What Is a URL? Meaning, Structure, and Optimization Tips

What Is a URL?

A URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is the web address of an internet resource, like a webpage.

You can see the URL of the webpage you’re on in the address bar at the top of your browser’s window.

URL in top of browser’s window

URLs are important. Because they help users access the webpage they want to view.

Plus, if you’re doing SEO, they can help you set up your website for SEO success by providing information to search engines about the content and purpose of a webpage.

So they can rank it appropriately.

In this post, you’ll learn how URLs are structured and how to optimize them for better search engine rankings.

Let’s start.

URL Structure Explained

The structure of a URL breaks down into seven distinct parts. Like this:

Parts of URL structure

1. Protocol


The protocol tells your browser how to connect to a webpage.

It could be HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) or HTTPS (HTTP secure).

The main difference between the two is that HTTPS encrypts and protects any data transmitted between the server and browser. 

So when users interact with your site, their sensitive information (like login and credit card details) is safe from attackers.

Websites that show a lock icon in the address bar are using HTTPS.

secure HTTPS protocol

Whereas websites that show a “Not Secure” warning in the address bar are using HTTP.

not secure protocol

2. Subdomain

subdomain highlighted

A subdomain is a string of letters or a complete word that appears before a URL’s first dot.

The most popular subdomain is www. It stands for World Wide Web, communicating that the URL is a web address.

In the past, it was common to use www. But nowadays you can omit it from your URLs if you want.

It doesn’t matter whether you use it or not. It all depends on your personal preference.

Then there are other subdomains—blog, store, support, news, careers, and so on—that are used for managing and organizing sections of a website that serve a specific function.

For example, we use the “careers” subdomain to organize and display all the career opportunities at Semrush. 

Semrush careers subdomain

And Wix uses the “support” subdomain to feature all their help articles on the website.

wix support subdomain

3. Domain 

domain highlighted

A domain is the main part of the URL that identifies the website. Like eBay, Expedia, or Semrush.

If you’re shopping around for a domain name, our advice is to choose something short and catchy.

Short and catchy domain names are easier for people to remember. So they are more likely to return to your website.

Plus, they’re easier to fit into logos and other branding materials compared to long, complicated ones. 

4. Top-Level Domain (TLD)


The TLD (also called domain extension) is the part that comes after the name of your website, like “.com.”

You’ll come across many TLDs on the internet. Here is a list of five of the most common ones. And what kinds of websites they’re suited for:

  • .com: Commercial websites
  • .org: Nonprofit organizations
  • .net: Software and hosting companies providing network services
  • .edu: Educational institutions (universities, colleges, schools, etc.)
  • .gov: Government agencies and departments

If you’re in the early stages of buying a domain name, we recommend choosing a TLD that best describes the nature of your business.

Additionally, you can use country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs).

ccTLDs are two-letter domain extensions that indicate a website’s association with a specific country or territory.

Examples include:

  • .uk for United Kingdom
  • .de for Germany
  • .cn for China
  • .ca for Canada
  • .in for India
  • .es for Spain
  • .au for Australia
  • .nz for New Zealand

Using ccTLDs makes sense when a website’s target audience is predominantly based in a specific country. 

By using ccLTD, a website signals its connection to that location. Which can help to establish trust and credibility with users in that region.

5. Subfolder


A subfolder is a folder or directory that is located within the top-most directory (or main directory) in your site hierarchy.

For example, consider the URL “www.domain.com/shoes/”

In this URL, the “shoes” subfolder is located within the main directory of the website, which is “www.domain.com”

Similar to subdomains, subfolders are used to separate website content into logical sections.

This makes it easier for visitors to understand where they are on the website.

For example, users on this URL “www.apple.com/mac/” can easily understand that they’re on the MacBook section on Apple’s website.

MacBook section on Apple’s website

6. Slug


A slug is the part of a URL that identifies a specific page or a post on a website. It helps users understand the context and content of a page.

Look at this URL slug, for example: “/best-baby-shampoos/”

Reading this slug alone, users can get an idea of what the page is about.

But sometimes, you’ll also come across URL slugs that read like this: “/785321/”

Slugs with numbers are confusing to users.

