When trailing slashes are misused, they might hamper your SEO efforts. This article teaches how to make the right setup while avoiding SEO damage.
Table of Contents
What is a trailing slash?
A trailing slash (“/”) is a forward-slash (“/”) added to the end of a URL, such as domain.com/ or domain.com/page/. The trailing slash is commonly used to differentiate a directory with the trailing slash from a file without the trailing slash. These are, however, guidelines rather than obligations.
When you browse several websites, you may notice that some end with a slash and others do not. Previously, this slash indicated that the page was classified as a directory. On the other hand, URLs lacking this special character meant that the site was a file. However, this division is now regarded as arbitrary, and even Google does not analyze websites in this manner.
The history of trailing slashes
Why do both variations exist in the first place? Historically, a URL with a trailing slash denoted a directory, whereas a URL without one denoted a file. However, that distinction is no longer significant; you do not need to consider it.
The evolution of file structures was responsible for the modifications throughout time. Simplistic designs no longer constrain modern network systems. Directory pages with trailing slashes indicating directories and files have been replaced by templates holding the file structure, and dynamic files are used to form a page. Unfortunately, these changes continue to confuse many users who are unsure whether or not to include a slash at the end of their URL.
However, it turns out that this factor does not affect how search engines display the site.
Furthermore, these distinguishing slashes do not affect the display of website content.
Should I include or exclude a trailing slash?
It makes no difference from an SEO standpoint whether a URL has or does not contain a trailing slash. Google stated in 2010 that it doesn’t matter until both variations return a status code of 200 (OK). Instead, for your preferred variation, return a 200 status code, and for the other, return a 301 redirect to the preferred variant:
https://www.example.com/folder/ (301 redirects)?
Trailing slash and SEO
So, what impact do these examples have on SEO? They mostly impact your SEO in two ways:
Same content = duplicate
The sitemap-SEO page example from before may be categorized here. There will always be times when you will notice two versions of a page, one with and one without a trailing slash.
The issue is that pages like this are often tagged as duplicate content, damaging your SEO efforts. Duplicate content is one of the most common SEO blunders since search engines, notably Google, emphasize providing visitors with unique and original content. There are two straightforward solutions to this problem. You can either:
- Redirect the other page to the preferred one
- Canonicalize the other to the preferred one
This is easy to do because plugins can be added to your CMS. However, if you wish to tidy up your website, you can delete one of the web pages. This is a bit more challenging than the previous two, but it’s still easy.
There have been reviews from several clients suffering from this issue, and redirection or canonicalizations works wonderfully in avoiding duplicate content penalties and helping their SEO efforts by making their website look better in the eyes of Google.
Different content = cannibalization
A more difficult problem arises when two pages, one with and one without a trailing slash, contain entirely different information. Of course, this happens in A/B tests or owing to faulty website development. Unlike the previous dilemma, canonicalizations are not a solution to this one. In this case, only redirection would work.
However, if you want to keep the content from the page to which you’ll redirect, it is recommended that you create a whole new page with a distinct URL.
What are the problems with trailing slashes in URLs?
There are several reasons why trailing slashes must be handled correctly. First, Google crawls and ranks individual URLs at the most basic level. This means they must be unique. We have duplicate content problems if the same page can be accessed via two different URLs. It may look similar and work flawlessly, but it is not optimized for search.
Trailing slashes have the potential to split your link equity in half
Link equity, sometimes known as ‘link juice,’ is an SEO ranking factor. It’s the idea that web pages endorse that content by transferring link equity by linking to other pages. The more link equity a page has, the stronger the endorsement. It’s the underlying principle of one of Google’s original algorithms, ‘PageRank.’
Having two versions of the same page live on two separate URLs confuses anyone trying to link to your page. Should they use a trailing slash or not? A decision must be made. If half of the people link to the URL with a trailing slash and the other half don’t, your link equity is split.
Trailing slashes can hurt crawl efficiency.
Google does not crawl your entire website daily. Instead, a crawl budget dictates how much of your website is explored and indexed. This isn’t a significant concern for small sites; anything under 100 pages will likely get indexed. However, it becomes another area that must be optimized for more significant sites with thousands of pages. A lot of factors influence the size of your website’s crawl budget, including:
- Website Size (how many URLs are there to crawl in total)
- The website’s health (how many errors Google finds)
- Website hyperlinks (how many backlinks you have and which URLs they link to)
Duplicate content created by improperly managed trailing slashes allows Google to scan numerous copies of the same page needlessly. While you are unlikely to be penalized directly for this type of duplicate information, it makes the search engine’s job significantly harder. Ignoring duplicate content caused by trailing slashes is the polar opposite of SEO.
Trailing slashes can hurt the user’s experience
User experience (or UX) is half the SEO battle. A good user experience implies that users will spend more time on your website and interact with it (click on stuff). This type of engagement signals to Google that your site is valuable enough to rank.
Whether or not a URL contains a trailing slash, it is regarded as a separate web page. If the same URL appears with and without a trailing slash, the content on the page may be technically different. The page is the same in most trailing slash scenarios. Still, given the number of individuals who work on websites, making adjustments, and occasionally injecting custom code, you can’t ensure they’ll stay the same forever.
