Do URLs Affect Your SEO Efforts? Here’s What I Discovered
Updated on: 17 February 2021
Most people don’t think too deeply about their website URL when setting up a website. If you’re anything like me, I could spend hours agonising over the right website domain name to use, but then leave the website slug to the whims of the web development app I’m using.
However, did you ever stop to wonder if it actually matters? What if your website URL is actually hurting your SEO efforts? Will adding keywords into your URL actually make a difference?
Well, I did the research, and here’s the answer: It matters – somewhat. If you want to know how URLs fit into the big picture of SEO, and how you can craft better-performing URLs, join me on the deep dive below.
Do keywords in URLs affect SEO?
To break down this question, I found it helpful to look at SEO from a few viewpoints. We can consider URLs as a direct ranking factor for websites, or through their indirect effect on SEO by influencing clickthrough rates.
- As a ranking factor
Google has confirmed several times that – yes – having keywords in your URL are a ranking factor. However, they also assert that this effect is small compared to other onsite elements like content and user experience. Thus, they have been sticking to their guns in recommending that brands and marketers place more emphasis on optimising their onsite elements, rather than obsessing over a minor element like the website URL.
They also strongly advocate against spamming URLs with keywords. For one, search engine algorithms are past the days where they rank sites based on the number of keywords present. Secondly, it’s spammy – and users generally don’t like that.
- Impact on clickthroughs from SERPs
Would having keywords in your URL attract users to click on your website when they see it in the search engine results pages (SERPs)? Not really, it seems.
Usually, keywords in a website’s title and snippet are highlighted, which draw attention and promote higher clickthroughs. But for the case of URLs, the keywords are not visually differentiated in any way. The effect of keywords in a URL on clickthroughs from the SERPs is minimal, if at all.
Furthermore, some search engines or websites with breadcrumb navigation don’t even display the entire URL in the SERP. Thus, any impact of the keywords here is further diminished.
- In naked URLs
Naked, or bare URLs are links whereby the URL itself serves as the anchor text. In these cases, what users see on the URL becomes crucial. URLs that appear vague, or have plenty of variables and symbols in it fail to let users know what to expect when they click on the link.
On the contrary, having relevant keywords in the URL will be helpful in the event that they are presented as bare links, so that users will have an idea of what the page is about. This bumps up the user-friendliness of the URL, and increases the likelihood that someone will click on it if they find it relevant to their query.
Best practices for website URL
Evidently, URLs can assist – or break – your SEO efforts. And the next, natural thing to ask is: How can we make sure our URLs are helping our SEO? Fortunately, here at the top SEO agency in Singapore, we are always ready with our research. Here are some starter points that I found immensely helpful:
- Use lowercase: Majority of website URLs are in lowercase letters only. For the sake of readability and consistency, it is recommended that you stick to lowercase letters. This will also save you the trouble of having misdirected URLs on certain case-sensitive web browsers.
- Don’t use underscores: To dash or to underscore? It might seem like a purely aesthetic choice, but it also affects the user experience. Dashes are preferable as underscores are not visible when URLs are reproduced as bare links (and links are usually underlined).
- Go for relevance: Between a high-traffic keyword and one that’s more directly relevant to your page’s content, choose the latter. Relevance trumps, because this allows users to know what to expect when they see your URL. A good method to use for pages with articles is to use a shortened version of your article title which captures the main gist of the content.
- Eliminate unnecessary words: Sometimes, a content management system may auto-generate URLs with words like ‘category’ in the URL. Where possible, it is a good idea to eliminate these nebulous words, as they are not informative to the reader and only serve to add clutter.
- Keep it short: Shorter is better when it comes to URLs. Short URLs are more reader-friendly and share-able, and look more presentable than ultra-long URLs that spill over multiple lines of text. One way to minimise the length of your URL is to avoid having too many folders or sub-categories in your website.
- Write it for humans: Some auto-generated URLs include symbols and codes, which are utterly illegible to the average user. This may deter users from clicking on your URL as they cannot be sure what to expect once they arrive at your website. It’s best to rewrite these URLs into human-friendly words.
Ultimately, I found that the general rule of thumb is to keep your URLs relevant and readable to humans – not for the machines. Because, even as technology advances, search algorithms are only moving towards becoming more human-like in their considerations.
All that said, it’s worth remembering that URLs are but a small part of the entire SEO scheme. While good to follow, I sure am not going to spend hours or days changing every single URL on every webpage! Instead, I will be focusing on optimising the URLs for a few key pages and automating my blog URLs to use the blog title. With all that extra time, I can then work on other, more significant aspects of my website’s SEO!
Found these tips useful? For more tips and tricks, feel free to consult our friendly SEO experts, and we’ll be happy to help! We also provide a range of other services for digital marketing in Singapore – get in touch to see how we can work together to achieve your online marketing goals.