If networks of links are the road map that search engines use to crawl the web, URLs are the street names that give that map meaning and consistency. As such, URLs affect search engine optimization in a couple of important ways: relevance and consistency.
Relevance is what most people think of when they think about URLs and SEO. Keyword relevance in URLs is like the street names that give maps their meaning. Using relevant keywords in URLs passes a keyword signal that search engine algorithms can use to boost your rankings slightly.
Optimal URLs will also be as short as possible, however. It’s important to balance keyword use with length for two reasons.
1. Search engines are also looking for over-optimization in URLs, so cramming more keywords into a URL may actually hurt your SEO rather than help it. Stick to using the primary keyword for each page in the URL, about three to five words max, and you should be fine.
2. A short URL is more likely to be seen in its entirety in the search result snippet under the blue underlined link for a page. Searchers interpret this URL with its relevant keywords as one more signal that the page is indeed relevant to their search, which improves click through rate from the search result to your site.
In addition to relevance, URL consistency is critical. Imagine waking up tomorrow, starting your morning commute, and finding that the roads had moved overnight. Not only that, but the road names had changed as well, resulting in complete traffic chaos as each driver tries to figure out where things have moved to and what they’re now called. That’s what it’s like for search engines when URLs and links change on a site.
When asked if a site should optimize their URLs as a standalone SEO strategy, my answer is nearly always, “No.” The only exception is when a site is going through a platform migration that will require URLs to change anyway. Changing URLs just to shorten them or add keywords isn’t worth the upheaval in SEO performance that will come as a result, even when you use 301 redirects to minimize the damage.
To learn more about creating optimal URLs for SEO, read my article “SEO: Optimal Ecommerce URLs” at Practical Ecommerce.
Jill Kocher is a seasoned SEO professional and all-around technogeek. By day, she manages Resource Interactive’s SEO practice here in Chicago and serves as contributing editor at Practical eCommerce. By night, Jill landscapes her home in the far northern suburbs of Chicagoland while enjoying a glass of wine and thinking about SEO some more. Family discussion centers primarily around SEO, analytics, social media, mobile apps, android, iOS, how-was-your-day and cats.