The adage that “it’s the little things that count” rings true when it comes to ecommerce SEO. and that’s a good thing — easy fixes like URL structure are quick SEO wins that make a difference on search engines almost instantly.
That’s why we look at URLs first when checking out any ecommerce website.
When you look at an ecommerce site, you’ll typically notice five URL structure components:
- Protocol (HTTP/HTTPS) — the communication protocol used to transfer data and load web pages
- Subdomain (www.yourstore.com or support.yourstore.com) — words or phrases that separate your website’s URL from the main domain, commonly used to separate your blog or forum from your main ecommerce store
- Domain (www.yourstore.com) — the name of your website, typically purchased from a domain registrar
- Path (www.yourstore.com/category/subcategory-type) — words or phrases that separate each page on your store in a logical hierarchy, typically product categories and collections
- Query string (www.yourstore.com/category/subcategory-type?sort=ascending) — evaluations and URL parameters pages use to filter data based on a customer’s search query or preferences, such as “Sort from price: low to high” or “Filter by: color”
How URLs Impact SEO and User Experience
Ecommerce URLs have a direct SEO impact, particularly on your website’s ranking. Here are a few of the most important ways URLs affect search engine rankings:
- Crawlability — make sure Google can crawl and index pages quickly and accurately so it can show up in search results for relevant queries
- Semantic relevance — help search engines understand the relevance of a page in relation to the query
- Shopper experience — provide visitors with an easy-to-read URL that accurately represents the content found on the page
From a technical standpoint, your URL structure tells Google what your page is about and helps it find it. It uses this information to index the right pages in search results (a.k.a., where customers can find your website). This makes it especially crucial for ecommerce product page SEO.
For your online shoppers, proper structure creates a logical hierarchy that leads them from one product to the next, getting more granular or general based on their needs.
Suppose your store sells men’s clothing — shoes, jeans, shirts, and so on. Each of these categories will have a few subcategories:
- Shoes > Sneakers, sandals, boots
- Jeans > Skinny fit, loose fit, slim fit
- Shirts > Graphic tees, button-up shirts
To make it easy for customers to find what they’re looking for, you want the site’s structure to reflect this. That way, people looking for a specific style of jeans will land on a page that only displays those types of jeans and not all the other styles in your store.
That would look something like this:
Best Practices for Ecommerce URLs
Like we said, fixing your URLs is an easy way to get an uptick in search results. But you have to do it right.
Let’s take a look at a few best practices (for any web address).
Length & Clarity
Shorter URLs are easier to read, especially for mobile users. And they make it easier for search engines to crawl your pages. So it shouldn’t surprise you that short, unambiguous URLs rank better on search engine results pages.
Keep URLs as short as possible.
According to Google’s John Mueller, under 1,000 characters is ideal. But that doesn’t mean you should take up that many.
“As few as possible while still getting the point across” is our motto. Your URL will be short on your first (and broadest) product pages. As your shoppers refine their searches, set parameters, and click through pages, the URLs will become more specific (and longer).
That doesn’t mean you should add every little detail. green-shorts-with-pockets might be descriptive, but it’s not easy to read. So keep URLs short and sweet while still conveying the page’s content — mens/shorts/green would be much better.
Format your parameters properly.
Stick to short words and phrases, like sort=price-ascending or filter=size-large rather than “filter=clothing-size-large.”
To make parameters more clear, always start with ?key=value rather than ?value. For example, ?color=green instead of ?color-green.
Don’t use the same parameters twice, however. Google might ignore one of the values otherwise. For example, ?color=green&color=blue is wrong, but ?color=green,blue is correct.
Don’t use numbers as descriptors.
Numbers and special characters might make sense to you, but they don’t mean anything to a search engine. Stick with words that describe the page’s content instead.
We see a lot of ecommerce stores mess this up. Since they all have internal SKUs and other numerical identifiers, it’s usually their first instinct to number each product page accordingly.
But www.yourstore.com/shirts/12345678 is pretty useless for SEO and user experience purposes — it won’t tell Google or your users anything about the page’s content or relevance to search queries.
Keywords aren’t necessarily a requirement for the right URL structure. If you’re a retailer that relies heavily on branding, keep the fancy names for your products.
For everyone else, target keywords in the URL improve your chances of ranking higher for those topics.
Let’s look at IKEA for example:
When we search Google for “home office furniture,” IKEA is one of the first options to pop up.
And this is the company’s URL. Simple, descriptive words that help Google understand what’s on the page.
Every company winning the SEO game does this. Take the most important keyword to each product page, put it in the URL (where it makes sense, of course), and Google will know exactly what the page is about and rank it accordingly.
That said, keyword stuffing is a huge SEO no-no. Don’t squeeze too many words into your web address. Google is smart enough to know that “home” and “house” mean the same thing.
Subdomains vs. Subfolders
Subdomains are only a good idea if you have a massive company blog, knowledge base, or support center you want to keep separate from your ecommerce platform. And even then, very few ecommerce websites use them.
In general, it’s best to stick to subfolders. Subdomains won’t usually help your site in terms of SEO.
If you try to build links between each subdomain, the search engine might think you’re trying to “fool” them into ranking all your pages higher. At the very least, it might fail to index your site properly.
SEO Tips for Your URLs
Aside from the most important best practices, there are a few critical points to remember to achieve the best URL structure.
- Use HTTPS. You’re dealing with customers’ credit card details and all sorts of sensitive information. HTTPS (the “S” indicates “secure”) makes sure that the data you’re sending and receiving is encrypted. It’s also a Google ranking factor, so don’t skimp on this one.
- Avoid dynamic URLs. Dynamic URLs are those that contain a bunch of parameters and numbers (like the example we gave earlier). These make it harder for search engines to understand your page’s relevance, so you want to avoid them when possible.
- Stop words are (sometimes) useful. SEO experts used to say Google ignores stop words like “the,” “a,” and “of,” meaning it’s a better idea to leave them out. To an extent, they’re right — you won’t normally need them for product pages. But they add context when used properly. For instance, www.yoursite.com/blog/best-mens-shoes-for-a-summer-vacation is much more descriptive than www.yoursite.com/blog/mens-shoes-summer-vacation.
- Use canonical tags for pages with the same content. If you have multiple pages with the same URL (such as product pages with various color options), canonical tags tell Google which page you want to show up in the search results. That way, they won’t penalize you for duplicate content (or miss it altogether).
- Use 301 redirects for deleted or renamed pages. If you delete or rename a page, make sure to update the old URL with a 301 redirect. That way, anyone using the old URL will land on the right web page and begin shopping your store.
- Numbers are fine, but words carry more weight. That’s why we recommend avoiding numerical IDs and product codes in your URLs. Unless the number is important to your brand identity (air-jordan-1), part of the product name (iphone-11), or a specific list (11-best-mens-shoes), use words to describe the page’s content.
- Don’t add internal links to temporary parameters. Session IDs, tracking codes, and other temporary parameters tend to change with every click or session. URLs like this will have a short life or result in duplicate URLs. Rather than using a short-term parameter (like /stores?location=nearby), use something persistent (like /stores?location=california)
URL structure is just a tiny piece of the puzzle.
Ranking your ecommerce business at the top will take a lot more than just URLs. SEO involves keyword research, content strategy, technical SEO optimization, link building, and continuous maintenance. Proper URL structure is just the first (and easiest) step toward success.
The best thing you can do is work with a reputable SEO agency. That way, you can dominate search engines while you focus on selling.
Talk to an expert to get started.