The Real SEO Value of URLs: Keywords, Clickthrough, & Social

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 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? In our article about creating SEO and user friendly URLs we talked about how to create a URL strategy that was friendly for both Google and the users. Below you will find 3 high level values that URL structure has on influencing SEO variables.

Keyword Value: Does having keywords in a URL help?


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.

An example of this would be:

If a blog linked to sitexyz.com with the following URL as the anchor text “www.sitexyz.com/blue-dog-whistles”, Google is able to take the last part of that URL, “blue-dog-whistles”, and use “blue dog whistles” as the anchor text that will be attributed to that page.

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. Google says 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.

@bhartzer has recently said,

“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.”

@Netmeg said,

“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.”

@billross said,

“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. For example if someone was to buy bluewidgets.com and then wanted to sell red widgets, users might have a harder time associating bluewidgets.com with red widgets. But if that same person bought xyz.com and branded that site as an all inclusive “widgets site”, it would be easier to expand products and services into other products.”

Click Through: 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.

bolded keyword in the url

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. You can read more about URL rules here.

Social Value: Do URLs influence Social Metrics?


Social sharing is one of the indicators that the search engines use to determine 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 are that most of them do not pass SEO value (because they use a 302 redirect, and not a 301 redirect) through the link.

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