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Choosing the best URL structure

     
12:31 am on Jul 14, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Good evening guys, I'm about to make some massive changes to the structure of my website. I want to incorporate sub domains. This will involve moving of hundreds of thousands of pages, of course utilising 301 redirects and updating all internal links, to point to the new subdomains.

Our widgets are brand and model specific.

So I am going to have brand.domain.com

There are also several types of widget.

Now this is where my question comes in, as to which would be preferable:

brand.domain.com/type/model/

Or

brand.domain.com/model/type/

I'm thinking keeping /model/ as the main folder, and then the types of widgets within that, would be the most semantically sound?

I did also consider type.domain.com/brand/model/ but I think from a users perspective, they would be able to make a new home at brand.domain.com, with a homepage full of stuff for their brand.

I just want to get some thoughts, before I take the plunge.

Thanks a lot.
12:47 am on July 14, 2012 (gmt 0)

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If there are multiple ways to get to the product page, don't put the product in a folder at all. Multi-faceted navigation is a whole new science all to itself.
1:16 am on July 14, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Hi g1smd, there could be multiple ways to get to the product, for example from a tag page OR from other models that support that product.

The products themselves, are planned to be brand.domain.com/type/product-name.html

As products are supported by multiple models of a brand. Obviously not a good idea to have duplicate product pages for each model it supports. So yeah, it would only be within a type folder.

I want the url structure to imply that it's a product for that brand/model/ without specifying it.

Currently we're very specific /brand-model-product-name/ which I want to veer away from.

The only part of the process that is bothering me, is that when your browsing /model/type/ and then click a product, you'd then be taken to /type/product-name/ taking you outside of the folder.

Any thoughts?
1:20 am on July 14, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Actually, at present the url is /type/brand-model-type.html

Then the products are /type/file-id/brand-product-name.html

The file ID folder needs omitting! but still needs to be present, so brand.domain.com/type/product-name-id/ would make more sense.

Still struggling though, with losing the model folder when a product is clicked....
10:58 pm on July 14, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I'm hoping to make a start on this tomorrow. Any last minute advice?
5:36 am on July 15, 2012 (gmt 0)

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without knowing the specific niche, I'd go with what the users frequently searching for in Google:
For example,
Select type/model/ - If 'model' includes numbers and letters, while the type included only letters.
Select model/type/ - if vise-verse.

It looks like brand/model is the preferred one.
Then create a folder for each types, which could be similar/identical for cross brands.
10:39 am on July 15, 2012 (gmt 0)

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If there are multiple ways to get to the product page, don't put the product in a folder at all. Multi-faceted navigation is a whole new science all to itself.

I'd give what g1smd says a lot of consideration in this case. And be sure you can use absolute urls when you want to, in order to avoid dupe content.
5:41 pm on July 15, 2012 (gmt 0)

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And be sure you can use absolute urls when you want to, in order to avoid dupe content.


Adding a canonical tag as a safety net would also take care of that I think wouldn't it Robert?
12:19 am on July 16, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Robert, when you say don't put it in a folder at all, are we talking literally AT ALL?

If its a certain type of content, lets say a wallpaper, surely it should at least be in the wallpaper folder and not a top level?
2:02 am on July 16, 2012 (gmt 0)

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If I were to avoid putting the products in a folder, I guess I could use the breadcrumbs to show the relationship of the content?

Robert or g1smd, if either of you could clarify, whether you were suggesting the products are placed in no folder at all, that would be great.

I was looking at Google Play as an example. Apps go in to /apps/, it's sometimes difficult to know whether to use Google as a model. Are we seeing here what Google likes or are we seeing an example of Google ranking regardless.

File Hippo on the other hand, actually keep their products at top level and use breadcrumbs to demonstrate the relationship of the file, within their website.

Thanks a lot for the advice thus far.