The primary goal of the URL slug is to describe the content of a page. So when you create a slug, make sure it’s descriptive.

7. URL Parameters

url parameter

URL parameters (or query strings) are part of a URL that comes after a question mark (?).

They’re composed of keys and values, separated by an equal sign (=). 

The key tells you what kind of information is being passed. The value is the actual information being passed.

Let’s look at an example.

In the URL below, “color” is the key and “blue” is the value. This parameter will apply a filter to a webpage to display only blue products.

You can add multiple parameters to a URL by separating them with an ampersand (&).

multiple parameters in a URL

Now, there are two parameters: “color” with the value “blue” & “sort” with the value “newest”

This applies a filter to a webpage to show blue products and sorts them by the newest first.

Parameters serve multiple use cases:

  • Searching parameters allow you to search results from a website’s internal search engine
  • Filtering parameters let you sort and filter listings on category pages. Listings will often be products, jobs, hotels, flights, etc. And they can be filtered by various attributes, like price, availability, size, brand, salary, location, flight time, delivery time, ratings, etc.
  • Tracking parameters help you track traffic from your ads and marketing campaigns 
  • Paginating parameters are helpful in organizing blog archive pages and forum threads in a series of pages

For more information about parameters and how to use them on your website, read our full guide to URL parameters.

What Are the Different Types of URLs?

URLs can be broadly categorized into two types: absolute and relative.

An absolute URL specifies the full path to your website URL, including the protocol, optional subdomain (www), domain name, and path (which includes the directory and URL slug).

Here’s an example of an absolute URL:


A relative URL only specifies the path. That is, the directory and URL slug.

Here’s an example of relative URL:


URLs can also be classified by the function they serve:

  • Canonical URLs: A canonical URL acts as the master version for duplicate URLs on your site. Canonical URLs can combat duplicate content issues, which can hinder your rankings in search engines.
  • Callback URLs: A callback URL is the page users are automatically redirected to when they complete a specific action or task. For example, when users login to a website using a third-party authentication service like Google, the page they’re redirected to after successfully authenticating with Google is the callback URL.
  • Vanity URLs: A vanity URL is a custom URL that is short and easy to share. They’re commonly used in marketing campaigns or on social media to promote a specific webpage from your site. You can use URL shortener tools like Bitly, TinyURL, and Short.io. to create them.

How to Optimize URLs for SEO

One way to ensure your pages rank in search engines and get more traffic from Google is by optimizing their URL structure for SEO.

Here’s how to do that.

1. Use the HTTPS Protocol

HTTPS protects your visitors’ sensitive information from attackers. It’s also been a lightweight Google ranking factor since 2014.

So if your website is still on HTTP, make a switch today by encrypting your website with an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate.

You can get one from your hosting service provider. 

Most hosting companies, including GoDaddy and Bluehost, will help you purchase and install an SSL certificate for your website.

2. Avoid Using Subdomains

From an SEO standpoint, it doesn’t matter whether you use “www” as your subdomain.

People have started to omit it from their URL structure because it’s not necessary for a website to function properly.

Plus, if you get rid of “www” from your URLs, it will make your URLs that much shorter and simpler. Meaning they’re easier to type into browsers.

As for using subdomains specifically to organize content into multiple sections, our advice is to use subfolders for this purpose instead of subdomains. Especially for content that’s intended to rank in search engines.

This is a highly debated topic in the SEO community.

Google says it is fine to use either subdomains or subfolders.

But many SEOs argue that Google treats subdomains as separate websites. So they’ll crawl and index subdomains separately.

This means any authority your site gains from backlinks may not be shared between the domain and subdomains.

As a result, your subdomains may struggle to rank higher.

So from an SEO perspective, it may be best to use subfolders. 

What we know for certain: Subfolders don’t cause issues that subdomains might cause. So it’s your safest bet to go with subfolders.

3. Choose an Appropriate TLD

The choice of TLD depends on the purpose of your website. For nonprofit organizations, .org is best.

For educational institutions, such as universities, colleges, and schools, .edu is the most well-suited TLD.

For commercial websites, .com is the way to go.

If you only do business outside the U.S., your country-code top-level domain (ccTLD), like .au for Australia and .nz for New Zealand, is fine, too.

