Google: Don't Change Your URLs For SEO Purposes

Dec 30, 2013 • 8:10 am | comments (13) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Google Balls logoGoogle's John Mueller responded to a question in the Google Webmaster Help forums about changing a site's URL structure completely.

The site has tons and tons of dynamic URLs that look like this:

  • /search?manufacturer=fairline
  • ?keywords=Fairline+Targa+38
  • ?dealer=4589-adex-yachting

You get the idea. The site owner wants to change them to /boats-for-sale/fairline for example.

Now, for the most part, I am always wary about changing a URL that ranks already. John from Google said:

I'd recommend *not* changing them, if you'd just change them for SEO reasons.

But in this case, /search? might make sense, and I may argue with John. But I don't have the analytics or data to make a full decision on this, but typically /search URLs might signal the wrong message to Google. Even though Google wants you to feed them dynamic URLs as dynamic URLs and not as static URLs. But in this case, a search URL is something Google likely wouldn't want to index.

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

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Alexander Hemedinger

12/30/2013 02:50 pm

I agree with the statement below, it is uncommon for Google to index search results. Perhaps there is something more to the url than meets the eye. ;)

Tom Conte

12/30/2013 05:40 pm

I can't imagine redirecting these URLs will have a positive impact large enough to be noticeable. As it stands, they are still human-readable and uses target keywords, albeit in a less usable format. If the URLs used a combination of letters and numbers then I would say redirecting these URLs would have a noticeable impact. For more thoughts to consider, I recommend this post when thinking about redirecting URLs.

John Doherty

12/30/2013 10:53 pm

I pretty vehemently disagree with John on this one if he's saying what you are implying, Barry. Though his "if you'd just change them for SEO purposes" could have some important nuance there that he's not saying.

Doug Caywood

12/31/2013 02:08 am

It's a good bet that, as stated "the site owner wants to change them", the owner is concerned about how the url appears in the serps. Some users hesitate to click on an ugly url.

James Cosgrove

12/31/2013 06:41 am

I have worked with automotive dealership websites for 13 years. This is so common in that industry. I am wondering if John is saying that the risk to change is not worth it if you are already getting inventory to show in the search results and that is likely because the lift from changing the URL is unpredictable and could be nothing at all especially if the result was already ranking fairly well. The thing is, many of these types of listings that I have seen do not get into search results. Instead what I see get into the search result is the search page of the website that usually has 10 or more vehicles listed but shows in the search result for a vehicle no longer available. One of the bigger questions I have always had is should/can these types of dynamic inventory pages be resolved with 301 redirects once a vehicle is sold?

Jack Reacher

12/31/2013 07:27 am

Dynamic URLs normally have low CTR compared to well structured URLs. I couldn't figure out what was the statement above.


12/31/2013 12:51 pm

I agree with jack here.If you ask me then I would give my first preference the the one with a descriptive URL with proper names so that atleast I know where I am going to land. About the search URLs these are the URLs mostly found among the online shopping sites. I agree over here with John that we need not rewrite the URLs just for SEO since I can see rankings coming for many of my pages with such URLs (i.e. search types URLs)

Charles Taylor

12/31/2013 02:34 pm

I think John was thinking of a very specific "just for SEO" situation. If your just changing them to get keywords in the URL that probably isn't the best idea, especially if your pages are ranking already. Under almost any other scenario (especially if you have complete 301 control) I'd suggest changing the URLs - you'll get better conversions. Just my two cents ;-)


12/31/2013 05:18 pm

I need help I run a SEO Forum and users sometimes after a few days edit their thread titles so the URL will also change will this affect my SEO? Thanks and Happy New Year

Jaimie Sirovich

01/01/2014 09:41 pm

@Barry: "Even though Google wants you to feed them dynamic URLs as dynamic URLs and not as static URLs." Where is the source on that? Historically they recommended rewrites. Now I'd say it's neutral-to-bad RE: rank, but might have a "+" CTR-effect, depending on whether you unknowingly create a spider trap, but I don't think I saw them ever say "we _don't_ want you to rewrite dynamic URLs." Oh, here it is. "If you transform your dynamic URL to make it look static you should be aware that we might not be able to interpret the information correctly in all cases." Yes. Without ?'s and &'s Google can't remove parameters, and I've seen them do that. I actually mentioned that this might be true in 2007 in my now very-dated book, Professional SEO+PHP. So just don't rewrite a spider-trap. I wish J. Mueller was clearer. I think he meant "don't change URLs for the sake of keyword-optimization." If you already have to 301 a bunch of stuff, might as well make them pretty. And there's the CTR issue, which might be real so long as you don't overdo it.

Tomo Drupal

01/02/2014 08:34 am

Redirect the original to a new url when the url changes. Some CMSs support this ootb but not all.

rahul setia

01/02/2014 03:34 pm

If the websote is preety much old say: PR -4 THEN would you prefered to change the url kr rewrite the urls ..and many of its dynamic urls ranked well.

Mike Vallano

01/06/2014 05:25 pm

On a site that has URLs like that, it's most likely got various other technical issues that need to be fixed as well. In the case where the site is being cleaned up, I think it definitely makes sense to clean up the URLs as well. If the whole idea is just to get keywords in the URL, then I completely agree with John. The problem with this type of advice is that it is so general that sometimes people read this and say "well Google said to not to change your URLs", which causes uninformed decisions.

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