People use a lot of acronyms on the Internet. Among the many out there, we can almost guarantee you’ve seen “URL”. And that might’ve left you wondering, “what is a website URL?”.
What is a website URL?
Short for Uniform Resource Locator, a URL is the location of a specific website, page, or file on the Internet.
For example, if you enter
https://themeisle.com/blog/what-is-a-website-url/ in your web browser, your web browser will take you to this post. But if you just enter
https://themeisle.com/, you get taken to the Themeisle homepage.
Many people never think much about URLs, beyond memorizing the ones leading to their favorite sites. If you run your own website or are planning to build one, however, it’s a good idea to understand a little more about how URLs work under the hood.
Every URL is made up of multiple parts, and the way yours are built will have a variety of effects on your site’s security and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Given this, let’s look more closely at what’s involved in a basic website URL.
Your guide to understanding website URLs (3 key parts)
Throughout the next few sections, we’ll look at the three most important parts of a URL for regular users. Combined, they should answer the question: “What is a website URL?”
1. The protocol
Consider the following URL:
The easiest part of this address to overlook is the very first part. You’re probably so used to seeing http:// and https:// at the beginning of every URL that you don’t give it a second thought. However, this element – the URL’s ‘protocol’ – is more important than you might think.
The protocol tells your browser how to communicate with a website’s server, in order to send and retrieve information. In other words, it’s what enables a URL to work in the first place. Traditionally, most sites have used Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), and you’ll still see this version across the web.
However, there’s been a recent move towards widespread adoption of Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS). While this protocol does essentially the same thing as HTTP, it’s a much more secure option that encrypts the data sent back and forth between the browser and server. That’s why most browsers give it a green security padlock:
Fortunately, making sure your own site runs on HTTPS is simple if you’re a WordPress user. For more information, check out our guide to implementing HTTPS. All you’ll need is a free Let’s Encrypt certificate, and the (also free) Really Simple SSL plugin.
2. The domain name
Let’s go back to the full URL for a moment:
The next part is the most identifiable element of a web address – the ‘domain name’. In this case, it’s themeisle.com (our website!). A domain name is an identifier for a specific site, which will generally bring you straight to the home page if nothing else is added to the end of it.
Of course, a domain name is actually made up of two smaller parts. There’s the name of the website in question, then the Top-Level Domain (TLD). The latter term refers to the .com, .org, .net designator (among others) at the end of the domain name.
When you’re setting up a new site, it pays to spend some time carefully considering the domain name you’ll use. It should be unique and attention-grabbing, but at the same time clear and easy to remember. If you need help coming up with a strong domain name for your WordPress site, you can use a generator such as Domain Wheel to get ideas and see what’s available:
Your choice of TLD matters as well. For many sites, sticking with .com is the best option. It’s the TLD internet users are most familiar with and are usually expecting, which means it will be easiest for them to remember. However, you can also benefit from choosing a TLD that’s a better fit for your niche or field. There are actually hundreds of TLD options (many of which are region- or industry-specific), so there’s plenty of choice if you want to venture beyond a simple .com.
3. The path
If you just wanted to visit our website’s front page, all you would need are the protocol and the domain name: https://themeisle.com. But each individual page or file on a website also has its own URL. Once again, here’s what it looks like:
The part after the TLD is known as the ‘path’. This is because it directs the browser to a specific page on the website. In this case, it leads first to our blog, then to a particular post: How to Automatically Find and Fix Broken Links in WordPress. The very last part is also sometimes called a URL ‘slug’.
As a WordPress user, you actually have a lot of control over what the paths for your URLs look like. WordPress enables you to make changes to your ‘permalinks’, or the individual links to each page and post. You can find this option in your dashboard by going to Settings > Permalinks:
The choices you make here will have an impact on how ‘clickable’ your content appears to potential visitors, and on your site’s overall SEO. To learn more, we suggest taking a look at our full guide to changing your WordPress site’s permalinks and choosing an optimal structure.
Like most elements of your website, its URLs are more complex than they seem at first glance. Because of this, familiarizing yourself with the basics of URL structure is a smart move. Only then will you know how to make the best choices possible for your site.
What is a website URL? To recap, these are the three basic elements:
- The protocol – HTTP or HTTPS.
- The domain name (including the TLD) that identifies a site.
- The path leading to a specific web page.