09 Jun Keywords in a URL: Are Yours Optimized?
Crafting an SEO strategy can be quite an extensive undertaking. With over 200 ranking factors being considered by Google in varying degrees, it is important to hone in on the most important requirements.
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One of these requirements is the general structure of your URL. More specifically, the URL length, URL path and whether there are keywords in the URL.
There may be some disagreement on the relative impact of each of these and the underlying ranking mechanics. We will examine these in more in more detail.
URL Best Practices for SEO
Before we delve into the importance of Keywords in your URL, we have to touch on the other URL factors that impact on your rankings.
When it comes to the length of a URL, shorter ones are preferred. The general rule of thumb is that URLs longer than 100 characters should probably be re-written. This can usually be achieved by removing the stop words or unnecessary verbs (words like and, of, the etc.) in your URL.
Apart from possible penalization by Google itself, longer URLs may look spammy to users and impact on your click through rate. Similarly, if users paste your URL in forums or Social Media without anchor text, it could look visually unattractive.
URL location in the Path
Generally, a page that is closer to the path would have more weight. Therefore, it is better to use less folders rather than more when partitioning your content. Apart from making the search engine spiders dig deeper into your site structure, excessive paths can also appear spammy to your users. Moreover, more paths make for longer URLs which ties in with the point above. For example, when one searches for the term “used BMW for sale”, two of the results are below:
When I see these two options in the results, I can immediately see my keyword in the folder right next to the path. When one looks at the second option, it is quite a few folders deep and slightly less attractive. Hence, I would be more likely to follow the first link.
Word Separators: Hyphens vs. Underscores
When you have more than one word in your URL, best practices require that you separate these words with a hyphen instead of an underscore. This mainly comes down to the way Google treats each of these characters. A hyphen is viewed as a space by Search Engines whereas an underscore is treated as such. Below is a video by Google’s Matt Cutts where he addresses the matter.
Therefore, if a user searches for “red socks”, Google may serve up a site such as
example.com/red-socks. Google has indexed a similar site (
example.com/red_socks), but will only present it if the user searches for “red_socks”. This is quite unlikely to occur.
URL Case Sensitivity
Although case sensitivity may not be an issue for most servers, Google does take this into account when presenting search results. Hence, when a user searches for those red socks above, if your URL is
example.com/Red-Socks, it may not rank as well. You can read more about this particular point in an article by John Sherrod but it appears to be because UNIX/Linux servers treat URL requests as case sensitive.
Importance of keywords in a URL
When it comes to URL optimization, having the required keyword in the URL is an important factor. Apart from the signals this may give Google’s crawlers, the structure of the URL impacts on user experience and this has a secondary effect on rankings. This is because of the following:
- When you have the Keyword in your URL, it impacts on the Clickthrough Rate (CTR) of your users. Hence, your users are much more likely to follow a link where they can see that the page is specifically related to their search query. In the below image, these are two results for the search term “Essential WordPress Plugins”. The first link ranks number one for the search term. The one below it ranks in fourth despite both having similar on page content. This is because as a user, you are more certain of the page you will be landing on when you select the first option. Hence, the CTR of the first link will be higher. This could be a reason for the slightly higher ranking.
- When users copy and share the URL, there is sometimes no context around what page the links to. This is the case when it is shared in forums or on social media. For example, if you were going to past one of the below links into a forum without anchor text, a potential user has more of an idea which page the first link leads to than the second.
- If URLs have numerical ids, they are usually hard to remember and users may have trouble locating a page that they recently found. The team at Yoast have done this really well. All of their blog posts have the essential short keywords and are right next to the root domain. For example,
https://yoast.com/seo-copywriting-checklist/. This could be easy for a reader to recall and enter again.
Words of Caution
Having outlined the importance of keywords in the URL, keyword stuffing should be avoided. Many of the most recent Google updates have handed out penalties to pages that had thin content and poor on page SEO qualities. In these cases, overuse of the keyword in the URL was an indication of deliberate keyword stuffing.
Another important detail is specific language characters that are used in the URL. This can occur if you are targeting users in countries where the Latin alphabet is not used. Here, the keyword will be written in the respective language with the specific characters. For example, if you were targeting a Russian user for a page about cars, your keyword would be “автомобиль” in cyrillic. However, if you used this keyword in the URL, the characters would be encoded and sent to the server as the following:
This looks incredibly spammy, especially when shared. A popular alternative to this approach that is being used globally is to use the phonetics of the Latin alphabet to spell out the word in the URL (Romanized spelling of the word). BesideS this, many other international websites merely use the English alternative keyword in the URL.
Broad SEO and URL Optimization
Although it is important to have Keywords in a URL for SEO, this must be considered in the context of the other 200 or so ranking factors. For example, you should be using the same keywords in your title tags and meta description. After all, a user who follows your URL because of that keyword, will want to be presented with content on that keyword.