Is Changing URLs a Good Idea?

You may have good reasons to change a URL on a webpage, but there are some important things you need to know before you do it.

Video Transcript (sorry- video not available)

David: All right. Okay, so Janelle, you want to change some page URLs on one of your clients, right? To include the word blog or something like that. And others.

Janelle: Yeah. Change the length of blog posts, and change those permalinks. And then we have a bunch of new links that we’re adding just to give the site architecture, make that a little bit deeper.

David: Right. So, whenever I do that, I always set expectations for clients: hey, there’s going to be a dip while Google reindexes. The 301 redirects will help. Right? Anything link-building we can do at this point to help will help as well. So, if we control links from other sites, we want to update those, too. I do like moving blog into a directory /blog, or /news, or /tips, or whatever. Then, from a Google Analytics perspective, you could check the performance of the blog because now it’s a group unto itself. The problem is with a lot of websites, most of the traffic comes from the blog because that’s where all the long-tail traffic is. So again, if all those blog posts get redirected, they have to be reindexed, and that will be a huge dip. So, we do need to kind of weigh that. Also, while you’re doing it, I like to not add things like, I know WordPress will do this by default sometimes, adding year, month, and day to blog posts and URLs. I don’t like that because a good blog post is evergreen, not dated, from an SEO perspective, right?

Janelle: Yeah, they don’t have that set up that way.

David: Good. So, when doing this, one of the things I would make sure you do is be careful about using wildcards and redirects. You might just have to have a line per redirect, which is really a pain but is better. A wildcard and redirect can be, if the redirect is written, if there’s a typo, could be a real problem. So just do that. I would prefer to put redirects in either the .htaccess or the NGINX on a server level if you can manage the site at that level. WordPress plugins with redirects tend to have problems. I used to use one that I liked. It has recently been giving me trouble. Onawa and I are working on a client site where she set up a redirect on the plugin, and a month later, it was gone. We added it again, and it was gone. And we don’t know where this thing went. And I was like, I know you added it. I checked it when you added it. And it was gone. And so, it’s like the plugin. And then some of these plugins will actually record a 404 every time there’s a 404. This sounds like a great idea, except that it’s just bloating up your WordPress database, which causes all kinds of problems. But when you do this, especially when you’re thinking about site architecture, reorganizing your site so it’s not flat. So, Google and humans like organized sites. But plan ahead for a couple of things. Number one, we want to do this hopefully once and be done forever, right? This is not let’s every six months rethink our site architecture. So, we really need to think in the long term and have a plan. Two, the length of a URL is basically unlimited. But let’s also not be a little too crazy about it. There is a limit. I don’t know what it is off-hand. Let’s say Google’s limit is 100 characters. What human being can use a 100-character-long URL? So, let’s just make sure we are as concise as possible with how we write things. Let’s not work too hard to get the exact keyword in there, right? Things like that. Think broadly, so have a master plan. Work with the client to make sure. When we reorganized this other client site, I just worked to make sure I understood their products and services. Right. Does this belong to that?

Janelle: Yeah, I found that they’ve created long blog post permalinks just because of a lack of understanding of how that’s created.

David: So those are the kinds of things I’d be watching for when going through a project. But this wouldn’t be the first thing I would do for a client for SEO. Right? I think this is probably not the biggest win. This is kind of one of those things that’s like, you either do it really early before there’s a lot of traffic, or you do it concurrently with another major website change that has to happen. I would prioritize improving content, building links, making sure we have keyword focus, and a good SEO blueprint, a plan for where we’re going before I started reorganizing sites. Unless, again, it’s really early. Because if it’s really early, there’s not a lot of traffic to hurt.

Janelle: Yeah, we’re definitely doing all of that other stuff. We rewrote a lot of pages, just used keywords in all of the page titles, and made the site architecture deeper. So, we’re making all the changes at once in addition to updating the permalinks.

David: Yeah. And one way to mitigate the loss might be just to do a little bit at a time. Do a page a week over time, so that way, the whole site’s not dipping while Google reindexes an entire site. But maybe you do five pages that are going to be merged into one big subcategory at once or just one a week for the next six months, and then the loss is mitigated by the fact that you’re improving everything, and it’s not just one big dip. That might be better unless you have to, for some reason, do it all at once. For example, when we relaunched the website, we really had to do it all at once.

Janelle: Yeah. For this particular one, honestly, they are not concerned. As long as people can get to their website, they’re not selling anything. It’s a nonprofit, it’s a philanthropist organization. So, they’re not even paying attention to any SEO numbers. But I’m certainly going to be looking at what the traffic is doing leading up to this change and then after that.

David: Yeah, and maybe if you’re looking at traffic, start with the ones with the least amount of traffic. Because then you can kind of learn and make the mistakes with the ones that aren’t going to hurt as bad and then work up to the ones that, oh, this is the one that really a lot of traffic comes to. Let’s make sure we have our process down before we get to that one.

Janelle: Thanks.

David: I’m glad you asked.

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