Website Editing Guide - Part 3 - URL Structure and Navigation
Website Editing Guide - Part 3 - URL Structure and Navigation
One of the biggest mistakes we’ve seen people make with their website is altering URLs.
This mistake has some serious repercussions, including;
- If someone had a page bookmarked, their bookmark will break
- If your page was indexed by Google or the other search engines, it won’t be much longer.
- If you had links in your marketing materials leading back to the page, they won’t work anymore.
- If you have links on your website, social media, or anywhere else on the web leading to that page, they will be broken.
- It can seriously hurt your long-term SEO ranking.
Hopefully, we have your attention now!
If you were migrating your website from one platform to another (Like WordPress to Joomla, or Joomla to Wix, etc.) or simply redesigning your website, you will want to take a considerable amount of time to make sure your URL structure is either preserved, or your web designer/developer is spending the time to put in 301 redirects to prevent the search engines and your users being left out to dry when you launch your new site.
If you aren’t sure that this is happening, it’s critical that you talk to a web design expert BEFORE launching your new website. Before we get too far into the weeds, let’s talk about exactly what we mean.
Why Would a URL Change?
Let’s say you are building a brand-new website. It doesn’t matter what platform you were on, or what platform you are moving to. They could be the same, or different, it doesn’t really matter. Let’s just assume you are building a new website and you have some really big ideas to make it a better, cooler experience for your audience.
You have a blog on your old website with a hundred-or-so blog posts. You’ve been sharing links to your blogs out on social media, in your newsletter, and you even occasionally send them out in your sales material.
The URL for your blog is yourwebsitedotcom/blog and a typical blog post URL appends the title, so a blog post might be something like yourwebsitedotcom/blog/this-is-a-blog-post
On your new website, you are focused more on providing a lot of good educational information and decided to rename your blog to “insights.”
First of all, don’t go too far outside of the box on your website. People expect to see a blog or news section, don’t call it something different just to be clever; otherwise your users probably won’t pay attention to it.
If your website platform changes your URLs from /blog/ to /insights/ then every single blog post that you had before will result in a 404 error. Yourwebsitedotcom/blog/this-is-a-blog-post will no longer resolve to your blog, because you decided that the new URL is yourwebsitedotcom/insights/this-is-a-blog-post. Google and the other search engines will forget that the post ever existed, every single link to it will break, and you will lose all traction that you had over this simple little change.
This doesn’t just happen with name changes either.
We’ve seen people move their websites from Joomla to WordPress and not configure their WordPress site properly, so blog posts don’t even append the blog modifier in the URL. Suddenly all of their blog post URLs are yourwebsitedotcom/this-is-a-blog-post. That’s still a totally different URL, and your website will suffer from the same problem.
The same goes for your About Us page. If the URL goes from yourwebsitedotcom/about-us to yourwebsitedotcom/about or yourwebsitedotcom/meet-the-team or anything else, you are going to cause broken links and lose SEO rankings.
Your URLs are critically important, especially when it comes to the search engines and the rest of your marketing. It doesn’t mean you can’t change them, but if you want to change them, you need to talk to a web developer or SEO expert to make sure proper 301 redirects are put into place to permanently redirect traffic from the old URL to the new one.
Don’t Change Your URLs If You Don’t Have To!
If your website is live and active, and has been for a while, you want to avoid making changes to your URLs. It’s easy to make a change somewhere on your website that adjusts the URL of the page, and if you aren’t looking for it, it’s easy to not realize what you’ve done.
Managing URLs on a Joomla Website
We’re going to repeat this again, but it’s so important, we want to lead with it. Your URLs are controlled by your Menu Items/Navigation in Joomla. If you move menu items around, you might be changing your URLs.
If you are working on a Joomla website, the main thing to look out for is changing your aliases. In most cases, the alias on a piece of content or menu item in Joomla controls the URL. If the alias for your contact us menu is contact-us, then the URL for the page is likely going to contain /contact-us. Avoid changing the alias of pre-existing pages to avoid changing the URL.
For most pages, Joomla determines the full URL based on the menu item alias and the subsequent parent menu items.
For example, you have a page on your main menu under Our Services > Plumbing > Drain Unclogging, then your Drain Unclogging page will have a URL that inherits the alias of the menu items above it in the chain.
For this example, let’s assume that the menu item aliases for the menu items are the following:
- Our Services = our-services
- Plumbing = plumbing
- Drain Unclogging = drain-unclogging
Then the URL for the Drain Unclogging page would be
This means if you decide to change the alias of any of those menu items, it will break the overall URL.
It also means if you decide to move Drain Unclogging to another submenu, it will break the URL.
In Joomla, your Navigation Menus control your URL structure!
If you want to move menus around and reorganize your navigation, talk to a web designer to make sure it is done in a way that doesn’t disrupt your URLs.
Managing URLs on a WordPress Website
If you are working on a WordPress website, your site might generate URLs one of several ways.
When building WordPress pages or posts, the URL of the page is referred to as the Permalink. WordPress also refers to the editable part of the URL as the Slug.
If the slug for your Contact Us menu is contact-us, then the URL for the page is likely going to contain /contact-us. Avoid changing the slug of pre-existing pages to avoid changing the URL.
How to Set Up a 301 Redirect
A 301 Redirect is designed to tell the search engines and web browsers that you’ve permanently changed a URL to something else. It’s basically like saying “Hey Google, my bad, my About Us page used to be at /about-us, but now it’s at /about.”
If you don’t set up a 301 redirect when moving a domain, Google will forget everything it knows about the old page. Setting up the 301 redirect will have Google pass on everything it remembers about the old page to the new one. It also tells web browsers that go to the old URL to redirect over to the new one instead without making the visitor do anything.
Setting up a 301 redirect is going to be a different process depending on a few different circumstances. The process can be different depending on the content management system you are using.
For instance, for both Joomla and WordPress, you can install a free extension/plugin that allows you to set up redirects. While a plugin like this might be good in a pinch, it tends to be inefficient if you have a lot of redirects, and they can gradually slow down the performance of the site if relied on too heavily.
However, depending on what type of redirect you want to do, and whether or not the changes you are making affect multiple URLs, it’s a good idea to manually write your redirect rules directly into your website’s .htaccess file.
That’s going to be something you want your website designer or developer to do for you.
You’ll want to discuss this with your website designer BEFORE you actually make the change, because once you break a URL, Google can be quick to forget all about it. It’s best to set up the redirect at the same time you change the URL.
We strongly advise you to reach out if you need help setting up 301 redirects on your website. There are a lot of ways things can go poorly if they aren’t done correctly!
We’d be happy to answer any further questions you might have, or look over something you’ve put together to make sure you aren’t missing something. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us on live chat, put in a support ticket, or give us a call at 607.433.2200 if you need assistance with your website.