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Advice needed on URL structure in CMS - keyword or brevity?



12:48 pm on Nov 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I'm on the verge of installing a new article management system within our existing CMS. Because of the way the new system and the CMS work, I *need* (i.e. I have no alternative) to specify a directory name in the URLs produced but I'm not sure whether it's better - from an SEO perspective - to keep the URLs as short as possible (by perhaps just using a single character for the directory name) or to use a keyword.

In other words, as far as Google SEO is concerned, would it be better to use:




(where I've selected "k" just at random for this example, but could be any single character)

I already have my main keyword in the domain name so repeating it in the directory name is probably not useful/required and I may actually struggle to find another keyword which is suitable for use in the URL. I could use something like "content" instead, i.e.


but that seems to be an unsatisfactory compromise, being neither as brief as a single character and lending little weight as far as the site's subject matter is concerned for SEO purposes (although it does make a lot of sense for human readers).

My instinct at the moment is to go with the single character, and in fact I've seen that used on some other sites, but I'd appreciate any thoughts from other forum members. Thank you.


5:10 pm on Nov 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member netmeg is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

I like short, myself. I'm working with sites where you could take a bus from one end of the URL to the other, and it's a pain. I don't think any benefit you might get from keywords mitigates an overly long URL.


5:24 pm on Nov 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

I used to have long URLS with lots of key terms... I recently moved over to shorter non-descriptive by easy to read/understand URL's... URL's that would be easier to understand and remember... certainly easier to type into the browser directly. We didn't see a decrease in traffic... and may have seen a slight uptick afterward.

BUT, most interestingly. It seems that the users liked the non-spammy looking, easy to read, non-intimidating URLS because it improved some user metrics as much as 15%!

That experience coupled with the fact that Google actually tells their "quality raters" to look for spammy, key word stuffed URLs as a negative sign says to me, go short!


7:57 pm on Nov 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Great feedback, thank you both!


8:08 pm on Nov 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I also like brevity. Brevity and keywords when possible, but brevity first. I have also moved to short urls and had success.


6:34 pm on Nov 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Depends how big your site is.

Probably more important to have unique and relevant page titles.


11:50 pm on Nov 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member lucy24 is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time Top Contributors Of The Month

Use directory names that will convey some meaning to you as you work on the site in years to come. ("Where the bleepity bleepity did I put the section on purple widgets?") So if you've got directories named /a/ and /b/, let them be for groups of pages or subdirectories or images that start with a and b.


12:16 am on Nov 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Good advice, thanks everyone :-)


2:46 pm on Dec 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Hi again everyone,

I've got a follow up question to the above and would really appreciate some expert input just before going live with our new system.

Having taken the advice to go for brevity by keeping the name of our content module's directory as short as possible I now need to make a choice related to the latter portion of the URL where keywords from the article's section name, category name and article title itself are included. At first sight the choice seems obvious but because of the way our CMS works, I'm not sure it is.

It's probably easiest if I give an example. If we imagine an article titled "Benefits of blue widgets" located within the articles category of our products section we have a choice of using one of the following URL structures:



Now, most people - including myself - would automatically assume that the first option is the one to choose. It uses a directory naming convention which clearly shows the section and category structure of the site.


In reality, everything after


in the above URLs is purely cosmetic. The "a=21" identifies the article uniquely to the CMS and nothing after that is processed when the page is requested. That means that although


at first glance looks like a genuine directory structure, it is only so to the human eye, not the CMS. To be clear, were you to try to access




you would still be taken to the page for article 21, not to an index for all articles or products as you might expect.

There are good reasons for including the section and category names in the URL so I do want to stick with one of the options, i.e. using the directory structure with slashes as delimiters, or just bundling everything into a hyphen deliminated structure (e.g. www.widgetworld.com/c/a=21/products-articles-benefits-of-blue-widgets)

My concerns are that although the directory option looks good initially it might confuse people who try to edit the URL looking for a section/category index, but also more importantly it might be red flagged by Google somehow if googlebot picks up on the fact that these are pseudo directory structures.

