Personally, I change outdated, harmful or long web addresses (aka URLs) when updating existing content quite often.
What did Google’s John Mueller say about changing URLs for SEO?
Before we dive in, let’s see what Google’s official position is on changing URLs for SEO. It is quoted from a tweet by John Mueller, Search Advocate at Google, as the connection between webmasters and the search giant.
As reported by Barry Schwartz on the Search Engine Roundtable, Mueller said the risk far outweighs the potential reward when changing URLs (for SEO reasons): To see also : Scammers snatch expired domains, annoying Google.
“(…) Will it help the site? Very, very rarely (if they have terrible URLs that you can’t even copy and paste, maybe). Will a change negatively affect the website for a period until it is reprocessed? It’s likely. Some risk + usually no return.”
How does a proper URL look in the first place?
Let’s start with the ideal state of your URL. To see also : Results from day three of the 2022 Manchester World Taekwondo Grand Prix.
In case you use WordPress or a similar CMS, you probably already have a well-designed URL structure according to current standards.
The examples below are all fine:
Does your URL look anything like this? Congratulations! You probably don’t have to change anything!
It’s just as Mueller said: the risk of changing a URL would outweigh any perceived benefit.
Examples of potentially harmful URL structures
Personal websites and even content management systems of the early days often create harmful website addresses. See the article : 6 Common Marketing Challenges and How to Overcome Them.
You may even be running a legacy WordPress site that still has some mistakes from the past built into it.
Does your website address look like some of the potentially harmful examples below?
These were all quite common until a few years ago, so you may still have a site with a less than optimal URL structure like one of the above.
Also, with website builders and complex enterprise-level CMS software, you may have additional problems.
Sometimes website builders like Weebly or Squarespace add gibberish to filenames when dealing with special characters from foreign languages.
URL parameters that often contain other website names or even addresses (such as utm_source=Twitter.com) are downright confusing. They can even misdirect scripts on third-party sites where you share content.
When to change URLs for SEO reasons
So when can you change URLs? Ideally, never – not just for SEO reasons. “Never change a running system” as the old computer geek motto says.
However, we do not live in an ideal world (and I understand that Mueller’s tweet was too short to add all the exceptions). So here, we’ll go over cases when it’s okay to change URLs.
Sometimes URLs are completely bonkers as in the example offered by Patrick Cunningham on LinkedIn:
Below is a classic comparison of typical URL structures from Moz.
Personally, I change less dirty URLs too. Why?
First of all, I have been shortening long URLs while regularly updating existing content on WordPress. For SEO reasons, a very long URL like this:
First, the URL itself is now a negligible ranking factor. As you might expect, experts are divided on that question.
The most obvious SEO advantage of clean URLs is that they contain keywords (only) and no unnecessary “stop words”.
So whenever someone links your URL (like many automated systems – think aggregators), you get rich anchor text links that benefit you in Google’s organic results.
Also, people are more likely to click on them and thus notice, share and engage with your content.
…is less likely to attract visitors than:
After updating the existing content, you may find that the current URL no longer reflects the original message. Maybe even the updated article states the opposite of what it said earlier.
A legacy article, such as example.com/google-plus-launched, could be changed to example.com/google-plus-discontinued to reflect the current reality.
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Direct SEO benefit isn’t the only reason to change, optimize or fix your URLs. At least three is often more important.
When people talk about SEO, they often limit their definition of SEO to something like “technical SEO optimization for Google.”
So, when I suggest doing something for actual visitors, many clients will scream “no” and tell me “but that’s not SEO.” So, they don’t want to pay for it.
The reasoning behind this seems to be very old school as in “who cares about real visitors when Google loves it”? These days, this method no longer works well.
Google now considers a multitude of ranking factors, many of which can be subsumed under the umbrella of user experience (UX).
Convincing Google that you have to rank at the top of its organic results is just the first step.
You have to enable people to find the actual resource they are looking for, use it without difficulties, and ideally share it.
Findability goes beyond SEO. It also ensures that things can be found on the site.
If you have a complex website with many sections, topics and categories, you may want to ensure that they are reflected in the URL so that visitors know where they are located.
A simple URL like example.com/post-title may not be enough, especially when there are many similar resources.
Consider a post title and comment on this: google-struggles.
Imagine a website that covers Google in many different sections:
Depending on the context, the content of the article could be about something completely different:
Your website may have started years ago and grown significantly over time. You may have added thousands of articles and now it is difficult to find them on the website just by relying on the title of the post.
Consider changing your URLs to make content easier to find on your site at that time, especially if many people use your internal search to navigate the site.
