Web file naming conventions are an element of SEO that most people pay little attention to. Similarly, many do not understand the concepts behind search-engine-friendly URLs (SEF URLs). Yet, it’s a crucial issue for two key reasons;
Search Engine Page Results
When a reference to one of your pages shows up within a SERP, there are 3 important cues that can entice a visitor to click the link and visit your site. In order, they are Title, Description and URL – or page file name. Why not give yourself every possible advantage when competing for visitors, by providing accurate and readable file names? It might well be the final push that slides the mouse pointer in your favour.
Search Engine Rankings
Equally, when search engine spiders are mapping your site and trying to figure out what on earth it’s all about, giving them some accurate information in every possible area would seem like a smart move, right? Keywords in file names are important, and they do make a difference. It might only be one of 200-plus elements in a search engine relevancy algorithm, but the more places you can tick off as being perfect, the better!
In the not-so-distant past, search engines could not index or cache dynamic content pages. URLs with ?& = etc were unintelligible gibberish for years… Slowly, the ability to process those URLs generated by databases met the advance of technology trying hard to output plain English URLs. These days, most E-commerce and CMS packages have the ability to produce good URLs…
The SEF URL Reality Check
Oddly enough, few people actually do this! Most file names are either a model of brevity, acronymic, cryptic or just plain gibberish! That’s a bit like driving with the hand brake on… Get a technical SEO audit report done to examine your web file naming conventions and other aspects of your website.
Top 10 Web File Naming Conventions Factors
1.) Do use keywords
Why use “contact.html” when you could use “contact-the-blue-widget-specialists.html”??? Your page names are a good place to slip in a useful phrase identified in your keyword research… Do this where appropriate – like every page on your site – to help reinforce the keywords in Title / Description tags.
2.) Use hyphens and not underscores!
In a URL, or in a text anchor on a page, the underscore blends with the hyperlink underline, making it difficult to see that it is not a space.
3.) Do NOT use spaces!
Aside from the fact that the operating system has to fill the gaps with the awful %20 – there are still some operating systems and browsers in use around the globe that struggle to process spaces in file names.
4.) Do NOT use CAPITALS in file names
Windows does not care and will treat “Blue-Widgets.html” and “blue-widgets.html” as the same file… However, operating systems such as Linux are case-sensitive and see that variation as two completely different file names! If you’ve typed internal hyperlink file names with case variations, you may well generate broken links for some users.
5.) Confine yourself to the Alphabet, and numerals
Insert hyphens between words. Do not commit the heinous crime of adding special characters to your file names! Linux allows pretty much any character except a forward slash (/) – but other operating systems might choke on them!
6.) Remember that SEs really don't like all the "&" and "?" and "="
Some CMS systems generate dynamic file names with a weird structure. Even WordPress can do it if you choose the wrong option in Permalinks. For example, if you are an osCommerce user, it’s a straightforward task to have Ultimate SEO URLs installed and produce plain-English file names.
7.) Don't use the default file names and hierarchical structures
Check the URL defaults in any new WordPress / Joomla / Drupal / or any other Content Management system. For example, is 2007 a good Category heading, or directory name? It’s out of date in a few months time! Still, it’s not uncommon to see CMS sites based on silly, out-of-date directory/file name combinations.
8.) Make sure your CMS site generates keyword-rich file names
The URLs should accurately reflect the page content. This should be the “normal” way to do things, but apparently, the people who write this software genre don’t really understand a web business must generate search engine traffic to survive.
9.) Prevent your session IDs from being added to pages served to search engine spiders
Aside from the special character garbage, it means every time they visit, they get a different URL for the same page – resulting in duplicate content indexing! That can get your site removed from the SE indexes! In Cloudflare, set page rules that prevent WP Admin from being indexed. In Woocommerce, ensure all the crap Search strings and cart fragments are not indexed.
10.) When changing a file name, add a 301 Redirect
Ensure that you set up a 301 Permanent Redirect from the old file name to the new file name. This will make the transition seamless, and minimise the possibility of 404 page not-found errors. Also, those people who had the page bookmarked will still arrive at the correct location on your site. I use the Redirection plugin – set the options correctly and it will automatically generate redirects, and monitor pages, posts and trash files.
Page last updated on Thursday, October 19, 2023 by the author Ben Kemp