Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

Changing Domain Names or Page File Names

A question we’re asked often is what impact it will have on rankings if a client changes their domain name, or if they want to change the filenames of some of their pages. Noted SEO guru Jill Whalen recently addressed the question very effectively. Here’s the question and Jill’s answer from High Rankings Advisor:

Question

We are planning to rewrite our URLs so that they reflect our keywords. Our current URL now looks like this:
http://www.oursite.com/ProductDetails.aspx_ InnerCategory_Outdoor20Accessories_ InnerCatalog_Accessories_InnerProduct_5015

The new URLs will instead look like this:
http://www.oursite.com/accessories/ outdoors/conetorch

We also plan to put a permanent 301 redirect from the old URLs to the new ones.

My question is, will this be enough or are there any other precautions we have to take into consideration? Can we make the merger of all URLs at one time or do we have to make a successive merger? These questions are from a search engine point of view.

Answer

This seems to be one of the most frequently asked questions lately. There’s a common misconception that putting keywords in URLs is some sort of key to high rankings, and it simply isn’t true. If your current URLs are getting found, spidered, and indexed by the search engines, changing them at this point will cause you only pain. Lots of pain. Instead of helping those pages to be found, it will hurt their chances of being found because you will be taking perfectly good URLs that the search engines know about and changing them to brand-new ones that have no history and no links.

The ages of your URLs, like domains in general, seems to have somewhat of an aging factor related to them. I definitely notice that when I add a new page to any of my sites, it can take the search engines a very long time to start to rank it well in the search engines for the keyword phrases that relate to it. On the other hand, if I’m just making edits to an existing page (and keeping its URL the same), the search engines will rank it accordingly, and fairly quickly.

Even if keywords in URLs actually is something that might help rankings (and in my opinion it is not), you’d still have to weigh the very slight benefit you’d receive against the months of waiting for the search engines to 1) index the new URLs, 2) start to follow and give credit to the 301-redirect, and 3) sort the whole mess out.

I would highly recommend that you leave the URLs exactly as they are. If you have some SEO company telling you to change them, you should be extremely skeptical as to whether they really know what they’re doing and whether they understand the ramifications of what they’re recommending. Sometimes I think that some SEO companies just don’t understand the elements that really help rankings, so they fall back on the silly things like changing URLs, because it is a lot of work and makes it look like they’re actually doing something important.

I have seen so many websites and uninformed webmasters get burned by this whole situation. It gives them a good 3 months of nightmares while they lose all their existing indexed URLs and rankings, and they never quite know if/when they’ll get them back with the new URLs.

I hope this helps to make you aware of the problems you may be creating if you decide to go this route.

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