Some argue that discoverability is only a subset of usefulness. To me, you have to be able to find something first in order to be able to use it second.
Again, overly long or cryptic URLs appearing in the browser’s address bar may not be useful. Compare these two examples from Amazon:
Which of them is more usable? I think you get the point.
The German one and the .com link are the same product (since the id “1501197983” is the same).
When you only see the URL in the address bar, you have no way of knowing what the cryptic one leads to.
Most people have more than one tab open in their browsers. Sometimes you want to quickly decide which tabs to close.
When you scroll down to see the reviews on Amazon (the only original content they have), you won’t know what product you’re looking at by looking at the page and the address bar.
When I research products on Amazon and have multiple tabs open, I tend to close other tabs because of this.
Also, if it wasn’t for the globally recognized brand, it would look like some kind of creepy phishing site.
Does your URL look like the first example above? You have a usability issue to fix.
So you found something and you were able to use it. Now you like it and want to share it.
Or maybe you were researching it on behalf of someone else (like your elderly parents) in the first place and now want to share your findings.
You may see some sharing buttons that you could use but, in many cases, you’ll want to copy and paste a link (or rather a URL) to send via post or instant messenger, think:
Sharing long URLs can look like this:
On my own site, I also add an easy way to copy and paste a link. Most sites do not do this. They instead promote third party websites. So what you do is:
Many things can go wrong when sharing so the link may not reach its destination without breaking.
Often, it is also not attractive enough to entice the recipient to click.
A numbers-only URL stuffed with all kinds of gibberish like the example above can even prevent someone from clicking it as it looks suspicious.
Does your URL make it very difficult to be copied, pasted and shared? You may have to change it then.
As you will probably notice, all these reasons are also “SEO reasons.”
When visitors can’t find, use or share your links due to poor URL structure, they are less likely to spread the word about your content, products or services.
At the end of the day, you will get less exposure and ultimately connections.
How to change URLs without hurting your SEO too much
Now that you’ve discovered that your site is indeed one of those few exceptions that makes changing URLs for SEO reasons a good idea – what’s next?
How do you actually change URLs without harming your SEO?
Having cryptic numbers like “1501197983” in your URLs won’t cut it.
Make your URLs as descriptive as possible. You can keep the number for technical reasons (as explained below), but add the gist of the page to the URL slug. In our case, it’s something like:
Apparently the “SEO reasons” Mueller meant is adding keywords to URLs to “rank better.” In the distant past, many people would do that. These days it’s rather counterproductive.
A URL slug like /change-url-seo is already keyword rich.
I was in the top 10 on Google for the phrase [url seo] for years and the URL was much less clean than that back then.
Add a number
WordPress and most other CMSs (internally) require a number to find a resource. So once you don’t have one in the URL it gets mapped internally (and even slows down your site a bit).
Also, when you change URLs too radically, WordPress may not be able to map the URL to the resource correctly.
The solution is simple and a compromise, you add the number and the self-explanatory URL slug, as in:
The following will all lead to the same article:
Therefore, sharing long URLs via mail or IM is also less likely to break the link.
Use hyphens (no other special characters)
Ideally, hyphens should be the only special characters in URLs (just like example.com/hyphenated-url).
If your system requires other characters for technical reasons, be sure to find out if they are supported by Google and what they mean.
Use 301 redirect
When you move in real life, you probably tell your customers or clients your new address.
On the web, it’s probably even easier though. You have to use a redirect to tell visitors and Google’s spiders where to find you now.
Almost the same process applies when just a page of your website moves or when the entire domain is replaced (eg, when your business changes its name).
There are many techniques to redirect a page or an entire website, but only one of them really works for both visitors and Google at the same time. It redirects 301. You have to implement it.
When your site is running WordPress or other modern CMSs, a 301 will be applied automatically in most cases – unless the new URL is so different that the CMS can no longer assign it correctly.
Here is an example of a redirected URL using WordPress’ URL slug feature on my blog.
After shortening it, I checked to see if the post still appears on reload or throws an error.
Then you can use third-party redirection tools. On WordPress, there are many different ones. I use Redirection by John Godley, which is free and has been downloaded over 2 million times.
Some all-in-one tools like Yoast SEO also offer that feature (as a Premium). On Yoast, it’s called a redirect manager.
Manually add your URL in Search Console
This is probably the risk Mueller wanted to warn website owners about in the first place.
Once you change the URL – and assuming the 301 redirects are working properly – it can take a long time for Google to find and index the new address.
Whether Google will crawl it quickly or over time depends on the overall authority and even the size of your website. Changing the URL in your XML sitemap might take care of that, but you can’t be sure.
