Keywords in the URL: Positive on-page ranking factor

Keywords in the URL Positive On-Page Ranking Factor

Keyword in URL

Impact: Very Small

Confidence: High

Placing your keyword or key phrase in the URL of your page helps establish the relevance of your content for that particular search query. While the impact as an SEO ranking factor is relatively small, there are also several other reasons why including a keyword or at least, having a descriptive keyword is a good idea.

The easiest way to explain what we mean by having the keyword in the URL is by reference to the following diagram showing the SERP results for the phrase “Webmaster Tools”:

Keyword in URL example

As you can see, the keyword phrase is clearly shown in the URL.

Is it an SEO ranking factor?

The following authoritative sources indicate that having your keyword or keyword phrase in your URL is a positive ranking factor:

Google’s SEO Starter Guide — The Google SEO starter guide is very clear on the subject. It says that “If your URL contains relevant words, this provides users and search engines with more information about the page than an ID or oddly named parameter would.” It does not indicate exactly how influential adhering to this practice would be, but the point is boldened and clear, as you can see in the screenshot below:search engine optimization starter guide.pdf

John Mueller, webmaster trends analyst at Google — On Jan. 26, 2016, Mueller confirmed that having the keyword in the URL was a ranking factor. We have discussed this in more detail below, related to its importance as a ranking factor.

Matt Cutts, former head of webspam at GoogleOn March 5, 2009, Cutts stated that “It does help a little bit to have keywords in the URL. It doesn’t help so much that you should go stuffing a ton of keywords into your URL. You know, if there’s a convenient way that’s good for users where you have four or five keywords that might be worthwhile”.

How important is it?

On Jan. 26, 2016, Mueller said in an English Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout that while it is a ranking factor, the impact is very small:

I believe that’s a really small ranking factor, so it’s not something I’d really try to force.  And it’s not something where I’d say it’s even worth your effort to kind of restructure a site just so you can include keywords in the URL.

Certainly, Mueller does not recommend you change existing URLs, and not something you should be too worried about enforcing from an SEO perspective. That being said, as you will see later in this article, there are other reasons why you may wish to include keywords in your URL.

You can listen to the relevant part of the hangout below:

Importance lessening over time?

Evidence suggests that it’s importance has reduced significantly over the last few years. Looking that the following chart for the years 2012, 2013, and 2014 the correlation between the keyword in the URL and position in the rankings has significantly reduced:

reduced influence as a ranking factor

This data was reported by Moz but originated from Search Metrics, back in 2014. We are unable to locate the original data (Searchmetrics only seem to show the summary via an infographic), and while the 2015 data reported on the correlation of the Keyword in the Domain Name, it is silent on the Keyword being in the URL. However, in light of recent comments by Mueller, this data does support its small impact as a ranking factor.

We believe that the direct influence that it has is now fairly minimal, but indirectly, there seem to be numerous benefits from an SEO perspective that arise directly or indirectly due to it being better for readers.

Other considerations:

  • Longer URLs — There is some data to suggest that shorter URLs rank better than Longer URLs.
  • Keyword placement in the URL — There is some suggestion that after about five words, the weight of the keyword in the URL dwindles. It is, therefore, advisable to have the keyword toward the beginning of the URL.
  • Keyword in domain name — There is a ranking bonus when a keyword or phrase is in the domain name. Some reports suggest the impact is less when the keyword is less than when the keyword appears later in the URL.
  • Overusing keywords — When you overuse keywords, including in the URL, it can contribute to a spam penalty for keyword stuffing.

Best practices for using keywords in your URL

  • Use keywords in URLs.
  • Separate words with dashes to make it easy to read.
  • Use one, two, or three words with no numeric id in the URL where possible.
  • Don’t focus just on keywords. Pick URLs that are short and descriptive where possible, and avoid keyword stuffing.

Other benefits:

  • Easier to crawl — According to the Google SEO Starter Guide creating descriptive categories and pages could “lead to better crawling of your documents by search engines”. With fresh content giving a temporary ranking boost, it can be beneficial to have your website crawled more frequently so any changes can be picked up.
  • Easier to link to — Creating an easily remembered URL can make it easier to link to. Would you remember the URL in the image below?Easier to link to
  • Increase click-through rate — By having keywords in the URL, it can help the user know what kind of content they might find on that page, thus making it more likely they will click on it:increase CTR
  • The URL can act as anchor text — Where the URL is copied and pasted into other web pages, without anchor text, the URL itself will serve as that anchor text. This helps with rankings. This is clearly shown in the image above for the previous points.

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