But avoid using TLDs like .info and .biz—people tend to associate these with spam. So you might have a hard time building high-quality backlinks to your site. Which are important to rank higher.

4. Use Subfolders to Organize Your Content

Use subfolders that logically organize your content and make it easy for users to know where they are on the website.

This is important from a user experience (UX) point of view. Which is closely connected to SEO.

Your subfolders should indicate the type of content found at that URL. This will also help Google understand your content better.

Good subfolder: https://website.com/blog/best-travel-tips/

Bad subfolder: https://website.com/folder1/best-travel-tips/

If you own a really large website—an ecommerce site, for example—it might get tricky to organize all your pages using only one level of subfolder.

In that case, use sub-subfolders to further define your website hierarchy.

Here’s an example of good sub-subfolder usage:


But avoid keyword repetition in your subfolders—it looks spammy.

Here’s an example of keyword repetition in sub-subfolder URL structure:


5. URL Slugs

You need to do four things to optimize your URL slugs for SEO.

Be Descriptive

Google says your URL slug should describe the content of the page because it helps the search engine understand what the page is about. And rank it appropriately.

Good URL slug: /best-baby-soaps/

Bad URL slug: /page1234/

The best way to make your URL slug descriptive is to use your page’s target keyword. If you don’t know what your target keyword is or how to find one, read our guide to keyword research.

Make It Short

Long URLs are harder to read for users. And Google often truncates long URLs in search results. 

Like this:

long URL example

So try to keep your slugs within five words.

Good URL slug: /home-workout-tips/

Bad URL slug: /the-7-best-home-workout-tips-the-ultimate-cheatsheet-for-training-without-a-gym/

Use Hyphens to Separate Words

Google recommends using hyphens to separate words in your URL slug instead of underscores. They’re a standard way of separating words in a URL.

Good URL Slug: /free-marketing-tools/

Bad URL Slug: /free_marketing_tools/

Use Lowercase Characters

URLs are case-sensitive. And if you have a particular URL in both lowercase and uppercase, it can create duplicate content issues on your site.

Plus, lowercase URLs make it easier for users to type the URL correctly. URLs that mix uppercase and lowercase can lead to errors when typing in the URL.

Good URL Slug: /how-to-make-pizza/

Bad URL slug: /How-To-Make-Pizza/

If you take care of these four things, your URL slugs should be optimized. But you can take your URL optimization even further. Read our full guide to URL slugs for more information.

Also, if you’re a Semrush user, you can use the Site Audit tool to check whether your URLs are set up correctly and if there are any issues present.

Create a project in the tool and run a full crawl of your website.

After the crawl is complete, navigate to the “Issues” tab and search for “URL.”

The tool shows whether your website has any URL-specific issues like URLs being too long. Or words in URLs being separated with underscores.

Warnings section in Site Audit tool

The tool also offers advice on how to fix each issue.

Why and how to fix it section

How to Set Up Your URLs in WordPress

Most popular website platforms and content management systems (CMSs), such as WordPress, Shopify, Wix, etc., let you choose how you structure your URLs.

Here’s the process for WordPress:

From your WP admin dashboard, go to “Settings” and click “Permalinks.”

Navigation to Permalinks section

WordPress has six options for URLs.

WordPress URL options

For most standard websites and blogs, you’ll want to go with the “Post name” option. It’s the clearest of all.

And to edit the URL of an individual page, go to the page editor for that page.

On the right panel, you’ll find the URL section. You’ll be able to edit your URL from there.

Edit URL page


A URL link is the web address of an online resource. The resource could be a webpage, video, image, tweet, or other types of content on the web.

2. What Is a URL Example?

Here are some examples of URLs:

  • https://www.apple.com/
  • https://www.microsoft.com/
  • https://www.tesla.com/
  • https://www.semrush.com/

But URLs can be much longer and much more specific than those examples. A URL for part of our Digital PR course, for instance, is this: https://www.semrush.com/academy/courses/mastering-digital-pr-course-with-brian-dean/lessons/lesson-1/

3. Where Is the URL Located?

The URL is located in the address bar at the top of your browser’s window.

URL location

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