You probably already know what a good URL structure generally looks like. If not, here are a few best practices for creating a search engine-friendly URL structure that also ensures a great user experience. While the best practices apply to all types of websites, you’ll often need to go beyond these to create a strong URL structure for an e-commerce site.
So, what is the best URL structure for an e-commerce website?
Fewer folders is generally better. But there’s no magic number when it comes to how many folders your URL structure should (or shouldn’t) contain. It’s best to use your own judgement while also keeping your users in mind.
Your URL structure will most likely rely on how you categorise your products. So focus on making this work, rather than obsessing about reaching or staying under a certain folder limit you’ve arbitrarily set.
Here are a few important questions you should answer before creating a URL structure for your e-commerce website:
- How extensive is your product range?
- How do your shoppers browse your products?
- How do they navigate back and forth on your website?
- Can they understand your categories correctly?
- How do they use the product filter?
Below, we’ll look at each of these questions and how your answers should influence your URL structure.
How extensive is your product range?
A good URL structure should reflect how big and diverse your product range is. If you offer a varied collection of products from clothing to accessories and even home products, and each range is typically large (with over 50 products per range), a complex navigational structure like the one below would be appropriate. It helps divide the main product categories into subcategories and subcategories into child categories (e.g. Clothing > Basics > Underwear or Clothing > Basics > Socks) and allows for better accessibility to each specific range.
On the other hand, if you don’t have a big selection of products, a simpler navigational structure like the one below would suffice. This example has one main category and an array of subcategories but no child categories (e.g. Clothing > Underwear & Socks).
In general, the URL structure for your site will depend on whether you choose to slice and dice your products into various ranges or to group them together. However, there is no golden rule when it comes to how many products is “enough” for a range to be deemed extensive. You’ll just need to use your judgement (or ask us for a second opinion). But as long as you don’t create any categories with too few products, you can avoid landing pages with thin content issues. And that’s a good thing.
How do shoppers browse your products?
It’s important to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and try to understand how they browse and narrow down your product range.
Depending on the product offerings, your target audience may have different preferences. For instance, if you offer a wide range of outdoor gears and equipment, you may want to create Brand and/or Outdoor Activity categories that allow users to shop for your products by their favorite brand or activity. This will also allow for creating and optimising landing pages that focus on keywords that are specific to the brands you offer or those relating to each outdoor activity.
On the other hand, users browsing for products such as gifts or greeting cards won’t find much value from a Brand category but will benefit more from categories such as Occasion, which allows them to shop by event (e.g. birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Christmas), or Gender, which allows them to shop by gender (e.g. gifts for him or her).
How do shoppers navigate your website?
Think about how users navigate back and forth on your website (i.e. in between pages).
You may already know that breadcrumbs can enhance your site’s SEO, via internal linking that passes link juice from one page to another, as well as improving user experience by enabling users to easily navigate between pages.
However, according to Google, it’s common for users to navigate your site by cutting off a part of the URL in the hopes of finding more general content. For example, instead of using breadcrumbs to navigate to the Basics category page, some users may choose to drop off the /socks path in example.com/clothing/basics/socks to hopefully arrive at example.com/clothing/basics/ where they can find other products relating to basics such as underwear.
In general, you can create a strong and consistent URL structure by strictly modelling the product categories hierarchy and ensuring that every path leads to a valid page. This will help avoid poor user experience caused by users landing on an invalid page.
Are your categories easy to understand?
The anchor text used for a link should provide at least a basic idea of what the page linked to is about. If you have a subcategory for a type of product and child categories for each style, ensure that anchor text for each linked page is descriptive enough for users to correctly identify your product range.
For instance, the following example shows the Wallets subcategory, which carries 4 different child categories: Full, Phone Cases, Minimal and Travel. Among these child categories, the only one that users can instantly recognize is Phone Cases. The other three are ambiguous and not sufficiently descriptive of the styles. In this case, it is a better practice to group Full, Minimal and Travel into one child category (e.g. “Wallets”), which can then be classified under “Bags”, while “Phone Cases” can be moved to the Tech/Audio subcategory. This will create a different URL structure for this product range.
It’s also a good practice to avoid using subjective descriptions when categorising your products. For example, leather wallets can be correctly understood by most users, whereas full or minimal wallets may be interpreted differently by different consumers.
How do you use product filters?
Smart use of product filters can help simplify the categorisation of products by allowing users to sort products by their preferences (e.g. type, brand, colour). The example below shows that instead of having to create 2 child categories for Socks and Underwear, users can use a product filter to narrow down the product range by type, to either socks or underwear.
Once again, whether separate categories or a product filter is a better option should be considered in line with what we’ve mentioned earlier in the post: how big your product range is and whether users can correctly interpret your product categories.
Just note that using a product filter can cause a duplicate content issue, via the dynamic parameters in the URL. However, this can be easily fixed with a variety of tools such as AJAX/Scripts, Canonical Tag, Robots.txt or URL Parameters selection in Google Search Console.
Let’s wrap this up
Creating a strong and SEO-friendly URL structure for an e-commerce website depends on how you categorise your products and the way your customers browse your website. In a nutshell, it has a lot to do with how you can provide your online shoppers with a seamless user experience.
And this means offering your customers the ability to narrow down a product range by their preferences without being confused by pointless categories that add little to no value to their shopping experience. If you can do this, you’re halfway there. If you can’t, we can help.