For most publishers, the web address for a piece of content is probably pretty low on the agenda when it comes to planning, creating and distributing their work. But without SEO-friendly URLs, you will struggle to achieve the search results that will help your carefully crafted content get the attention it deserves.
Why URLs matter
Every piece of content on the web has a URL (uniform resource locator) that should act as an easy to read address that allows people to navigate directly to it. URLs also matter for SEO, bringing three key benefits, according to MOZ. It says a ‘well-crafted’ URL will improve:
Humans and search engines alike benefit from easily understood descriptions of what destination pages are about within a webpage address. MOZ gives this example of a ‘semantically accurate’ address: it is pretty clear that the link dpreview.com/reviews/canon-eos-6d will take the visitor directly to a review of a specific Canon camera.
Although MOZ says URLs are a minor ranking factor for search engines, they can give weight to the authority of the overall domain and keyword use in the URL can improve search visibility. Their advice is to think about keyword usage, but to avoid creating otherwise unhelpful URLs for the sake of including a keyword.
Where sites like Facebook leave shared links unformatted, well-written URLs can serve as their own anchor text. If the link to the camera review above was shared on social media, users would have a clear idea that the shared link will take them to a camera review.
URL best practices
As with everything web related, there is no one-way of doing things, but there are some URL best practices that publishers should be following to help improve their performance in organic search.
Searchengineland gives examples of well-designed URL structure:
Most-up-to date content management systems will support these URL structures, but custom or legacy solutions may not be producing optimized addresses. Instead, they might produce URLs comprised of numbers and dates that are hard to read and confusing.
The SEO experts at Yoast offer further advice to focus and simplify URLs.
- Strip out function words like ‘a’ and ‘of’
- Use hyphens to separate words; don’t uses spaces or underscores
- Keep URLs as short as possible
Anne Szilagyi disagrees that URLs are not a major factor in search ranking. She writes on the Rebel Insights blog:
Every page on your site has a specific URL, and each one is a chance to give important details about your content to Google’s crawler. URLs are one of the most important ranking factors for search…
However, she has written recently advising against changing older URLs that fall short of best practice just to improve SEO. She acknowledges that sites with older links or that haven’t considered SEO-friendly URLS may be tempted to change old links.
But that, according to Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller, changing URLs only for search purposes is a bad idea.
Mueller instead advises setting up redirects and wrote on Twitter:
Change URLs for real reasons, not for handwavy “good for SEO” reasons.