Several guides exist on the internet teaching you how to optimize your URL for Search Engine Optimization. These guides contain several tips about what to include, what not to include, what the search engine looks for, what kinds of domain and subdomains are best. Most times we dive into these guides and begin to do everything they say even before we ask ourselves the most important question: When Search Engine Optimization is the goal, does the URL structure really matter? Does your URL structure increase your overall traffic or affect your ranking significantly?
Recently, one of Google’s own, John Mueller put out on twitter that URL structure is “not so much important”. This was in reply to someone asking “How important is URL structure flat? This was a surprising answer especially with all the guides that exist targeting the use of URL structure as a Search Engine Optimization tool. A memorable quote from Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable is “The main thing is not how long or deep your URLs appear to be but how quickly GoogleBot can discover those URLs and who is linking to them.”
This may seem like news, but it’s not so surprising if you look at existing data. As far back as 2014, Search Metrics published some very intriguing data. Based on their analysis, having a keyword within a domain name and /or URL is no longer as important as it used to be in search engine rankings. Google had started placing more importance on other search factors.
Google’s nine major ranking factors as published by Link-Assistant contained not even a passing reference to URL structure as a major ranking factor. This gives you a good indication of just how much energy should go into making your URL SEO friendly. It is important to note that your URL acts as a UI for your visitors and certain tricks that make it more search friendly should not be totally ignored. However, the general consensus is that it is definitely smarter to focus more on other ranking factors, just like Google does.
Search Engine Optimization is an industry that is constantly changing. Currently, Google seems to be pushing for richer content, better quality of backlinks, a better mobile experience on websites, and a host of other technical factors such as the use of https encryption, anchor texts, and so on. It is definitely a good idea to optimize your URLs—by making use of the best practices guides floating around the internet, especially as it definitely won’t hurt your rankings.
However, focusing too much of your marketing efforts on URL structure to the detriment of other SEO factors can and will hurt. This is because factors such as content quality, backlinks, mobile usability, and so on will have a greater impact on your rankings than a bad URL structure.