Back in the day, the energy company Powergen Italia bought a .com domain, and if ever there was a case for using a hyphen in a domain name, that was it. 

Some brands have clearly drawn the short end of the straw, as far as amusing / embarrassing / horrific domain names go, but most can avoid being known for having stupid URLs. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and we still see plenty of lame URLs in need of some special attention.

I’m not going to get into the technical detail, largely because not all of these points are technical in nature, and Econsultancy's how-to-guides on SEO Best Practice and Effective Web Design contain around 700 pages of practical insight on - among other things - URL strategies.

Here are 15 things to look out for when trying to discover if your site suffers from URLitis. Take that medication if it does!

Descriptive URLs FTW

It is important to include descriptive keywords in the URL – for potential visitors, and for the search engines (it helps Google make sense of your pages if you do). Anyway, why wouldn't you do this?

Custom URLs

Some sites use a different URL than the headline, to condense the URL / minimise the amount of words used. The Guardian, for example. Similarly, I think there might be a case for writing long keyword-rich headlines to begin with, then saving your post / URL, and then removing some of those words to: a) reduce the headline length while b) retaining important keywords in the URL itself. I made this point in my 23 guidelines for web writers, as you may benefit from a small SEO uplift.

URL keyword stuffing

Some sites cram as many keywords into URLs as is humanly possible. URL keyword stuffing isn’t a great idea...

URL keyword famine

I need more than just one keyword to understand what your page might be about. Short slugs can work though, but one word (or even two) might be pushing it for article-based pages. 

Long-ass (and totally nonsensical) URLs

Some of the biggest publishers still haven’t bothered to introduce the easy tech required to rewrite URLs to reflect headlines / content (they’re nuts). A 20-character string of numbers and letters means nothing to me, Reuters

Guessable URLs

If you know that /jobs takes you to our Jobs channel then you might guess that /blog brings you here. And you’d be right. I do this sort of thing every day on all kinds of sites. Other web users do too. 

Avoid some forms of punctuation

Apostrophes, for example, can cause trouble for users that try to share them on sites like StumbleUpon.

Underscores are NOT the same as hyphens

First they weren’t. Then they were. Now they aren’t. Use hyphens as word separators, not underscores (or anything else, for that matter).

Canonical URLs

It makes sense for sites with lots of duplicate (or very similar content) to use the canonical URL tag, which is supported by Google (I think Yahoo and Bing have yet to embrace this as a common standard). Google provides more background and detail on canonical URLs while Econsultancy's SEO Best Practice Guide contains plenty of guidance on how to set things up. 

Referrer sources and session IDs

Some URLs seem to go on forever don’t they? They can appended with ridiculous amounts of visible clutter, showing where you came from, what keywords you used, what browser you’re using, what ad campaign you clicked, which affiliate website referred you, your session ID and various other bits of useless (for the visitor, though not for the website owner) information. Does this data really need to be reflected in URL strings? All too often I’ll forward a link including a session ID which - when clicked on by a friend / follower / the recipient - defaults not to the page I was looking at but to the homepage. That feels kinda broken to me...

URLs shouldn’t be messed around with after publication

The very last thing you want to do is change your URL. Consider those newly-generated inbound links, tweets, shares, etc. Workarounds and redirects aside, don't go changing. Redirects are not something the average e-commerce manager wants to spend much time thinking about, much less an online writer.

Unique IDs

Some sites like Google News typically require articles to have some kind of unique identifier / post ID. The advice certainly used to be to include a unique eight-digit number in your URL, though we don’t do this at Econsultancy and have no issues with indexation on Google News. But we still visibly include a unique post ID in our blog URLs. 


Dates are commonly thought to suck when placed in URLs. There are pros and cons, from a reader’s perspective, but they aren’t entirely necessary. If in doubt leave them out.


You know those hideous Flash sites that don’t assign their ‘pages’ with URLs? They are really, really lame. We live in an age of sharing, at least as far as links go. What’s a visitor to do when they want to share a deep link to a Flash page? Technically you can allow it, but technically you don’t need to build a site in Flash to make the user experience all whizzy and awesome (it is somewhat ironic that most Flash sites are truly hateful, as far as the user experience goes).

