Keywords are the cornerstone of search. They help define a company, set it apart from competitors and attract customers in the act of actively looking for a product. Search couldn’t exist without them.
But for all their importance, it’s unclear how valuable they are in an actual Web site address. While acknowledging that having keywords in one’s URL can help a bit in one’s search rankings, Google has maintained other factors — content updates, links, load-speeds — weigh more heavily. Yet, in a world where the tiniest factors can make a huge difference, might URL keywords be worth it?
HigherVisibility, an SEO firm based in Memphis, Tenn., put the idea to the test, evaluating 10 sectors to determine what effect URL keyword optimization might have. The result: It can make a difference, particularly in competitive industries.
“Google has downplayed the role of keywords in URLs, and that’s true to a certain extent,” Scott Langdon, managing partner at HigherVisibility, tells Search Insider. “But we have found is in some competitive industries, it seems like it plays a role in rankings.”
Across all 10 verticals, 63% of the top page results included keywords in their URLs. However, the results varied widely in the individual sectors. In the email software space, only 47% of the top page ranking URLs included the keywords. Conversely, 76% of the top page returns for debt-related financial services companies used keywords in their URLs. (Other sectors where keyword URLs made a significant difference: food and beverage, business, weight loss, plumbing and hotels.)
Within those high-return sectors, using expanded keyword combinations also seemed to help. Within the “debt” category searches, for instance, all of the top page results related to “debt” or “debt equity” had URLs with those terms, as did 95% of the top page results for “debt finance.” In a competitive industry, it seems, specificity is king.
“Any little bit of advantage in search ranking factors can help,” Langdon says. “You need those small wins to stand out. …If you go to create a new Web page, keep in mind the primary keyword and try to make it fit within your URL structure.”
Beyond catching the attention of Google’s algorithms, using keywords in URLs can also help with human interaction. With more Web site addresses copied and pasted in social media or passed along via other means (such as text), sometimes the URL serves as the sole reason to click. A person viewing an address with relevant, readable text wants some idea what the content is about before clicking on the link. URLs are also one of the main elements users consider before clicking a link.
So, what’s the upshot of all this? Make it a best practice to include keywords in your URLs when possible, particularly if you’re in a highly competitive industry. The difference it might make may only be slight, but it certainly can’t hurt.