What would you do in this case?

Many thanks in advance for any comments, they're much appreciated.


3:26 pm on Dec 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member planet13 is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

What would you do in this case?

Not trying to be snarky here, but maybe use a different CMS?

I am surprised that they don't have an "SEO URLs" plugin / module that would allow you to just go:



Are you sure there is no third-party plug in that will do that?


4:16 pm on Dec 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Appreciate the comment but changing to another CMS is not an option and the plugin/module under discussion is the only one available.


6:43 pm on Dec 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

I'm going to have to agree with Planet. And if you don't have a plugin why not program shortcuts into your URL structure?

Specific to the SEO:

1. Google, in their training manual outright stated: sites with too many hyphens are more likely spam. I think they were referring to the domain name... or were they? (doesn't matter because it doesn't take a big leap of the imagination to consider that they don't like hyphens (or long urls) for that matter.

2. Matt Cutts, in various videos/blogs etc. says that the best URL's have LOGIC and can easily be remembered and entered directly into browser.

The list goes on. My advice is to simplify to the easiest/smallest/most logical URL structure you can.


7:10 pm on Dec 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Appreciate those comments too (I should probably make it clear that I fully appreciate this is not an ideal situation and that while *technically* anything is possible, in practical terms I have to deal with various real-world constraints - time, money, expertise etc. - which means these are my only options.)

Lenny2, just so I'm sure I haven't missed anything important, could you clarify what you meant by programming shortcuts into the URL structure?

Great point about too many hyphens acting as a spam signal, definitely something I need to consider.


7:21 pm on Dec 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Actually, let me throw this in there too. From a Google SEO perspective, given the choice of a system producing short URLs like


or one like this


which wins out?

Basically, and this relates to my original question but perhaps in a more radical fashion, does extreme brevity trump keyword richness?


7:40 pm on Dec 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I'd say yes, brevity is better - but mostly because of user behavior rather than any direct metric that looks at the URL.

The choice of dashes or slashes is, as you say, merely cosmetic. With URL rewriting within reach for almost any website, it wouldn't make much sense to weight rankings very heavily on factors that are so easy to manipulate - merely cosmetic, as you say.

The purpose of anything cosmetic is to appear attractive to people - and longer URLs don't have as much appeal.


7:43 pm on Dec 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

Macavity, I've got to say that my opinion is just that... I don't know with much emperical evidence which would win out given all factors SEO. In my case, we saw increased time on site and other factors after we shortened the urls:



We did not experience any change in traffic - if anything our traffic increased (slightly).

Based on my own personal experience I'd go with shorter URL's every time. Not just because it doesn't seem to affect the SEO... but because users appreciate it.


7:53 pm on Dec 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member planet13 is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Based on my own personal experience I'd go with shorter URL's every time. Not just because it doesn't seem to affect the SEO... but because users appreciate it.

And better chance that users will copy your CORRECT URl when they link to your pages.

I've seen a handful of sites that link to my pages where the URL was truncated (and thus, was a broken link) because the URLs on my site were apparently too long for their system to handle...

The drawback (and I don't know how significant this is) is that people often use the URL of the destination page as the anchor text of a link. So if your URL is just domainname.com/?a=115 it would not have as much value as anchor text which has keywords in it (which a longer URL would provide).


8:48 pm on Dec 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

Personally I wouldn't have anything in the URL which is just there for the sake of it. I.e. don't have directories just for the sake of them. If you actually had to create the physical files, you probably wouldn't make a separate directory for each article, you'd probably just put them all in an "articles" directory.

So I would have


or something like that. Keep it simple.


8:52 pm on Dec 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Interesting points, plenty of food for thought :-)

Thanks very much to all of you for taking the time to comment, this has been really useful!


12:15 pm on Dec 11, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Jumping in a little late, but for the directory name why not use the language prefix 'en' so you're future proofed if you want to expand your site to other languages? Just a thought.


10:51 am on Dec 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

That's a clever thought, thanks for the suggestion!

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