Why Does URL Structure Matter?

Why Does URL Structure Matter?


URLs are not for users

The first thing you'll notice is that the URL doesn't look like something you'd actually tell someone. Which, incidentally, is exactly why they're designed that way. Think back to when we were trying to describe our friends' houses in the beginning of the article. We used things that described their location (first street), their property (second house on left between street and highway), or what type of property it was (small white house). But I know none of my friends who would say "Hey come over to 4th Rd NW 2nd Bay NW between 7th Ave SW and 6th Ave NE #23!". They'd be more likely to say "Come check out my new place" with some descriptors.

URLs are a map of the internet

Because URLs are designed to be user-ignorant, they're also able to be machine-readable. The URL is a map that tells the browser exactly where it needs to go in order for the content it's requesting to appear on your screen. In fact, when you look at a URL you'll see something similar to /pages/wherever/the-page-is/, this indicates that there exists a 'Page' folder within another 'Wherever' folder and inside said page resides 'The Page'. The beauty behind this system is that it scales exceedingly well, since browsers can simply read through additional folders if needed rather than needing to wait for an index file or read a document about how to display the website.

URLs are a collection of keywords

As you've probably already realized, URLs become extremely helpful when trying to pass around descriptions of a site or piece of content. It's easy for people who have been doing it their whole lives to get right to the point and convey exactly what they need in one glance. For instance, if I was telling someone where to find all my blog entries from 2013 it'd be /2013/08/09/. This tells them that this is an article I wrote somewhere in August of 2013, on a Tuesday. To put that into perspective let's take a look at another potential way this information could be conveyed: That link goes to article titled "Why does URL Structure Matter?". The main article starts on line 29, which is a pretty decent amount for someone to know from memory. Or how about instead of clicking through there, they could simply ask "Why does URL structure matter?" and you'd be able to answer with great detail because you already knew what it was going to say once you saw the link.

URLs are URLs

As we alluded to in the previous sections, URLs can seem like complicated things that require a lot of coding knowledge before understanding them - but that's not actually true at all. While coding languages do give us certain liberties when designing a website (and this is important for search engines), they're not necessary in order to have a site that uses a good URL structure. In fact, here's a webpage that uses a clear and descriptive URL structure while being done completely in HTML:

That was all one page. One HTML file. No coding required. It should be pretty straightforward for you to read the contents of that page since it's already been structured in a way that makes sense - which is exactly what we've been talking about from the beginning! Good URL structure turns out to be extremely simple when everyone involved has the same goal in mind - to put information on the web quickly and efficiently. It's worth noting that not all browsers will show you the file path if you hover over a link, but for those that do it becomes a great opportunity to see what's going on.

URLs are the future

The internet is an ever-changing, always growing entity where everything can change at a moment's notice. Today you may have a great URL structure where everything is laid out in a way that makes sense, but tomorrow the company you're working for may be acquired by a larger company and all of your URLs will need to change. This can become extremely tedious depending on how many individual pages you have, but it is a necessary evil. And sure, your site may seem fine right now because everything's been working as expected up until now, but what happens if your site starts to get more popularity? What happens when each page is receiving thousands of unique visitors per month? Suddenly that first level of folder names you had become extremely important - and that's exactly where good URL structure comes into play. A properly laid-out site with a clear hierarchy will not only make it easier for visitors to find what they want, but also be much faster and more efficient while coding the site in the first place.

We hope this article has given you a better understanding of what to look for if you are interested in having an effective website, and the benefits of a clear URL structure.