Link hovering

I commonly hover over links / anchor text to check the source of the link before clicking on it. Mainly this is because I avoid visiting sensationalist 'news' websites, but it also gives me a chance to see the URL in full. A strong URL can be very persuasive and can be the difference between a click and no click (good headlines / titles are compelling calls to action). 

I'm sure there are a dozen or so more URL considerations to think about when planning a new site or relaunch. What did I miss? 

Chris Lake

Published 11 November, 2010 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (9)

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Alex Sbardella

I'd be interested to hear your opinion on the growing use of link shorteners, especially customised ones for your company?

over 7 years ago

Alec Cochrane

Alec Cochrane, Head of Optimisation at Blue Latitude

I'm sure that someone more technical that me will point out that you actually mean uri, not url...

I like dates in urls at the right times. It gives me a quick way of being able to look up midway through a page and work out when it was written, however that is only important if it is news/blogs. For a product page you shouldn't need a date.

over 7 years ago


Gabriele Maidecchi

About link hovering, I find that many blogs often link to other articles on external blogs or in their own using or similar services. This prevents knowing what you're clicking on in firs place, in a context, unlike Twitter, where there's no real use for a shortener at all.

Maybe it's not a big deal but I think it's good to always use long URL inside a blog post, my 2 cents.

over 7 years ago


Nico Macdonald

Having arrived from an email 'call to action' the URL/URI for this piece is:

It is overly long and is 'appended with... visible clutter, showing where you came from'. 

Perhaps there are some inevitable compromised between the needs of business (Econsultancy in this case) and best practice from the point-of-view of users and search engines. 

over 7 years ago


Laura Jennings

I really like this post. A URL seems like such a simple thing to set up but there are so many different pros and cons as you mention with dates etc. I completely agree with your point about "non-sensical URLs" - I tend to associate really long URLs with numbers and '%' signs etc with spam or pages I probably won't want to visit again.

over 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Alex / @Gabriele - Good question. It's mainly a user experience thing... link hovering isn't going to show you the host site, only the '' link. As such there's a big trust factor involved. Sometimes I take a leap of faith and click a link that directs me to some place I would normally choose to avoid. 

We have a short URL that staff use to share Econsultancy content (helps us to track social media effectiveness / sales etc). Authors like to use them to track clicks, as much as anything. The best ones seem to pass on linkjuice so there shouldn't be any issues on that score.  

In time I think browsers and apps (like Tweetdeck) will query these shortened links to provide the user with a link hover state that shows a full headline and names the source. 

@Alec - Semantics, huh? You're right about no need for dates in URLs on product pages. In my view all blog posts should contain a timestamp (underneath the headline, above the fold), so I'm not sure blog posts need dates in URLs either. I'd steer clear of that, though as ever it's horses for courses...

@Nico - BUSTED! I just wonder if there is a way of dropping the full tracking extension once the visitor hits the page, or certainly when they press a 'share link' button or similar. It's a question for our techies I think... will look into it. 

@Laura - thanks!

over 7 years ago


Integrati Marketing Consultant

Excelletn right up, I would like to see better descriptions of the Canonical as well have you guys tackled this yet?

Thank you, Clinton.

Integrati Marketing.

over 7 years ago

Nico Macdonald

Nico Macdonald, Principal at Spy

Chris: I think a URL re-write should be possible, though it would likely require a page refresh, which is poor for user experience. Certainly 'share link' features could drop the full tracking extension – and the Twitter sharing feature on this page already has a set/common link embedded. However, one would need to look at how often the page is shared directly – via the browser, via services such as Delicious, and via other sharing tools – in which case the tracking extension would likely still be included. 

over 7 years ago


Andrew P

What about web analytics marketing tracking at the end of urls?  What impacts can these have and any ways round having them without having a negative impact?

over 7 years ago

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