So when you are in a hurry or want to reduce the risk of losing valuable organic reach, it is advisable to tell Google manually through the Search Console that a resource has moved and where it is now.
The views expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily those of Search Engine Land. Staff writers are listed here.
Tadeusz Szewczyk, also known as Tad Chef, is a professional blogger and SEO since 2004. Although based in Berlin, Germany he has covered blogs, social media and searching for a global audience starting in 2006. In 2007 he launched his own blog – SEO 2.0 – and has also been published on a number of other marketing blogs ever since. In recent years he also wrote for many clients’ social media accounts. You can connect with Tad on LinkedIn and Twitter or visit his website and read his blog about social SEO.
Does changing a URL affect SEO?
The impact of changing URLs on your SEO can be serious. Doing so exposes your site to 404 errors and broken links, making it nearly impossible for Google to index your site properly.
How do I change my URL without affecting SEO? 5 tips for changing domain names without losing your search engine ranking
- Keep the same domain owner.
- Create a sitemap and make it available to search engines.
- Create 301 redirects to new pages.
- Update backlinks.
- Please notify Google of the domain name change.
Is it bad to change a URL for SEO? SEO Impact of Changing URLs The short answer is a very big YES – any significant changes to URLs and URL structures across your website can have a significant impact on how visible you are on Google and ultimately affect your traffic.
Which URL is best for SEO? URLs that are simple, easy to read, and contain keywords that describe the content on a web page are SEO friendly. For example, if you’re looking for information about pancakes, a URL like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/pancake will help you decide to click on that link.
Does URL affect ranking?
Site URLs are a minor ranking factor that search engines use when determining the relevance of a particular page or resource to a search query. Although they add weight to the authority of the overall domain itself, using a keyword in a URL can also act as a ranking factor.
Are keywords in the URL a ranking factor? The Evidence: URLs As A Ranking Factor In 2016, Google’s John Mueller confirmed that keywords in a URL are a ranking factor.
Does URL play a role in SEO?
URLs for SEO Purposes URLs are a good way of letting a potential website visitor know what a page is for. Correct use of URLs can help improve click-through rates wherever the links are shared. And keeping URLs shorter makes them user-friendly and easier to share.
What is URL Optimization in SEO? URL SEO is the practice of optimizing your URLs in accordance with search engine optimization best practices. These best practices include building relevant website architecture, using hyphens between words, and choosing words that accurately describe your page content.
Can I change the URL of my Google site?
Change your website’s URL On a computer, open your website in a new Google Sites. Publish settings. Under "web address," enter your desired URL. Click Save.
Can you shorten the URL of a Google website? Simply go to goo.gl, log in and then create a shortened link by pasting your target URL into the box and clicking the URL SHORTEN button. This will generate your shortened link and add it to your library of previous ones.
Can I change my website URL? There are really only two ways you can go about changing your domain name – you can change your domain and all associated links at once or you can change one section of your website at a time. Both ways run the risk of affecting your SEO, so choose the one that’s better for you.
What makes a website SEO friendly?
Making a website SEO friendly means that Google and other search engines can crawl every page on the website efficiently, interpret the content effectively, and index it in their database. Once indexed, they can then serve up the most relevant and valuable web pages to their users based on the topics they are searching for.
What is an SEO friendly website structure? Flat site architecture is generally better for SEO. Flat Architecture means users (and search engine crawlers) can reach any page on your website in 4 clicks or less.
What makes a website good for SEO? Quality, authoritative content is the main driver of your search engine rankings and there is no substitute for great contentâ€”this is especially true when doing SEO marketing. Quality content created specifically for your intended user increases website traffic, which improves your website’s authority and relevance.
What makes SEO friendly? SEO friendly content is the type of content that is created in a way that helps the search engines to rank it high. While some marketers think this means it should be keyword-stuffed, it’s really meant to help search engines find, understand and relate your content to the topic. you try to cover it.
How important is a website URL?
The URL is an important part of a website. It’s what people type into their browser to find your website, and it’s what search engines like Google use to index your pages for relevance.
What is the most important part of a URL why is it important? However, this element – the ‘protocol’ of the URL is more important than you might think. The protocol tells your browser how to communicate with a website server, in order to send and retrieve information. In other words, it’s what enables a URL to work in the first place.
Why is URL so important? A URL (Uniform Resource Locator), more commonly known as a “web address,” identifies the location of a resource (such as a web page) on the internet. The URL also specifies how to retrieve that resource, also known as a “protocol,” such as HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, etc.
Does your URL matter? URLs are a ranking factor in Google. This means that optimized URL structures promote Google PageRank (PR). PageRank is the way Google measures the value of a web page and its relevance to a search query.