What Is a URL Slug and How to Optimize It for SEO

Quick answer:
An SEO slug is a URL that’s specifically designed to be optimized for search engine optimization. It’s often called a URL slug or a permalink.

SEO slugs are often short, memorable (so that users can type them out), and most importantly – they have the main keyword included in them in some form. SEO-friendly slugs use “-” to separate words and avoid stop words like “a”, “an”, “the”, “and”, or “of”.

Optimizing URL slugs for SEO might sound mighty complicated but in the majority of cases, it’s not. It’s pretty simple once you understand what you need to do.

So, in this short article, we’re going to give you all the information you need to set up a proper URL structure on your WordPress website and we’ll also teach you how to write SEO-optimized URL slugs. But first…

What does a “slug” actually mean?

An SEO slug refers to the part of a URL that identifies a specific page or post on a website.

For example, for the sake of making a point, let’s presume your website’s homepage is www.yourwebsite.com/. We call that a domain.

A slug (or if you want to follow proper naming – path) would be what follows after the trailing slash, like so – www.yourwebsite.com/this-is-the-slug/. Optimizing this part of the URL is crucial as it aides search engines and users in understanding what your page is about.

It’s important to mention that it’s not always the first item after the trailing slash in a URL that’s considered a slug. For example if you have a blog on your website the URL would be www.yourwebsite.com/blog/. In this example, “/blog/” would be referred to as a subfolder. The slug would come after “/blog/” –  www.yourwebsite.com/blog/this-is-the-slug/.

Are URL slugs important for SEO?

It’s 2024, we have artificial intelligence for God’s sake, do we really need to add the keyword in the permalink for Google to understand what’s a web page about?

Well, yes.

Even though Google and other search engines don’t need SEO-optimized URL paths to understand what a webpage is about, doing so can help you and your users in two ways:

  1. You ensure your website’s URL structure is logical and well organized.
    There is more to website architecture, but for the sake of this article, all you need to know is that optimizing your slugs can help you keep an organized website structure without explicitly focusing on that aspect of SEO.
  2. SEO-optimized slugs aid user experience.
    People tend to copy, paste, share, and even read URLs before they click on them. Having descriptive slugs lets users gain an understanding of what your webpage is about before they even open it.

So, search engines don’t necessarily need keyword-optimized permalinks to understand your page. But they help by keeping your website logically structured and aid people in understanding pages when all they see is a naked link.

Most importantly, optimizing a slug for a particular keyword ensures you leave no guess-room for search engines what a webpage is about.

How to write SEO-optimized URL slugs in 3 steps

As we said in the beginning, optimizing permalinks for SEO isn’t some wizardry – in fact, you can do it in three steps once you decide on the page you’re creating:

  1. Head to Google – This is the first step of your journey. Ask yourself “How do people search for this”. Usually, it’s a two to three-word keyword (we call those short-tail keywords). Google it and see what the results page shows you. Note the keywords most often used by the pages already appearing on the SERP (search engine results page). Then…
  2. Do keyword research – Once you have a starting point, head to your favorite keyword tool (we like Ahrefs, but keywordsheeter.com is a good free alternative) and plug that keyword in there. You’re bound to get at least a couple of results back. If you’re using paid tools you’ll also have a volume metric attached to the keyword – volume roughly shows how many people search for that term on a monthly basis.
  3. Grab the term with the highest volume – Go back to Google and paste the terms with the highest volume. This time we’re trying to gauge whether or not this term is relevant for you. Sometimes keywords have a parent keyword with lots of searches but broad user intent. You want the keyword in your slug to be tightly related to your search term.

    For example, if you’re making a landing page for gardening services in New York, a slug like www.joemamalanscaping.com/gardening-services/ might be too broad.

    Instead, use the more tailored www.joemamalanscaping.com/gardening-services-new-york/. Now that is a slug optimized for a specific service within a specific location. While the shorter keyword “gardening services” is bound to have more search volume, that search volume will come from all around the US which isn’t your target audience.

Best practices for writing SEO-friendly URL slugs

Once you go through the three-step process above you have to do some more due diligence to ensure the SEO-friendliness of your URL slugs.

  • Use hyphens or dashes to separate the words. In URLs empty spacings don’t work, instead, we use hyphens or dashes (the latter is our preferred approach). This helps search engines understand individual words and improves visibility for others.
  • Avoid ‘stop’ words like  “a,” “an,” “the,” “and,” or “of” from your SEO slug unless they are integral to the meaning of the page. These words are often ignored by search engines as they rarely change the meaning of a search.
  • Maintain a consistent structure of your slugs throughout your website. This makes your website structure more orderly and helps with easier navigation for crawlers and users.
  • Exclude special characters like question marks and exclamation points in your slugs. Stick to words, numbers, and dashes.

Follow the checklist above and you’ll be sure to make SEO-friendly URL slugs. Keep in mind that at some point, as your website grows, you’ll be bound to make changes in your website structure and URL slugs as well. This is a much more involving process, consisting of mapping our clusters and potential for growth and it’s usually best to hire SEO professionals to help you along the way.

Key takeaways

Understanding URL slugs and optimizing them for SEO can significantly enhance your website’s performance. Here are the key points to remember:

  • URL slugs, the part of a URL that identifies a specific page or post, play a crucial role in aiding search engines and users in understanding the content of your webpage.
  • While search engines don’t strictly require SEO-optimized slugs, they contribute to a logical and well-organized website structure, enhancing user experience and comprehension.
  • Writing SEO-friendly URL slugs involves conducting keyword research, selecting relevant terms with high search volume, and ensuring tight alignment between the keyword and the webpage content.
  • Best practices for crafting SEO-friendly URL slugs include using hyphens to separate words, avoiding stop words, maintaining a consistent slug structure, and excluding special characters.
  • As your website grows, periodic review and adjustment of URL slugs may be necessary, often requiring the assistance of SEO professionals to ensure optimal performance.