Keywords in URL: A Primer From Google

The value of keywords is slowly fading. It’s not that keywords themselves have no value. Quite the contrary, Google itself says that you should place keywords in content, and states that at least one or two keywords is extremely important for SEO. But search engines have also made several changes to ensure keywords are less important than they were in the past:

  • Search engines provide diminishing returns after the first time you place a keyword, and by the time you place a keyword 4 or 5 times the returns are nearly non-existent, and may hurt your site as a result of content quality.
  • Search engine algorithms are starting to learn how to imply keywords from content even if a keyword is not present. For example, NY content writing may now be translated to New York content writing in a way that wasn’t originally possible, because the algorithms are learning to read content and rank keywords the way a human would manually.

Keywords are still important. NY SEO and New York SEO are still two different keywords, and creating articles dedicated to each keyword or trying to mention both keywords in an article can have its benefits. But beyond that, Google rewards quality writing, and the keywords are essentially an afterthought. In many cases keywords occur naturally and are completely unnecessary to take into consideration.

Placing Keywords in the URL

Which bring us to the subject of this post – whether or not it is valuable to place keywords in the URL. When you create a website, you can choose how to name the URL. Something like: www.website.com/keyword-keyword-keyword or www.website.com/keyword/keyword-keyword.

Google has stated themselves that placing a keyword in the URL is valuable. They acknowledge that it plays a role in rank. It’s unlikely to be that large of a role, but it plays a role nonetheless. Here are some notes about adding keywords to full links:

  • Domain Name Keywords Are Less Valued – We don’t know how much URLS with keywords in them matter, but we know that domain names with keywords in them barely matter. Cognitively that makes little sense, so what that indicates is that most likely Google only values the URL keyword a little bit – much like any other type of keyword. It probably doesn’t have a huge impact.
  • Path or Full URL – Matt Cutts from the Google Spam team has stated that it doesn’t appear to make much difference if you choose a path with a keyword, such as www.website.com/word/word/word or www.website.com/word-word-word.html. Choosing one that “looks pretty” is often a good idea for getting search engine clicks, but it shouldn’t make much difference.
  • Clicks – Related, it’s more important that your website gets clicked when it shows up in search results and has a low bounce rate. So if the keyword in the URL is going to decrease the likelihood of getting that click, it may be best to leave it off. For example, www.website.com/location is probably a better URL than www.website.com/location-keyword-keyword simply because the website name is more attractive to visitors. We say probably because Google’s algorithm isn’t consistent across all websites, since it also takes incoming links, data, and content into account, but in general a pretty link that people will want to click on is better than an ugly link that people will not.

Because of the conflicting value, the best thing to do is to edit a URL to include the keyword only if it makes sense based on context. Full URLs with keywords are important, but they’re also only a very small piece of the puzzle.

Watch Matt Cutts from Google’s Spam Team explain his view on keyword URLs: