Of course it is usually best to keep your URL stable and unchanged once it is created, but sometimes change is necessary when not properly optimized in the initial setup. Improving your site’s URLs to be more SEO- and user-friendly can greatly benefit search engine ranking and click-through rates, but be careful—if done improperly, you may face a significant decrease in ranking that could take a long time to recover from. Here, are some search engine optimization tips for URL optimization, as well as what to look out for and avoid.
Dynamic vs. Static URL
The first step is to consider changing your URL structure from dynamic to static. URLs with characters like “=”, “&” and “?” are not only difficult to read for search engines (leading to indexing problems), but also for users who are more likely to follow a link indicating what content the URL leads to.
Another problem is that dynamic URLs are often indexed in a variety of ways that can cause duplicate content issues and decrease link value. For example, if you have multiple pages with dynamic URLs that are identical until deep in the URL, search engines will often stop reading the URL once it reaches a symbol such as the “?”. Now the search engines see multiple pages but thinks they are all the same, moving on before reaching what indicates that the pages are different. Changing your URLs to a static structure will ensure proper indexing, while preserving link value, with one unique URL for each page on your site.
Though it is sometimes best to leave the URL alone (especially if it’s ranking well), changing dynamic URLs to static URLs is almost always necessary. But of course, there’s more to it.
Make the Change Useful
It’s one thing to upgrade to a static URL, but to make the change without making it more meaningful to your audience will cut your growth short. For example, the URL http://example.com/product tells the audience very little about the content on the page. Including keywords to actually describe what your customers will find on the ‘product’ page will make your link much more valuable to users and increase click-through rates.
Incorporating page-related keyword phrases to the URL will also support SEO efforts, but be cautious of stuffing and follow a limit of less than 10 keywords (eliminating “in”, “the”, “of”, etc.). Also, while keeping URLs short and descriptive, separating multiple keywords with dashes (hyphen) will make them more SEO-friendly as search engines can better understand the individual keywords of the URL structure.
Redirect to New URL
Once the new SEO- and user-friendly URL is live, it’s important to put in place a 301 redirect to let search engines know that the URL location has permanently changed. Because 301 redirected pages do lose some of their link value, you should be prepared for a drop in rankings whenever a URL’s structure is changed. But by redirecting all of the old URLs to the newly optimized URLs, the accumulated link value will not be wasted on a 404 error page.
To expedite the recovery process of gaining back link value, invite the search engines to come crawl your new site by updating and resubmitting your XML sitemap. Rather than waiting for search engines to find the new URL, providing an updated sitemap can improve site rankings by getting your site re-indexed more quickly. The sooner, the better in this case!
One of the final and most time consuming steps of URL optimization is to now update the internal links on your site to lead visitors to the new URL. Even though a 301 redirect was setup, it’s definitely worth the time and energy to update these links in order to preserve internal link value and avoid confusing and losing visitors.
More on Search Engine Optimization and URLS
Click the link about to read a blog by Matt Cutts on URLs and search engine optimization or simply watch the video below!
In the end, whether or not it’s a good idea to optimize your URL to be more SEO- and user-friendly is at your discretion. If your site is already ranking well, you may be better off letting it be. In essence, these guidelines can be very useful, but it’s important to consider these changes with case-by-case perspective. If you’re really not sure, consult a qualified search engine optimization specialist before making risky changes.