Avoid Changing a URL Unless You Really Have To, Google Says
by Al Gomez
Yesterday, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller answered a Reddit thread about changing URLs. He emphasized that the webmaster should avoid changing a URL on his site unless it is necessary.
In the thread, the webmaster was planning to change his international URL structure from /uk to /en-gb and from /de to /de-de. John Mueller was worried about how Google will react to the URL change and how long it would take Google to process it all again.
According to him:
The bigger effect will be from changing a lot of URLs (all pages in those folders) – that always takes time to be reprocessed. I’d avoid changing URLs unless you have a really good reason to do so, and you’re sure that they’ll remain like that in the long run.
This is not something new because if people can notice, he has been telling them, for years, to avoid changing URLs unless they have to.
This is not applicable to application protocols such as HTTP and HTTPS since Google executes a special process for this.
However, for most other URLs (except for the root domains) Google would take a lot of time to rediscover and reprocess them.
Always Start with URL Optimization
Before clicking the publish button, make sure your URLs are properly optimized to avoid the urge to change them.
URLs are the first thing users see and they are the basis of sites hierarchy and indexing so it is essential to get them right at first try. Below are some ways you can try to optimize your URLs.
Naturally, a web page should have a purpose and target audience. If you want your target audience to discover your page, incorporate the URL to the keywords you used.
You can use online tools like Moz Keyword Explorer or Ahrefs to analyze and find the right keywords. They provide a solution to users’ random and vague search practices.
Form a logical structure for future use
Doing this will ensure that your sitewide URL hierarchy will fit your purpose even after many years.
The first URL has a logical flow from domain name to a category to a sub-category to a product, while the second URL goes directly from domain name to a product.
The first example is better for SEO and users.
Avoid unnecessary words or characters
To make sure your user can understand your page content just by looking at the URL, don’t include all prepositions and conjunctions.
Avoid putting “the” or “and” to remove the distractions from the URL.
Moreover, avoid repeating keywords within a URL. Putting the same keyword multiple times will lead to a spammy URL structure. An example of this would be:
Additional points to remember:
- Hashes. Except when sending users to a specific section of a page, restrict their use in other cases if possible. If the users are sent to a unique content after the # symbol, you can make it available by using a simple URL.
- Case sensitivity. You can use canonical tags to mark lowercases URLs as your preferred version. Or you can use permanent redirects.
- Underscores. Use hyphens to separate words within your URL strings. Underscores might join two words together.
- URL length. When your URL exceeds 512 characters, Google will shorten it in search results pages. Keep your URL as short as you can while still retaining its meaning.
Reduce the use of dynamic URL strings
This URL doesn’t look good and go against the rules above. You’ll want static URLs that include a logical structure of folders and descriptive keywords.
While the example is SEO-friendly, it is still better to use static URLs than dynamic ones. Static URLs contain your keywords and are more user-friendly.
To avoid this, you can rewrite rules in your web server or use tools to generate mod rewrites like Generate It.
In addition to the tips above, Google recommends using 301 redirects if you really need to change the URL of your page. A 301 redirect will seamlessly transition a move from an old site to a new domain. It can also be used if you want people to access your website through multiple URLs.
If you also want to merge websites so your outdated URLs get redirected to new websites, 301 redirecting is for you.
You may think that changing a URL may be a good idea. However, you should consider how it will help or hurt your page before considering the idea. Evaluate the risks and benefits involved and how your URL change will affect SEO.
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