How You Name Your Web Sites, Microsites and Blogs Can Impact Your Search Engine Rankings

SEO and Search graphic

Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is very complex, with proprietary algorithms used by each of the major search engines to determine rankings and I am only scratching the surface in this article, but here are some important tips and guidelines.

Background
Many people and companies often talk about web site content and content structure when discussing search engine optimization. Search engine optimization is about making your web site content efficient and effective so your web site ranks as high as possible in organic listings (not sponsored or non-paid advertising, also known as search engine marketing) but did you know that the web site URL you select is also very important?

Many companies like to use vanity URLs instead of a real company name in their URLs. A vanity URL is like a vanity phone number or a vanity license plate. A vanity URL for a fictitious company such as Acme Precision Widgets, whose real web site is www.acmeprecisionwidgets.com could be www.acmespecials.com or www.apw.com.  Typically, the vanity URL would then redirect to the real URL and if you paid close attention you would see this happen in your browser http address listing. For permanent vanity URLs, coders typically use what is called a “301 redirect” to the real page URL shown above, but the user would only need to see (click on) or type the vanity URL. A 301 redirect is a redirect that does not have a time expiration as opposed to a 501 redirect, which does expire at a predefined time interval.

 google search results pageVanity URLs Can Suppress Search Engine Rankings
Search engine relevancy scores (the scores that determine which pages will make it to the top of a search engine’s organic search results) take into account page load times. Therefore, making pages too “heavy” with rich media content or having too many URL redirects (hops due to vanity URLs or other hidden structures) will slow page load times and consequently lower your page rankings with the search engines. This means that your web site moves down the list of organic search results, leading to potentially lower organic traffic and a need to rely more heavily on paid search. 

What Is Your Goal?
If your goal is to drive as much online volume as possible through organic search results, versus paid online media, then vanity URLs are not necessarily the best way to go. Instead, use your company’s real URL wherever possible and add a forward slash to drive to a specific landing page which contains content relevant to what you are promoting. Alternatively, you can drive users to your home page and feature whatever you are promoting there in what is called a “hero space”. Many companies use hero spaces that allow you to feature multiple products, services or offers, by rotating them at pre-set short time intervals.

 When Vanity URLs Are a Must
Sometimes there is a justified need for a vanity URL due to the nature of the product or service or promotion, or because your company URL is simply too long and is not easily shortened. When those exceptions are made, here are some helpful tips to follow.

Track Whatever Vanity URLs You Already Have or Create
When creating a vanity URL, keep a central repository of those links because they need to be maintained over time. A simple example is if you choose to move the location of the real page on your web site, then the reference point for the vanity URL needs to be updated or the user will have a broken link that goes nowhere.

Vanity URLs Should Also Have Strong Brand and Key Word Relevancy
Vanity URLs should also have strong brand and key word relevancy as opposed to making up or using words infrequently used by consumers simply because they sound “cool”. Strong brand and key word relevancy will further increase your relevancy scores with search engines. If the intended audience is not familiar with the term, then even if it’s catchy, it will hurt your organic results because you will achieve fewer exact matches. The only exception is if you are going to literally spend millions and millions of dollars advertising offline and online in order to create brand recognition for something like a new term or a new product, service or company name.

 For those who want to delve further into the technical side of how vanity URLs/redirects erode search engine relevancy, please see this article which discusses 301 redirects and confirmation from Matt Cutts (Google Engineer) that some link equity is lost when a 301 is used within a website – but not as much as when the true URL is completely removed from the vanity name.
http://www.seerinteractive.com/blog/301-redirect-test-how-much-link-juice-are-you-losing/2010/04/09/

Written by: Steven Copertino, Digital Marketer
http://www.linkedin.com/in/copertino

 

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