It’s clear that there is a link between the websites which rank highly for a certain keyword and whether or not that keyword appears in its URL. However, this is unlikely to be the only factor that determines whether or not a site can rank well.
As those of us in the industry know, countless other things can contribute to good SEO, and the study by HigherVisibility.com was focused on one aspect. But does this mean that you shouldn’t bother with keywords in your URLs? Not at all.
Rand Fishkin, Founder of Moz, published ‘15 SEO best practices for structuring URLs‘ in which he argued that “using the keywords you’re targeting for rankings in your URLs is a solid idea”. Firstly from a readability and usability perspective, having relevant keywords in your URL lets users know exactly what they’re getting.
Google’s SEO Starter Guide also states that, “If your URL contains relevant words, this provides users and search engines with more information about the page than an ID or oddly named parameter would.” In other words, including keywords – or at least clear and direct information – in your URL is a best practice.
Secondly, Fishkin points out, URLs are frequently copied and pasted, and when no anchor text is used in a link, the URL itself will serve as anchor text – a powerful ranking input. However, he also cautions against keyword-stuffing your URLs or using keyword repetition:
“Google and Bing have moved far beyond algorithms that positively reward a keyword appearing multiple times in the URL string. Don’t hurt your chances of earning a click (which CAN impact your rankings) by overdoing keyword matching/repetition in your URLs.”
Fiskin also cites research from the International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining which demonstrated that the URL is one of the most prominent elements searchers consider when deciding which site to click on.
Again, having clear and relevant information in your URL helps you to earn clicks – and while click-through rate is still hotly debated as a possible ranking factor, once you do manage to rank for a particular keyword, it’s no good if no-one clicks through to your site.
What about Exact Match Domains?Exact Match Domains (EMDs) – when the domain of a site exactly matches the keyword that you want to target – can also be a means of ranking well for your keyword, but use them wisely.
Most brands will derive their domain from the name of their brand, which might also contain a keyword – such as glassesdirect.com. But Exact Match Domains are often a sign of a spammy website, and one which Google is on the lookout for.
On the other hand, EMDs are often memorable, which is good from a usability standpoint – a user searching for cheap flights will have no trouble remembering the URL ‘cheapflights.com’, and there can be no mistake as to what the website is for.
If you have a legitimate reason for using an EMD and aren’t combining it with any other spammy tactics, then you should be fine.