Edit: Interestingly, despite Amazon appearing to use folders, looking at their canonical urls, products are actually top level. Anyway, at this point would love some clarification and if possible, explanation as to why A is better than B.
6:14 am on July 16, 2012 (gmt 0)

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realmaverick - Sorry I couldn't get back to this sooner. I posted the comment above to get you to put the brakes on.

If its a certain type of content, lets say a wallpaper, surely it should at least be in the wallpaper folder and not a top level?

It's OK to put anything into folders that won't fall into multiple categories somewhere along the navigation path. It's the different sorting categories and references to them in the urls or in your filenames that can create problems.

File Hippo on the other hand, actually keep their products at top level and use breadcrumbs to demonstrate the relationship of the file, within their website.

Precisely. It's important to understand that the navigation hierarchy and the folder hierarchy are independent of each other, though it's often supposed that they must be the same.

Regarding breadcrumbs with this arrangement, I suggest multiple breadcrumbs indicating most likely nav paths from home, and that they be placed toward the bottom of the page, where they give the visitor most useful navigation options.

Best WebmasterWorld overview I've seen of this multi-faceted navigation approach is in this thread, from late 2011. g1smd's input is central to the discussion....

How important is it to organize pages into directories?
http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4364322.htm [webmasterworld.com]

I haven't thought through the implications of your using subdomains for brands in relation to the above url issues. If you're not offering brands as a sorting option, possibly the subdomains wouldn't make things more difficult. If you do anticipate cross-brand sorting, I think the branded subdomains would create a big problem. Are you considering branded subdomains for SEO, btw, or simply as a way of organizing the site?

As I mentioned in the above-referenced thread and perhaps relevant to your decisions... I think that keywords in the filepath offer miniscule ranking boost, though, when bolded, they do attract the eye for click-throughs.
4:22 pm on July 16, 2012 (gmt 0)

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realmaverick - Sorry I couldn't get back to this sooner. I posted the comment above to get you to put the brakes on.


It worked! And thanks a lot for getting back to me and giving such a detailed response.

It's OK to put anything into folders that won't fall into multiple categories somewhere along the navigation path. It's the different sorting categories and references to them in the urls or in your filenames that can create problems.


Most 'product pages' definitely appear in multiple pages. For example categories, tag pages and even models that share the same content.

Best WebmasterWorld overview I've seen of this multi-faceted navigation approach is in this thread, from late 2011. g1smd's input is central to the discussion....


Thanks for the link, off to have a good read of it.

I haven't thought through the implications of your using subdomains for brands in relation to the above url issues. If you're not offering brands as a sorting option, possibly the subdomains wouldn't make things more difficult. If you do anticipate cross-brand sorting, I think the branded subdomains would create a big problem. Are you considering branded subdomains for SEO, btw, or simply as a way of organizing the site?


The reason behind the sub folders, was mainly from a usability perspective. Most visitors have a specific brand of widget. If they could bookmark and make their home on the subdomain, without ever having to see unrelated content, it would be a positive. The sub domains being more niche, would improve their linkability I think and finally, from a search engine perspective, the silos would be clear and precise.

However all that said, I think I'm going with improving the folder structure instead.

As I mentioned in the above-referenced thread and perhaps relevant to your decisions... I think that keywords in the filepath offer miniscule ranking boost, though, when bolded, they do attract the eye for click-throughs.


Yes, definitely. CTR from the SERPS is often overlooked but small changes can have a big impact.
5:47 pm on July 16, 2012 (gmt 0)

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File Hippo on the other hand, actually keep their products at top level and use breadcrumbs to demonstrate the relationship of the file, within their website.


This is the way we do it.
10:59 pm on July 16, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Thanks Netmeg. It seems to be working for them!

I was just reading some comments by g1smd in regards to the issue with folders.

The problem comes when a deep content page might be listable in several categories. The deep page will have multiple URLs, with a different path above it. Using breadcrumb navigation simply adds to the problems.


In our case, I ensured that the product pages only ever have 1 url. Whether the product page is linked to from cat a, cat b or one of the filters, the actual url to the product always remains the same. Is that that the main issue with multi faceted nav?

