The bad news: SEO-friendly URLs are largely a myth. They don’t make that much difference. The good news: it’s still worth putting keywords in your URLs.
Confused? I’ll explain …
Google doesn’t take much account of keywords in URLs
Intuitively, you might think google would want to take account of what a URL has in it. This sounds a fairly good guide to what the page is about.
However, the drawback is that lots of URLs aren’t SEO friendly – EG those of CMSes that don’t generate them. Or consider youtube which has no keywords in its URLs.
And Google wouldn’t want to artificially boost pages just because they happened to have SEO-friendly URLs. This is, at heart, just a technical issue that shouldn’t really influence the search results.
So having keywords in your URLs makes little difference to how well you rank in google’s results. SEO friendly URLs are largely a myth.
Don’t believe me?
In its guide to SEO, google does say to improve the structure of your URLs. I explain why below. But it doesn’t at any point say that keywords in your URLs will help you rank better for those keywords.
And it’s not just google that says it. Check out the SEOmoz guide to google ranking factors on the subject of keywords in URLs. Sample quote: “The influence of this one is microscopic.”
However … you should still use seo friendly URLs
There is still a reason to use SEO friendly URLs. And it’s because of second order SEO factors. For instance (these are all reasons google gives):
- Google bolds keywords searched for in URLs in its results. So using keyword rich URLs will encourage users to click your page – because the words they searched for will stand out in bold in the URL in the results. This is also a reason to have short URLs – google will truncate them if they are too long.
- Google takes a lot of account of the terms used to link to a page (so if you link to this page, don’t say ‘read this page’ – use ‘SEO friendly URLs’ as your link text …). If keywords are in your URL, and people use the full URL as the link text, you’ll get benefit from the keywords in the URL. Of course, most people don’t link like this, and some forum software truncates URLs.
- SEO friendly URLs will help users understand what the page is about. So if it looks relevant, they are more likely to click it.
So, there is a reason to use SEO-friendly URLs – it’s just maybe not the one you thought. SEO friendly URLs should be aimed at humans to encourage click throughs. They should not be aimed at search engines to influence rankings.
Update 18 March: Matt Cutts of Google has posted a video saying that having keywords in your URL “does help a little bit”. He doesn’t actually say how (ie whether they directly affect rankings or whether it’s these second-order affects). And he says not to obsess about them. So the conclusion remains the same: they don’t make much difference to rankings … but still use them!
SEO friendly URLs in wordpress
There’s a lot written about this. I, for instance, use the post name as my URL. So the URL of this post is www.malcolmcoles.co.uk/blog/seo-friendly-urls-myth-and-fact/. This is deemed an SEO-friendly structure.
However, before you rush to adopt this, be aware of the drawbacks of SEO friendly URLs for wordpress. Read this.
What other people say about SEO friendly URLs
When you read the following pages, bear in mind that lots of what is said isn’t true. But some is. Hopefully if you’ve read the above, you’ll know which is which … (NB all links made nofollow for now until I can work out why this post won’t appear in google results for a search on ‘seo friendly urls’ …):
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