When you’re developing a website, there are so many things to consider, and often things like the meta data or proper file names get lost in the shuffle. You tell yourself you’ll go back and complete them later… maybe. But you’ve worked hard to create your website and you do a disservice to your brand or business when you leave out these more behind-the-scenes or afterthought bits. Part of a successful Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy is to write appropriate file names for your webpages, create accurate file paths, and use a sitemap to inform web crawlers of the structure of your website.
The below tips can be applied during the front-end development process, so make it a habit to do these as you develop your site. All this said, none of your file path names for your website are any use without a domain name. Make sure to find a great domain name for whatever it is you’re building!
What is a web crawler?
A Web Crawler, sometimes called a spider or spiderbot and often shortened to crawler, is an Internet bot that systematically browses the World Wide Web, typically for the purpose of Web indexing (web spidering).
Essentially, a web crawler tells Search Engines, such as Google, to index your pages. Google uses this information to present your indexable pages in their Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) when a user makes a relevant search. How you rank on Google, or other search engines, varies and there are many contributing factors that determine whether or not your webpages will rank in search. You not only need to appeal to the web crawler (and you should never just aim to please the web crawler), but also to your audience. See some steps below that will help a web crawler understand your website pages but also better indicate to your audience what they’re landing on.
Choose a Proper File Path/Folder Structure
A file path is the name of a file or directory that specifies the unique location of whichever file is in the file system. File paths are important, as they leave a trail of digital breadcrumbs for web crawlers. They also help your audience understand where we are on your website. For example, if your portfolio/work showcase pages live in the same folder as your blog pages, that’s confusing to the end user and to a web crawler. Have the appropriate files live in the correct folders to keep your website organized. If you choose to implement visible breadcrumbs on your website, this makes for a great user experience as it acts as a secondary navigation system that shows a user’s location within your website. Side benefit: when you have to replicate pages or make new ones, having everything stored in proper folders makes that process a lot smoother.
Create Informative File Names
Once you’ve chosen which folders your files live in, you should choose a consistent naming system. If you’re writing bios of guests for your podcast, for example, you may want it to live on your website as www.yoursite.com/bios/guest-full-name. Keeping a consistent naming convention allows your users to easily navigate your website. Further, using words that relate to the content at hand it also beneficial from a ranking perspective. Avoid using gibberish or a string of numbers or an excessively long URL. Trust is a reason for users to choose whether or not to navigate to your website. With a long, uninformative URL, you can lose potential traffic and therefore your rank.
This file naming convention also applies to images. Be sure to label your images based on what’s in the image and use short file names. If you can, use “alt” tags to better define the image. This is great for SEO but also for accessibility, by helping those with screen readers understand the image. If there’s an image of your on your portfolio, labelling it “full-name-web-developer” is informative, but also has an SEO benefit for you.
Subdomains: The Great Debate
Subdomains are an oft-debated topic in the SEO community. The general conclusion is that using subdirectories, or a folder system, is much better for web crawlers. So having yoursite.com/blog/blog-post-about-cats versus www.blog.yoursite.com/blog-post-about-cats is better for instructing the structure of your website. However, there are exceptions. Subdomains are seen by Google as a separate website but secondary to your actual domain name. If you wanted to host a landing page for a marketing campaign or a microsite (think - if you’re a realtor and want different mini websites for each home you have for sale) then they’re a good idea to use. It’s dependent on your business and brand, but be aware that there are benefits and cons to both options.
Bonus: Use a Sitemap
This is the final easy step of your website development. Publish your website, then use a generator to create an XML file for you based on your main domain name. An XML sitemap shows the hierarchy of your website. It provides Google a roadmap of navigation to help Google understand the important pages, which is great for SEO.
Hopefully these steps will help you structure your file path names so that they inform your audience, relate to the content at hand, and hit the necessary keywords to assist in your website optimization. The task of going through and properly naming each file can seem tedious during development, especially when there is so much work to be done on the actual idea you’re building, but you’ll thank yourself later when you have an optimized and organized website. Happy optimizing!