The question isn’t, “Does changing URLs affect SEO?” it’s “How does changing a URL affect SEO?” because, according to Google’s John Mueller, there is an SEO impact from changing a URL — sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s bad.
Keep reading to learn more about the good, the bad, and the ugly of changing URLs for SEO!
Does changing URLs affect SEO?
Changing URLs affects search engine optimization (SEO) by influencing organic search rankings.
That’s because a URL is your site content’s address — it’s what Google knows, and when you change the URL, whether at the slug, folder, or domain level, you’re asking Google to learn your content’s new address and that takes time (and some trust).
What is the SEO impact of changing URLs?
The SEO impact of changing URLs varies and can range from improving (or decreasing) the following:
- Organic traffic
- User engagement metrics, like time on page and bounce rate
While Google describes the SEO impact as minimal (and rare when it happens), many SEO experts endorse changing URLs for SEO purposes, whether moving to a more authoritative domain, creating more descriptive URLs, or establishing a more intuitive site structure.
How does changing a URL affect SEO?
According to Google, changing a URL can affect SEO in a positive, negative, or neutral way:
When changing URLs can help your SEO
Changing URLs can help your SEO in the following scenarios:
You have unreadable URLs
Which URL is easier to read:
The first one, right?
Changing a difficult-to-read URL to a more accessible version can benefit your SEO by providing a better user experience for both users and web crawlers. Google’s John Mueller cites this as one reason to change a URL (though notes it might benefit your URL).
You create 301 redirects
Change a URL without setting up a 301 redirect — a 301 redirect signals a URL has moved permanently — and you will create a URL problem that harms your SEO. Set up a 301 redirect, and you’ll benefit (and protect) your SEO by sharing with users and search engines that your content has moved to a new location.
That’s why creating a 301 redirect is an industry best practice when changing URLs.
You repair keyword cannibalization
Targeting the same keyword across multiple pages can lead to keyword cannibalization, which doesn’t help your site improve its organic search rankings or traffic. Instead, you weigh your site down with content that, while not the same, is a little too close.
Bringing these pages together can help your SEO — and for that to happen, you need to change URLs.
When changing URLs can hurt your SEO
Changing URLs can hurt your SEO in the following scenarios:
You create 404 errors
You’ll see a negative SEO impact of changing URLs when you skip setting up 301 redirects.
What happens in this scenario is all your internal and external backlinks to your URL become 404 errors. These broken links lead to a terrible user experience (people can’t get where they’re trying to go) and tell web crawlers that this content doesn’t exist!
That’s why setting up a 301 redirect is vital because it redirects users and web crawlers to your new URL.
You skip sitemap updates
Your sitemap is a powerful tool in search engine optimization. Via your sitemap, web crawlers can explore every level of your site, which is critical for folders that live deeper in your website, like https://www.example.com/clothes/womens/dresses/fall/.
You give web crawlers inaccurate information if you change URLs and don’t update your sitemap.
You move to a scammy domain
Researching the SEO impact of changing URLs at the domain level?
Then, you’ll need to consider your domain’s history. You can do this a few ways, like early access to the domain’s Google Search Console account (here, you can see if the site has any actions against it) or using blacklist check tools to see if the domain is blacklisted.
If you don’t and move to a scammy domain, you could see negative effects on your SEO.
When changing URLs can maintain your SEO
Changing URLs can maintain your SEO (or have zero impact) in the following scenarios:
You prettify URLs
While you may not like the look of https://www.example.com/blog/10-ways-to-tie-a-knot/, changing the URL to https://www.example.com/blog/ways-to-tie-a-knot/ is unlikely to have an impact on your search engine optimization.
If you’re looking to rename URLs for readability, focus on ones that are harder to read than that.
You set up 301 redirects
It’s important to note here — 301 redirects are essential when changing URLs.
A 301 redirect will help protect your SEO efforts by telling search engines and users your content’s new online address. So, even if you don’t see a positive SEO impact from changing URLs, 301 redirects will help maintain your SEO.
When should you change URLs?
There are a variety of reasons companies change URLs, including:
- Represent company rebrand or merger (through a domain name change)
- Improve URL readability
- Establish site architecture
- Support sharing on third-party sites
- Condense site content
If you’re thinking about URLs, take the time to consider why you’re doing it and that reason’s impact, especially if you’re committed to building an SEO-friendly website.
How to best change URLs (and preserve your SEO)
Ok, so you’ve decided to embrace the SEO impact of changing a URL. Here is how to get started:
- Create an effective site architecture, like /clothing/womens/dresses/
- Build short, descriptive URLs, like /clothing/womens/dresses/floral-dress/
- Use hyphens to separate words in URLs, like /blog/summer-look-book/
- Use 301 redirects to direct search engines and users to your URL’s new location
- Run an SEO audit to find and fix 301 errors, 404 errors, and redirect chains
With these tips, you can improve your chances of success when changing URLs.
Minimize the risk of changing URLs with SEO experts
Changing URLs isn’t risk-free. Whether you’re looking to move domains, change site structure, or revamp URL slugs, there are several steps in changing URLs, which is why it’s helpful to have an SEO expert (or team of experts!) on your side.
Learn how our award-winning team can help by completing our contact form today!