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What is a URL?


A URL, which stands for Universal Resource Locator, is the unique address of a website, image, document or any other resource on the web. While URLs are specific types of Uniform Resource Identifiers (URI) most commonly used to reference web pages, they are also employed in email communications, file transferring processes and database accessing.


The URL of any web page can be found in the address bar at the top of the screen of most web browsers (such as Chrome, Safari or Firefox). If you take a look at the address bar of this webpage, for example, you’ll see that its URL is https://www.wix.com/encyclopedia/definition/__url. To see the full-form URL of an image or document within a broader web page, right-click to copy the element’s address and paste it into a new tab or page.


It’s important to keep in mind that while the terms are often used interchangeably, domain names are not the same as URL addresses. While purchasing a domain name allows web page owners to customize their online address, it is only one component of a URL.



Different parts of a URL


URLs are made up of several parts, each of which plays a crucial role in the performance of the site:

  • Protocol: Otherwise known as “scheme”, the first part of a URL indicates which protocol must be used by the browser to access the resources. The most common protocols include HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) and HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) for web elements and FTP (File Transfer Protocol) to download files.

  • Subdomain: Sitting at the beginning of the domain, subdomains help navigate and organize the different sections of large sites. They’re most commonly used in websites with a significant amount of content and pages, such as online stores, support platforms and blogs.

  • Domain: Also referred to as second-level domain or host, this is the actual name of your website and thus the most customizable part of your URL. Together with subdomains and top-level domains, this section completes the definition of domain name.

  • Top-level domain: Top-level domains (TLD) are one of the highest levels in the web’s hierarchical Domain Name System (DNS). The most popular TLD is .com, which is intended for commercial entities in the United States (hence .com). Other popular TLDs include .org, .net, .edu, .gov, and country-specific extensions such as .co.uk.

  • Path: The final part of a URL is the path, sitting after a slash and used to designate specific pages. This section is often broken down into smaller elements such as subdirectory, file name and parameters. For example, ‘/encyclopedia/definition/__url’ is the path for this web page’s URL.


 

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The importance of a semantic URL


Also known as friendly URLs, semantic URLs are composed of logical parts that allow visitors to easily understand which web page they’re in and where it falls within the site hierarchy. Just like when choosing a domain name, there are a few crucial areas that can be severely impacted by whether or not a site uses semantic URLs:

  • Usability: Users should be able to navigate a site solely through the address bar, or at the very least, be capable of easily retracing their steps from within it. Complex URLs might deter visitors from extending their stay on the page in favor of alternatives with a better user experience.

  • SEO: Clear URLs allow search engine crawlers to have a better understanding of the type of page they’re indexing and how it relates to others on the site. As a result, they’re most likely to rank and build stronger site authority. Think of a semantic URL as a way to properly organize your pages in a labeled drawer, rather than throwing all of them into a closet and hoping for the best.

  • Accessibility: Visitors using screen readers must be able to understand where links are leading to and what kind of information they contain without having to decipher a URL packed with complex strings.

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