Top 10 Fatal URL Design Mistakes

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URL design?
Is there any design involved at all in deciding how your Internet address and directory structure will look like? Yes, there is, or at least there should be! Nonetheless I see the same mistakes all over the place as if URLs wouldn’t matter at all.

A bad URL means your website or page

  • won’t be found
  • won’t be clicked
  • won’t be visited

your content won’t be linked to or shared on social media.

Without proper URLs most of your other great user experience and search engine optimization measures get wasted.

Thus I decided to show the top 10 URL design mistakes which I encounter most frequently and which are in many cases fatal for your findability:

  1. Session IDs: What’s that? Yeah, I ask you, what’s that: e967ef2d7f923aab20e10ddb4164a351? It’s a session ID. It’s different for every user so every user has a different address, it’s like inviting people to a party and giving them all a different address.
  2. Apostrophes and other special characters: %e2%80%93 – This is an apostrophe in an URL. You can’t submit this to some social sites. It does not technically work. You end up with a broken link at best.
  3. Numbers instead of speaking URLs: Decide, 123 or angelina-jolie-naked, which URL speaks your language, which one you’ll rather click?
  4. Multiple URLs for one page:,,,, All leading to one homepage? Now you have 6 homepages and counting! Use a canonical URLs script (WordPress 2.5+ already does by default) or a rel=canonical meta tag.
  5. Too many parameters which also change randomly. Ever tried to submit the New York Times to a social site? In many cases it’s a duplicate as
    and dozens of other combinations are possible. This is even worse than #4
  6. Only keywords in URL: Some bloggers tend to shorten their URLs inasmuch as their posting become totally boring. I won’t click /2015/06/01/google in case I see only the URL (like, say, in an email) but I will click google-files-for-bankruptcy
  7. Too many subdirectories or mimicked ones via URL rewrite: world/politics/asia/korea/local/ Huh? Do you know what I mean? If it’s that far down the hierarchy, why should I care at all? I want the frontpage news.
  8. Simply PHP crap: Do you use legacy Joomla CMS versions? Their standard URLs suck big time: option=com_content&view=article&id=72&Itemid=37 They suck for both Google and social media, the 2 most important traffic sources nowadays. As a user I don’t want to look at such crap either.
  9. Finally date based URLs: 2015/06/01/ is fine in June 2015 but do you think I’ll click 2005/06/01/ or even 2014/06/01? No! I won’t. In case you’re not into breaking news stop using the date as your most important first part of the URL.
  10. Changing URLs after publication: If you use a WordPress URL like mine
    and change it after publishing to say
    the people who arrive by way of social media following the old URL will just encounter an error. You can prevent that by using post numbers and descriptive URLs in WordPress

My 10 URL design rules are quite simple:

  1. Make the URLs clean
  2. Keep them simple
  3. Make a URL human and machine readable
  4. Use one URL per page
  5. No special characters besides a minus/hyphen “-” ideally
  6. Use slashes like real directories
  7. Enhance URLs with numbers but don’t rely on them
  8. Skip the date, it’s not the most important info
  9. Do not ever change URLs once set
  10. When you have to change URLs move them with a “301 permanently moved” redirect

So you see: Achieving findability by appropriate URL design is not rocket science, it’s more preventing stupid mistakes. For deciding which URL structure is best in WordPress (not mine!) check out this how-to article of mine on WordPress URL design.

Also make sure to follow these “10 Coding Guidelines for Perfect Findability and Web Standards”.

Did I forget something? Tell me.

Last updated: June 1st, 2015.

* (CC BY-SA 2.0) Creative Commons image by Brennen Bearnes