Choice of a URL for SEO
Even if it would be more judicious to talk about URI rather than URL, I will use the term URL in this article and leave the nuance to the purists.
We can read everything and the opposite about URLs optimization for SEO. Indeed, not only the rules have changed over the years but all SEOs do not agree on the way to optimize this criterion.
The following advice represent only my opinion on the topic and nothing more.
If you place a keyword that does not exist in the Google index in a URL, you realize that it is possible to rank a page on this term. That is why we are sure that this criterion is still taken into account in the Google and other search engines algorithms.
Beyond the implementation of one or many keywords in an URL, other parameters must be taken into account as we will see.
The 'exotic URLs'
We can talk about exotic URLs when they become hardly understandable by an average user. That includes the quite long URLs with special parameters and characters. Many years ago, Google could struggle to index URLs with more than 2 parameters and/or containing IDs. Google even announced that they could not index the URLs containing a parameter named ID.
Nowadays, things have changed. Google and the main search engines are capable of indexing easily most of the URLs considered as exotic.
The URLs with keywords
Including keywords in your URLs is an excellent idea. This might, for example, be a criterion taken into account by the internaut when it is time to click on a SERP.
In recent years, placing keywords would bring a great bonus for SEO. Today, I would not bet on it blindly. I have the impression that SEO professionals, by dint of optimizing this criterion, ended up sawing off the branch they were sitting on. To a lesser degree than the keywords tag but in a very comparable way, the URL is easily 'spammable'.
As soon as a criterion becomes unreliable, it is clear that Google and their friends decided to weight it less.
Should you rewrite the URLs?
It is still in the same trend to include keywords to excess that URL rewriting has been imposed in the minds of many webmasters as mandatory criterion of optimization. Have you ever read o heard:
'This website's SEO sucks, the URLs are not even rewritten!'?
As I wrote a few lines ago :
- The keywords located in the URL certainly have very little influence on the ranking.
- Robots are capable of crawling and indexing exotic URLs easily.
You got it, I am not a fan of 'all rewrite'. I tend more to consider this is just nice rather than a great or essential weapon.
However, today, launching a website without URL REWRITING is not serious.
Should you add IDs in URLs?
By 'ID', I mean a numerical sequence that often corresponds to a primary key present in the database. This allows the developer to query easily and without loss of performance.
Semantically speaking, including a numeric ID in the URL makes no sense and is of no interest to the user, by the way.
Ideally, we therefore should not include IDs in URLs. (To the developers: please don't send me inflammatory mails. Thanks.)
However, this would not have any negative impact on SEO.
Name of diectories in the URLs
Naming directories properly looks like a great idea to me with, however, a maximum limit of two keywords. Creating virtual directories, i.e. directories that do not physically exist on the server, is a good idea as well. Regarding this topic, I invite you to read my article about the architecture of the website.
The aim is to make the organisation of your content more understandable and overall link a topic to a group of articles. As such, the root of a directory could very well become a reference URL in the eyes of search engines.
Separators in URLs
Here is another recurring question on many forums dedicated to SEO. Let's define what is a separator first.
A separator is a character located between two words in a URL. A separator is considered valid when it enables the search engines to recognize both words.
On the side of the valid separators, we have:
- The hyphen [-]
- The plus [+]
- The slash [/]
- The point [.]
- The comma [,]
I recently and successfully tested (on Google) the hyphen, the slash and the comma. If you doubt, using the hyphen is advisable.
As I explained it in the article about the domain name, it seems that Google is capable, in some situations, to recognize two words stuck with no separator. Moreover, Matt Cutts had announced a long time ago that his team intended to consider the underscore character [_] as a separator. To be tested…
Penalties, length and keywords in a URL
This paragraph is especially dedicated to the URL rewriting and keywords in URL frenzies.
I admit that I prefer short URLs and avoid URLs with more than 2 or 3 separators per segment. Furthermore, I usually remove all stop-words such as 'the', 'a'...
Lots of CMS include by default all the words of a title page separated by hyphens in the URL. In the worst case, this kind of long URL is penalizing. More logically, this is useless.
Many SEOs systematically include the key phrase they target in the URL. Maybe this is just a signal to Google to show which keywords we are targeting...
What is a good URL for your SEO?
Here is a brief summary of my URL optimization methodology:
- Rewritten (if possible)
- Page classified in a directory containing a keyword (ex: /car/ for page dedicated to Ferrari)
- No more than 2 or 3 valid separators per segment
Has to contain words belonging to the semantic field of the target query rather than the target query directly (ex: car.html for the query 'automotive sales')
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