Breaking Bad (URLs)
Web marketers have almost always believed that using keywords in URLs helped improve your search engine rankings. The exact value of keywords in URLs has always been debated with the general consensus falling between a little and not much.
Google recently said that URLs themselves are not a factor in the rankings, but personally I still think that they may carry a little weight. And even if not, there are definitely some ancillary benefits to them.
For the most part, though, it is believed that the “value” gained by changing your URLs to be more “keyword” rich is less than the potential for the loss that occurs when making such changes. That belief alone has caused many SEOs to caution against changing URLs except in the most extreme circumstances.
However, there are cases where it makes good sense to change your URLs, especially when the value outweighs the potential for loss. And one of the best times to make “keyword” upgrades to URLs is when you’re upgrading your entire website. Usually URL changes are needed due to the new system requirements anyway. So why not take advantage of this necessity?
Take a look at this URL from The Home Depot website circa 2008:
Pretty hard to read, right?
I couldn’t find the same book on the Home Depot website today, but here is a current URL for a similar book:
That was a much needed improvement. Instead of giving me a random string of numbers and difficult-to-read words, Home Depot now makes their URLs easy to read. If I saw nothing but the new URL I’d have a pretty good idea about what information I would find if I clicked it. You can’t say that for the 2008 URL!
I’m sure Home Depot incurred some loss by implementing this new URL structure (assuming they remembered to add the redirects). But on a usability basis alone, I would say the change was worth it.
But it’s more about the user than the search engine. Maybe search engines value keywords in URLs, maybe they don’t. But people do. And we know that what matters to people is what (should) matter(s) to search engines. Maybe not directly, but by improving your site usability, people will take note. And search engines will take note of that!