The longer two different URLs remain on the same page. The more likely their respective content will change. Consider how perplexing it would be for a user to come across two versions of your website or follow a link from an external site to an older version of your page. Ignoring trailing slash issues complicates matters for everyone: the user, search engines, and anybody else who interacts with your website.
What does Google think about URLs with a trailing slash?
The use of trailing slashes has a significant influence on SEO. That’s why John Mueller commented on the phenomena on Twitter.
He highlighted regular webmaster complaints about the misleading use of slashes. Mueller does not entirely agree with the comments directed at Google. He emphasizes that servers automatically categorize slashes at the end of URLs in this manner. It doesn’t matter to him whether you add slashes after host or domain names.
On the other hand, a slash put somewhere else has an entirely different perception and affects the entire URL. Google does not require slashes or deleting them, but it wants users to be consistent in their actions. Therefore, the most common option is to use slashes at the end of URLs.
Use the same variant throughout your website.
Use it throughout once you’ve settled on your preferred URL variation for your website. Pay close attention to:
- Hreflang tags
- Canonical URLs
- URLs in your sitemap
- Internal links
Using the incorrect variant in any of these reduces the efficiency with which your site is crawled. In addition, a canonical URL with the wrong variant might create major indexing problems.
Removing trailing slashes from .htaccess files (Apache)
Add the following line to your .htaccess file if you’re using Apache to redirect any URLs with a trailing slash to the one without:
RewriteRule ^/?(.+)/$ /$1 [R=301,L]
Adding trailing slashes to .htaccess files (Apache)
If you like to use a trailing slash in every URL, add the following line to your .htaccess file to redirect all traffic to the trailing slash URL:
RewriteRule ^(.*) $ $1/ [R=301,L]
Removing trailing slashes in Nginx
Add the following line to your server settings to eliminate trailing slashes on your Nginx server:
rewrite ^/(.*)/$ /$1 permanent;
Adding trailing slashes in Nginx
If you choose to use the variation with trailing slashes, you must add the following line to your server configuration:
rewrite ^([^.]*[^/]) $ $1/ permanent;
You may change a trailing slash using a custom structure by going to Settings > Permalinks.
/%postname%/ would add the trailing slash to URLs
/%postname% would delete the trailing slash from URLs
How to delete the trailing slash?
Because of the directory structure, WordPress views the discussed trailing slash positively. As a result, using slashes at the end of URLs on this platform is perfectly acceptable. This is a program default option that can be changed by direct linking. You can add or delete the slash at any moment if you use a custom setting structure.
/%postname%/ – has the slash at the end of the URL
/%postname% – doesn’t have the slash
WordPress will automatically analyze how the user’s version of the setting above changes. It will add 301 redirects, change internal links, and change canonical tags. The site map will be updated as well. Contact the hosting company if you wish to make modifications or if your redirects aren’t working correctly.
Almost every unusual CMS has a problem with duplicate content. In most circumstances, systems can generate up to eight versions of each subpage (if the site’s settings aren’t correctly configured). This may be remedied by using the .htaccess file. If unsure how to proceed, delegate the job to skilled professionals.
How can I resolve a trailing slash problem?
Before addressing trailing slash concerns on your website, you must pick which URL format you want. You are free to choose either one, although the structure of your existing website may influence your selection. A trailing slash is appropriate for websites having a directory structure. Whatever you choose, the main thing is to keep the same style throughout your website.
The good news is that fixing trailing slashes isn’t that difficult, depending on your website platform. It’s worth noting that the root domain will resolve without using a trailing slash. This is done automatically by Google, and you will not be able to change it.
The easiest way to fix duplicate content concerns caused by trailing slashes is to use a 301 redirect. For example, correcting one page, you’d redirect the duplicate copy to the version that fits your chosen URL structure.
The majority of trailing slash errors, on the other hand, affects several pages throughout a website. Because redirecting each page would be very time-consuming, a site-wide redirect is usually the best option. This approach will also keep the problem from recurring in the future.
A 301 redirect is not feasible in some circumstances, or you may want to avoid it for other reasons. In these cases, a canonical tag will usually resolve the problem. For example, the rel= “canonical” tag can be used to tell internet crawlers which version of a page is the “true” or “original” version. In addition, if you cannot redirect a page, a canonical tag will, at the very least, resolve any duplicate content concerns in the eyes of search engines.
The disadvantage of simply using a canonical tag is that it does not address other problems caused by the erroneous trailing slash convention. Users may still be perplexed, the crawl budget will remain unoptimized, and links to both page versions may persist. Use canonical tags to fix trailing slashes when redirecting isn’t an option.
Ongoing maintenance for trailing slash issues
Following the implementation of your trailing slash convention and resolving any existing problems, you can do a few things to prevent the problem from recurring.
- Update your sitemap regularly to ensure it always lists correctly structured URLs.
- Check which version of your important pages is indexed with Google’s URL inspection tool.
- Google Search Console Coverage – This view of the Google Search Console will highlight any issues found during a site crawl.
SEO is all about sweating the small stuff. There are many ranking elements to consider, each with varying degrees of value. Of course, it’s essential to use resources carefully, but disregarding duplicate content concerns and the trailing slash convention is a recipe for disaster.
It’s a problem that can confuse both search engine robots and humans. If left unaddressed, it would lead to even more problems in the future. Even though trailing slash problems are easy to identify and resolve, we still see them in many of our clients.