What’s in a name? URL filenames are sweeter with keywords

Marjory Meechan - August 9, 2007

Optimization of a web page for better natural search results is all about the proper placement of keywords. Changing URL filenames to include them can be a big undertaking, so it isn’t always high on the list of SEO priorities. Make no mistake, however; it is important. Even so, changing URLs has always needed a little more consideration than other types of optimization because after all, the URL is a webpage’s address and changing your address is always at least a little complicated — even if you are a web page.

So, is it worth it to change your URLs? There are two main questions:

  1. Are there are too many parameters in your URLs?

If the URLs on your site look like this, then there are too many:


URL file names with more than two parameters run the risk of not being followed by search engine spiders. One easy way to see how many parameters are in your URLs is to count the “=” signs. More than two means that you definitely should consider a rewrite.

  1. None of the words from the key phrase you are targeting for the page appear in the URL. So, if you are targeting the key phrase “yellow widget”, this would not be an optimal URL:www.morevisibility.com/10345467.html

Sure, this URL will make it into the listings, but it will get no special advantage for ranking in the search engine results pages.

Whether or not you decide to change URLs can depend on whether or not you’re having a ranking problem, how competitive your key phrase is and if the return is going to be worth the time and effort you’ll need to invest. In fact, for those all-important specific searches with the higher conversion rates, the difference in results could be the difference between whether you or your competitor gets the sale. That alone could make it all worthwhile. So what should a fully optimized URL look like?

Here is a list of URL examples arranged from okay to excellent for the key phrase “yellow widget”:

Okay: www.morevisibility.com/widget.html

Better: www.morevisibility.com/yellowwidget.html

Excellent: www.morevisibility.com/yellow-widget.html

The bottom line is that having the complete key phrase in the URL file name gives you an advantage for ranking in the search engine results pages for that key phrase. There should be spaces between the words because searchers don’t type key phrases into search query boxes with all the words run together — at least not on purpose. This is not news. Everybody knows it. Everybody agrees with it.

In 2005, Google’s Matt Cutts settled the underscores vs. dashes issue of how key phrases should be separated in URLS. As a result, dashes were the industry standard until last week when he said that Google will soon be viewing underscores as word separators too. Even so, many SEO watchers remained within the safe-but-sorry “dashes” camp because we still needed to worry about what the other search engines were doing. This is why Thursday’s news from SearchEngineLand’s Barry Schwartz was such a bombshell. It’s not just Google. Yahoo and MSN have never differentiated between underscores and dashes!

So, does this mean that URL filename optimization is a thing of the past? – Not at all. Even if the underscores vs. dashes controversy is over, separating the words in a key phrase in the URL is still going to gain you an advantage over pages where the words are run together. All Google’s change of heart means is that how you separate the words is not as important as if you separate the words. Just remember that as far as URL names go, Shakespeare was wrong. A URL name without a keyword is definitely not as sweet.

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