Are there any other considerations?
10:57 pm on July 22, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I am about to take the product pages out of a folder. Can somebody please verify this for me.

If there are multiple ways to get to the product page, don't put the product in a folder at all. Multi-faceted navigation is a whole new science all to itself.


Does this mean multiple ways of getting to the product page, i.e the product is listed in multiple galleries i.e /widgets/blue/ and /widgets/large/ or is this talking about the actual product page itself? I'm a little confused.

There is only ever 1 URL for a product, there are just multiple ways of arriving there.

I am moving all products to top level, rather than the folders that they're in. This was mainly because our folder structure contains an ID, so for example /widgets/1234/product-name.html

Obviously the folder 1234 is different for each product, meaning the folder cannot really gain authority? Though widgets can.

Am I making the right choice?
12:43 am on July 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Whether the product page is linked to from cat a, cat b or one of the filters, the actual URL to the product always remains the same. Is that that the main issue with multi faceted nav?

It is. Each product should have only one URL - even (especially!) if it is listed in multiple categories.
12:46 am on July 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Thanks. So all products are now top level. Site maps updates, links updated, 301 redirects in place.

No more lame file ID folder.

Thanks for all the advice guys.
2:34 am on July 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Robert, when you say don't put it in a folder at all, are we talking literally AT ALL?

If its a certain type of content, lets say a wallpaper, surely it should at least be in the wallpaper folder and not a top level?

Since everyone else forgot to hit the relevant macro...

This whole discussion is strictly about URLs, meaning what your user sees. The physical location of your files is a completely separate and (almost) completely unrelated issue. Arrange them in any way that's convenient to you.
10:30 am on July 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

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The URL should contain a simple identifier like /products/ or p- to make implementing extensionless URLs easier.
6:36 pm on July 31, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Right after deploying this new url structure, the site lost 10% traffic and for some reason, hasn't regained it.

I expected a temporary loss, but it's been over a week and traffic is still down 10%
7:20 pm on July 31, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Complex changes can take months. Sometimes traffic can drop a huge amount for a long time. With only 10% you got off lightly. Be absolutely sure that requests for the old URL (whether www or non-www) are redirected to the new URL in a single step.
8:48 pm on July 31, 2012 (gmt 0)

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realmaverick - Note that you weren't simply removing file extensions or making your urls prettier but otherwise leaving your structure alone. You'd said...

I'm about to make some massive changes to the structure of my website. I want to incorporate sub domains. This will involve moving of hundreds of thousands of pages, of course utilising 301 redirects and updating all internal links, to point to the new subdomains.

Well, that is massive. Additionally, with the new AI algo, Google could well be evaluating user traffic paths, internally and externally, and site structure.

With these changes, how much of that will Google need to re-evaluate? I think that only a 10% drop is a cause to celebrate.

I'd focus now on getting some external inbounds updated. If you control some of those inbounds, work first on those that you don't control. That way it will be slower and more natural. Resist temptation to push on keyword anchor text as well. Let the linkers make those choices.
11:25 pm on July 31, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I ended up moving all of the product pages to the top level, vs sub domains.

I didn't realise the loss of traffic could be so profound, but I guess you live and learn.

All pages, both www and non-www are redirecting with a single step.

I will see if I can get some of the inbounds updated. None of them are in my control, unfortunately.

Thanks for the advice.
6:51 am on Oct 7, 2012 (gmt 0)

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realmaverick - Thought I'd check in and see whether any of that traffic you lost came back.

While there's so much else that's happened in the past 2+ months that it might be impossible to pin down precisely any causes for gains or losses, observations in situations like these are welcomed feedback.

As g1smd mentioned, 10% for this kind of a change is a small drop, but I hope you got it back.
3:40 pm on Feb 7, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Realmaverick I took on a similar task in October of last year and lost nearly 40% of my traffic. I have yet to recover, has your traffic returned?