Content design: planning, writing and managing content

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URL standards for GOV.UK

How URLs are used on GOV.UK, their formatting requirements and why short URLs are sometimes created for promotional purposes.

URL standards for GOV.UK

  1. 1. GOV.UK URLs are designed to be naturally user (and SEO) friendly, and to follow a consistent, predictable, format. These guidelines set out how URLs should be constructed, and our approach to setting up additional URLs for marketing purposes.

  2. 2. These standards apply to GOV.UK and its sub-domains. Separate standards apply to the wider use of the GOV.UK domain, for example by local authorities.

GOV.UK URL style

  1. 3. The style for GOV.UK URLs is that:

    1. a) URLs always need to be clear, unambiguous, easy to read, easy to type and easy to share

    2. b) all URLs must be in lower case

    3. c) URLs must use words and should not contain acronyms, wherever possible (see 8 for an exception where acronyms are used for an organisation redirect)

    4. d) dashes should be used to separate words within URLs so they are easy to read - for example, https://www.gov.uk/running-a-limited-company (see 5, 7 and 15 for exceptions on campaign landing pages and service sub-domain URLs)

    5. e) articles (a, an, the) and other superfluous words should not be used. For example, use /benefits or /benefits-guides rather than /a-guide-to-benefits

    6. f) URLs should use the verb stem, where possible. For example, /apply instead of /applying

    7. g) each page must have a URL which is as short, memorable and unambiguous as possible, especially if a URL is going to be referred to offline

    8. h) URLs should be based on user need rather than the (current) name of a policy, scheme or service, which might change. For example, the URL https://www.gov.uk/advertise-job is intended for people who want to advertise a job on the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Universal Jobmatch service

Campaign sites and URL promotion

  1. 4. Trailing slashes should not be used when sharing or printing URLs, or for providing third parties with links to GOV.UK content. For example, use www.gov.uk/nice-url-here rather than www.gov.uk/nice-url-here/

  2. 5. Campaign landing pages exist on GOV.UK as a means of providing supporting digital content for campaign and promotional activity. These URLs need to be aligned with the title of the marketing campaign. They should be as short as possible and contain only lowercase a-z characters - for example, www.gov.uk/sortmytax, www.gov.uk/workplacepensions.

‘Friendly’ URLs (furls) and redirects for existing content

  1. 6. For marketing or promotional activity where a campaign landing page does not exist, then a top level redirect may be requested (see 10).

  2. 7. In some situations, even shorter URLs are needed. Some government information and services get promoted offline. Where this is the case, it’s helpful if the URL is especially memorable and easy to say or type. If a URL is going to be read aloud (on the radio or on an automated call centre message) it may make sense to request a redirect. By default, short URLs do not use hyphens.

Organisations

  1. 8. Each government department, agency or arm’s length body on GOV.UK can have a single short URL for use when promoting itself. By default this takes the shortest version of the organisation’s name in common use. This can be an acronym or words - for example, www.gov.uk/dwp for the Department for Work and Pensions and www.gov.uk/homeoffice for the Home Office.

    Groups or high-profile groups on GOV.UK take short URLs in the following forms by default.

    High-profile groups follow the same standards as those for full organisations - for example, the short URL for UKVI, a high-profile group of Home Office, is www.gov.uk/ukvi. Other types of group incorporate the name of the parent organisation. For example, groups that are part of DWP take the short URL www.gov.uk/dwp/groupname.

Departments and Policy content redirects

  1. 9. Where there is a requirement to promote an organisation’s content to users in print or verbally, then a redirect can be requested within the Departments and Policy area of GOV.UK. The short URL should incorporate the organisation name.

    For example, www.gov.uk/dwp/policy-name would redirect to www.gov.uk/government/policies/policy-name and www.gov.uk/hmrc/contact would redirect to HM Revenue and Customs contact information.

Top level redirects

  1. 10. These are redirects which exist at www.gov.uk/url, such as those used for organisation pages. Due to the large amount of content that already exists at the top level of GOV.UK, only a limited number of redirects will be allowed here. Requests will be considered by the GOV.UK Product Group on a case-by-case basis and will only be granted if the following conditions are satisfied:

    1. a) the URL conforms to all other requirements of the GOV.UK URL policy

    2. b) the content being promoted originates from, or is significantly relevant to, more than one government department or organisation

    3. c) the URL needs to be specific to the content and make sense forever. For example, include a year when using a re-direct for one-off promotion of an annual event

    4. d) the URL will be used for significant offline marketing and promotion

External redirects

  1. 11. A GOV.UK URL must not be used to directly promote any content or service that is not available on the GOV.UK platform. A GOV.UK URL must not be used to redirect a user to a non-GOV.UK URL.

Service sub-domain URLs

  1. 12. The advertised start page of all GOV.UK transactional services will be of the form www.gov.uk/service-url and must comply with the GOV.UK URL policy.

  2. 13. The transactional part of the service - the dynamically generated pages where users interact with the service - will not typically be hosted on www.gov.uk. Rather, this part of the service will exist on a GOV.UK sub-domain of the form servicename.service.gov.uk. Detailed information on obtaining and operating the service sub-domain is available in the Service Design Manual.

  3. 14. The ‘servicename’ part of a URL will be agreed between Government Digital Service and the service manager, and will conform to the GOV.UK URL policy.

  4. 15. Dashes may be used to separate words where appropriate, but are not mandatory for service sub-domain URLs.

  5. 16. The URL should be a suitable unique identifier for the specific service hosted on the domain. It must not include reference to any (current) policy, scheme or organisation which might change in the future.

Document version history

  • v1.0 approved by GOV.UK steering group, July 2013

  • v1.1 minor formatting and numbering changes, September 2013 (Graham Francis)

  • v1.2 paragraph 8 and 9 (short URLs for organisations) expanded

How to request a short URL

You should read the URL standards for GOV.UK before requesting a short or ‘friendly’ URL. This outlines how GOV.UK URLs are formatted and our approach to setting up short URLs for marketing purposes.

To get a short URL, submit a new feature request at least 2 weeks before you need it.

Remember, you will need to provide evidence:

  1. That your short URL is needed for offline marketing and promotion. For example, include the number of existing users with this need, number of users who will be targeted, expected size and duration of the user need or campaign.

  2. That the URL is specific to the content and will make sense forever. The more specific the URL, the easier this is to prove. A good example is https://www.gov.uk/budget2014.

  3. Of how many government departments or organisations will create or own the content in the section the short URL points to.

Version history

v1.0 approved by GOV.UK steering group, July 2013

v1.1 minor formatting and numbering changes, September 2013 (Graham Francis)

v1.2 paragraph 8 and 9 (short URLs for organisations) expanded