I get asked weekly about URLs and the value they have from an SEO standpoint, or if a business should pick an exact match domain over the one you will need to establish as a brand. We have all been told that keywords in the URL hold some weight in Google’s Algorithm. But how true is this statement?
Below you will find 3 high-level values that URL structure has on influencing SEO variables.
Benefits of Creating SEO and User-Friendly URLs
First Benefit of A URL: Keyword Value
Does having keywords in a website URL help rankings? There is much debate about whether or not having keywords in your websites URLs actually gives you a boost in the search results. In my opinion and from the testing we have done the primary benefit of having keywords in your URL is when an external website links to your site with only the URL and no anchor text. Google is able to parse out keywords from the URL to help define the relevance of the page being linked to; much like normal keyword focused anchor text or alt text on images.
So the age old question of whether or not you should get exact match domains (one that matches your primary keywords exactly) is still a hot topic.
It does not help you all that much from a ranking standpoint but there are still edge cases in which that seems like the only logical variable ranking a website. – Google
If it is a three keyword phrase, them you are better off with a shorter domain. If it was one or two keywords then I would go for the exact match. If widgets.com is not much better, you might be better if you choose a short brand able word instead. – @bhartzer
I’d always go with a branded domain approach: I don’t think it’s going to have much bearing on the success of your site in Google. Go with branding, or whatever you think your users will remember. – @Netmeg
Personally I think that if an exact match domain is easy to remember and matches your brand offerings then it can’t hurt, but be careful not to overdo it or limit the scope of your product offerings.
Their are theoretical user drawbacks of getting an exact match domain as well. Theoretically it would limit your service offerings and value for other services in the eyes of the users. – @billross
Second Benefit of a URL: Click Through Rate
Do Keyword Focused URLs Increase Click Through Rate? Google understands that in most cases users scan search results, therefore Google highlights keywords that are in the title, description, and URL that match the users search query. Matching users search intent with URL structure can help with click through due to bolding of keywords.
In a search for “SEO tools,” you can see that in the search results Google has bolded the words in the search query where they appear in the URL of the search result.
How Long Should URLs Be?
Now you are probably thinking why wouldn’t I just add a ton of keywords to every URL (as in point 1) so that I get the benefit of them when someone links to me or get a ton of words bolded when the URL is shown in the search results (in point 2)? The key is not to over-do the keywords in the URL so that it looks like spam.
Third Value of a URL: Social Value
Do URLs influence Social Metrics? Social sharing is one of the indicators that the search engines use to determine the value of a page. Creating short, concise URLs that are easily copied and shared, and which show up in the social networks in an optimal way is important for branding and click through.
If you are unable to shorten your URLs to an acceptable limit for social sharing there are many sights that will shorten URLs such as Bit.ly in which you can add a longer URL to and it will not only shorten it but also give you the option to give the URL a specific name.
The concern with URL shorteners is that most of them do not pass SEO value (because they use a 302 redirect and not a 301 redirect) through the link.
Rules to Follow To Create SEO and User-Friendly URLs
So you’re creating a new site, or thinking about rewriting your URLs to help your users and the search engines understand your website and its pages more accurately. URLs are important when it comes to indexation, marketing, click through, and when other sites link to your website.
They should be optimized to pass keyword metrics and help with click through. This is where SEO comes in; to define the URL structure and get the most value out of it. When new URLs are being planned for sites, the following rules should be followed and an SEO should be brought in to work with your business to define the structure.
Keep it short
While a descriptive URL is important, minimizing length and trailing slashes will make your URLs easier to copy, paste, or remember in the rare case they were not bookmarked, and will be fully visible in the search results. Should be no more than 100 characters with stop words removed.
www.yoursite.com/category/subcategory/productpage/product might be shortened to www.yoursite.com/category/product
If your page is targeting a specific term or phrase, make sure to include it in the URL. However, don’t go overboard by trying to stuff in multiple keywords for SEO purposes; overuse will result in less usable URLs and can trip spam filters.
www.yoursite.com/dog-leashes-that-are-blue/blue-dog-leashes might be better as www.yoursite.com/leashes/blue-dog-leashes
Rather than selecting numbers or meaningless figures to categorize information, use real words and remove any special characters.
www.yoursite.com/category/item?23434 should be rewritten to www.yoursite.com/category/dog-leashes
Remove Special Characters
www.yoursite.com/category/john's-leashes should be rewritten to www.yoursite.com/category/johns-leashes
Use hyphens to separate words
Not all of the search engines interpret separators accurately like “_”, “+”, or “%20” so use the hyphen “-” character to separate words in a URL.
www.yoursite.com/category/dog+leashes should be rewritten to www.yoursite.com/category/dog-leashes
Keep it lowercase
Not all the search engines are case sensitive so www.yoursite.com/dog and www.yoursite.com/Dog can be seen as different URLs by some of the search engines.
www.yoursite.com/category/Johns-Leashes should be rewritten to www.yoursite.com/category/johns-leashes
Remove stop words
Stop words are very common words or adjectives that can hinder your SEO efforts. Words such as, ‘of ‘ , ‘or’, ‘the’ etc. interfere with your SEO efforts because they use up precious character space, especially when creating URLs.
www.yoursite.com/category1/the-page-and-dog-name becomes www.yoursite.com/category1/page-dog-name
Keep it 2 levels or less
Level 1 should be the site section/category. Level 2 should be the sub-section/second category
www.yoursite.com/category1/page-name (Good) www.yoursite.com/category1/category2/page-name (OK) www.yoursite.com/category1/category2/catetory3/page-name (Bad)
Remove tracking parameters
If it is necessary to use tracking parameters on internal URLs to better understand click-path, or for external marketing campaigns, make sure you use the canonical tag and point it to the URL without the tracking – this will eliminate duplicate content issues.