I just got off the phone with an SEO colleague of mine. He just related an amusing story to me, and I wanted to share it with you.
It seems he’d met with a prospect who has already worked with several search engine optimization firms without achieving the results they want. According to my friend, the client said the latest firm they’d worked with had told them their existing web site could not be optimized because it had keywords in its domain name, and that they’d have to create a whole new site for optimization purposes!
Surprising to me and my SEO friend, the company had accepted this line of reasoning and had allowed the old SEO firm to create the new site. Not surprisingly, though, the tactic didn’t work — which is why the client is now talking to my friend.
This was actually the first time either of us had heard someone assert that a keyworded domain could not be optimized. Usually, less-skilled SEOs are trying to claim the opposite — that a site cannot be optimized unless it has a keyword-rich domain name.
Either way, they’re wrong!
It seems a lot of people are mixed up about the subject of keywords in URLs. Let’s see if I can help clear up some of the confusion.
It’s actually pretty simple. The problem is, it requires everyone involved to use a little common sense, and (unfortunately) common sense often seems to fly out the window as soon as anyone brings the Internet or the Web into the conversation.
First, what is a URL? For our purposes, it’s simply an address that points to a web page, such as http://www.somedomain.com/directory/page.html.
As you can see from looking at the URL, there are several places where keywords can be inserted into the URL.
- You can register a domain that contains the keywords.
- You can set up a directory structure that includes keywords.
- You can name your pages with "keyword-rich" filenames.
If you want to try any of these tactics, be aware that in order for the search engines to recognize the individual words, you’ll have to separate them with hyphens (dashes), like so: keyword-keyword-keyword. The search engines will not parse keywordkeywordkeyword back into its constituent words or phrases.
So, is this something you want (or need) to do to achieve search engine success? Consider the following:
Heavily hyphenated URLs are harder to type and harder to remember. This is especially problematic if a competitor holds the non-hyphenated version of your desired domain name. You may lose customers to the competition when the customers try to type in your domain name but forget the dashes.
Heavily hyphenated URLs look "spammy" to many potential visitors. As a result, they may not click on your pages when they see them in the search results, and you may lose traffic and potential customers. For instance, publishers of low-quality sites designed strictly to earn revenue from contextual advertising ("Made For AdSense" sites) have abused keyword-rich URLs nearly to death already. You don’t want to take the chance of your pages being mistaken for these sorts of pages when people see your URL in the search results!
There is no incontrovertable evidence of a significant boost in the search engine results simply from having a keyword rich URL. Under certain, very specific, very limited circumstances, there may be a slight benefit, but not enough to warrant putting in a lot of work to pursue. Putting it another way, there would have to be an awful lot of things I had perfect with a given site before I’d start worrying about whether the URLs have enough keywords in them.
So what’s the bottom line? Here’s what I generally recommend:
If you don’t already have a company name, pick one for which a domain name is available. It’s much easier for customers to find you online if your domain name coordinates with your company name. Both your company name and your domain name should be easy to spell and memorable. That’s just good basic branding.
Don’t worry too much about squeezing keywords in to the company name or the domain name. One good reason: you may expand your scope or change your business direction in the future. You don’t want to be hampered by a company name or domain name that no longer accurately describes what your company does.
Set up a directory structure and file naming convention that make sense to you and faciliate site maintenance. If it happens these names also contain some keywords, that’s great, but don’t go overboard. For instance, don’t waste any time trying to second-guess the search engines as to what would be the "perfect" phrase to use. Just use words that are descriptive of what the directory contains or what the file is about — names that will make the task of locating files for updates easier for whoever is maintaining the site.
Important! If you already have a site for which the pages have been indexed by the search engines, do not change the file and directory names around to make them more "keyword-rich"!
When you change the URLs of your pages, even if you do all the right sorts of redirecting to the new URLs, it will take the search engines weeks, perhaps months, to sort out the change. If you can’t implement the appropriate redirects, the transition can take even longer.
The High Rankings forum regularly receives posts from webmasters who followed some bad advice, changed their URLs to be more "keyword-rich" and lived to regret it. Whatever dubious benefits there might be from changing to keyword-laden URLs, they will be wiped out by the lost traffic during the transition period.
The main thing to remember is that having keywords in your domain name, your folder names or your file names is not a terribly important factor in search engine optimization — certainly not the key to higher rankings or better traffic.
If you want to learn more about what factors will make a measurable difference and how to implement them on your site, request a NineYards.com Web Site Audit report today!