What is a URL?

All about URLs and why file names are important and how to create a good URL.


Websites and hosting can get a little tricky to grasp and one of the most frequent questions we get is 'what is a URL by definition?' Well, a URL (or Uniform Resource Locator) is simply a web address where you'll find a 'resource' or document on your web space (hosting space); i.e. a web address, like getdotted.com. URLs can be broken up into various parts. URLs are a bit like a search query for your browser to find the right page. Take this GetDotted.com URL for example:

https:// getdotted.com /domain-name-types/

The first part (https://) defines the protocol used. In simple terms, it's the method you want to use in order to reach the resource you want - the https:// method is called HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure. Most addresses you find online will use http:// but there are some others. These include ftp:// which is for getting files via the File Transfer Protocol, and https:// which is a secure, encrypted version of http, often used on pages where payment or login details are being taken for data protection.

The second part (getdotted.com) is a domain name. This is technically just a string of characters/letters or a combination of words, but its actually a little more clever. Domain names give us humans an easy way to remember how to get to certain pages. For instance, you might remember in 3 weeks that you were on our site - getdotted.com, but if domains weren't included in URL's, you'd have to remember the specific IP address for our site, which would look more like http://192.168.384.849! A domain simply turns an IP address into a string of characters that's easier to remember. If you don't already own a domain name then you might want to consider registering one in order to point towards your web hosting. Find out more about domain names.

The last part (domain-name-types/) is the all-important resource location. This explains the route taken through the file structure in your web hosting. The example above is referencing the file domain-name-types/ within the root directory (/).

On websites that are bigger than a single page, there are resources that are stored in folders other than the root folder. This leads to a URL containing more and more slashes, the deeper into the file structure you have to go to find the resource you're trying to find. For example, you might see a URL like https://getdotted.com /support/category/miscellaneous-help-guides.html, this means that to get to the resource file (miscellaneous-help-guides.html) from the root folder, you have to go through the 'support' folder, then the 'category' folder when searching the web hosting.

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Are file names important in URLs?

What happens if you don't include a file name at the end of a URL? (For example https://freeola.com/support/?) Most web servers are designed to look for an index or default page, on Freeola web spaces for example any of the following can be used as index files: index.htm, index.html or index.php. If you go to https://freeola.com/support/, the index.php displays but is not referenced within the URL. So URLs don't always have to have exact file names on the end of them in certain situations. Another advanced use would be when using mod_rewrites to style URLs as other URLs for some of the search engine and usability reasons explained below.

Why do URLs matter?

So now you know what a URL is, you want to know why you should care about them, right? Well, a URL points to a resource on your website, therefore when search engines index your website they will give some weight to keywords found in a URL that points to a particular page. For example if https://getdotted.com/15481.php pointed to a news article about a new .co.uk domain names, there is no indication of that in the URL. However if the URL was https://getdotted.com /co-uk-domains.php then there's more indication as to what the page has on it, so a search engine can find the extra keywords and relate the content more effectively, which should help your page rank higher in Google search results.

That's not the only reason to care about URLs though, your visitors count too! A URL should be easy to remember at best and easy to read out at it's worst. So for a few blog articles the following would be a lot better for users:


Compared to this:


The former will do a lot to simplify reading it out, understanding what the page is about and sharing the standard-link which is important to most, if not all website owners.

Turning 'bad' URLs into 'good' URLs

Okay so now you know what URLs are and why you want good URLs, but what if you are using some kind of publishing software that uses bad URLs? Freeola, as part of our VIP + Hosting package, has advanced options for sharing a URL re-writer to transform those nasty URLs into harmless - and more to the point - useful resource locators!

There are other simple solutions too, for example structuring your website in an organised fashion. You can use folders for various sections of your site with useful names, this will go a long way for making your URLs more comprehensible. For example say you maintain a football club, you might want to structure your website something like this:

  • /home.html
  • /about.html
  • /gallery/
    • /index.html
    • /match-against-braintree-irons.html
  • /match-reports/
    • /vs-witham-town-16-10-2015.html
    • /vs-chelmsford-city-13-10-2015.html
  • /contact.html

Above is a good example of structuring your website into folders in order to make your URLs more friendly for humans and computers alike.

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