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Dose URL Structure Matter? A Data Driven Response

Tips & Tricks

May 16, 2016

Any person who has followed the SEO industry for years knows that one of the biggest debates has revolved around URL structure. Keyword placements and quantity of subdirectories are just but two of the optimization techniques that website owners and designers use to improve the rankings.

Extraneous Characters

If you have been observant, you might have noticed some odd characters in URLs. Such characters include @, $, % and &. Search engines have a difficult time trying to crawl through websites that feature more of such characters.

If you doubt the importance of the extraneous characters, perhaps you need to remember that Google has stated clearly the value in featuring dashes rather than underscores because of the difficulty that the search engine undergoes trying to read such URLs.

Examples:

com/red-widget – According to Google, this website is about red widget
com/red_widget – According to Google, the search engine reads the URL as redwidget rather than two different words
An analysis of the Top 100 results based on 1,000 keywords from various industries has shown some amazing data that you would never believe regarding the percentage of the top-ranking URLs that feature the extraneous characters.

URL Length

Google remains the best source for learning about the importance of URL length.

59 characters is the average length for Gmail URL
90 characters is the average length for Webmaster Tools URL
76 characters is the average length for Google blog URL
A few years ago, long URLs never ranked well, as John Doherty proves through his blog. The main reason for this is that the long URLs built up numerous backlinks (which have an effect on rankings more than the URL lengths) over a long period.

An analysis of the Top 100 results based on 1,000 keywords shows the following:

37 characters is the average length for the URLs that appear in the top 10 results
35 characters is the average length for URLs that appear in the top 20 results
39 characters is the average length for URLs that appear in the top 30 results
41 characters is the average length for URLs that appear in the top 40 results
36 characters is the average length for URLs that appear in the top 50 results
32 characters is the average length for URLs appearing in the top 60 results
48 characters is the average length for URLs appearing in the top 70 results
45 characters is the average length for URLs appearing in the top 80 results
41 characters is the average length for URLs appearing in the top 90 results
38 characters is the average length for URLs appearing in the top 100 results
The above data shows that the dominant URLs are those whose length is between 35 and 40 characters. Long URLs of up to 60 characters still rank well considering that they form 21 percent of the URLs that appear on page one of the search listings.

Keywords in URLs

A 2014 Search Metrics analysis of 300,000 URLs came up with interesting discoveries. The main discovery was that the inclusion of keywords in your URL is not as important as it once was in ranking. Google now looks at other factors when ranking.

Therefore, the creation of URLs ought not to make you too worried to include keywords. If the keywords make sense, include them on the URLs naturally.

Subfolders

URLs cannot exist without subfolders, as you will discover by reading this blog post. The main subfolders from the blog post are 2015 as well as 2004 and 2003.

An analysis of the top 10 search results for 1,000 keywords shows that several of the top-ranking listings do not contain any subfolder, while others have up to 12 subfolders. The analysis shows that the subfolders and the website’s positioning have no correlation, especially on the ranking on page one.

The findings indicated that keywords for sites that appear on page one tend to contain 3 subfolders or no subfolders altogether.

Featuring the least number of subfolders keeps things clean, but has no real bearing on the rankings. Learn to optimize the site by focusing on usability.

Direct Traffic

The general belief is that short URLs are better for traffic. Two examples worth considering include KISSmetrics and Quock Sprout.

KISSmetrics has shorter URLs but only attracts 14% traffic. Quick Sprout has longer URLs yet it attracts 31% more direct traffic.

Conclusion

Optimizing URLs will not affect your rankings negatively, especially if you focus on the use of dashes, addition of suitable keywords while steering clear of extraneous characters. URL structure does not affect ranking as much as content quality and backlinks do.

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