Some of the most important components of our website don’t show up in its visible, designed area. One of those is the uniform resource locator, commonly known as the URL. Simply put, a URL is the “location of a file on the web.” The two components of a URL with which we are typically most concerned are the domain name (e.g. oho.com) and the path (e.g. /work/).
The domain of our website can’t be changed (unless we create a subdomain, like xyz.oho.com), but as we architect a website, we can be thoughtful about how we build out the paths and the file names for our webpages.
It’s important to remember that we build URLs for both machines and humans. They need to make sense and reinforce meaning to human web users, but also to search engines. It’s a careful balance to strike, but it’s doable with a little forethought. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- URLs should include descriptive keywords, enhancing SEO and usability by providing context to users and search engines alike. So, if you are at a university with a College of Fine Arts, the path for your college could be /cfa, but consider /arts, since that means more to both people who may be unfamiliar with your abbreviations and search engines who understand “arts” but not “cfa.” The same would go for branded terms, like an endowed college, for instance. For the Cohen College of Fine Arts, /arts still means more as a URL than /cohen, I’m sad to say. There are plenty of on-page opportunities to communicate that branding.
- Breadcrumbs should always represent the full path, in order to convey information hierarchy and function as secondary site navigation.
- Filenames for your pages do not need to directly echo page titles, or even on-page headlines. Filenames in your URL should focus on meaningful keywords -- same goes for title tags, but you have a little more length to play with there (up to 70 characters). Save the more editorial language for your on-page headlines.
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