structure, a page has multiple URL’s, you’ll have to use canonical tags to decide which one is the best page. This is where many e-commerce sites struggle: What category do we use for a product’s URL? I’ve seen 3 solutions so far:

  • Root: Just have the product slug right behind the root. example.com/donkey-milk
  • Main Category: Give every product a main category which is the folder for the product. example.com/drinks/donkey-milk
  • Bad Solutions.

TL;DR:

I’m not saying you should NEVER follow your site structure when building your URL structure. If this makes perfect sense to users and search engines and you’re outranking your competitors, by all means, do it. All I’m saying is that there isn’t that much evidence that you should be doing it. There’s even evidence you shouldn’t be…


Also published on Medium.

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