Although it’s sometimes necessary, changing URLs is risky business. The slightest change that’s performed incorrectly will cause your website to plummet in ranking, resulting in nonexistent traffic. In fact, changing URLs is listed as one of the top ways to ruin your website.
When done wrong, website visitors will receive 404 errors when trying to reach your site and Google won’t be able to properly index your site. If you’re considering making changes to any URL, there are some very important factors you need to consider.
Loss of SEO Ranking
Simple changes with your URL, such as, capitalization, adding a hyphen, an underscore, incorrect redirects, changing domain, etc. can have serious implications on your SEO. There is so much that goes into it, it is almost a science at this point. For example, when moving to a new domain, you need to understand the new domain’s history. If the history includes penalties or spam, you’re going to experience a serious drop in traffic. Plus, you run the risk of duplicate content and messy redirects.
No matter the reason for wanting to change, even when performed correctly, it will likely result in a temporary drop in traffic while Google indexes the changes. However, if errors are made, the loss will be significant and difficult to overcome. When any URL is changed, your organic search performance is going to change, which can be for the worse.
Loss of Referring Site Traffic
Hopefully, you’ve built a healthy link portfolio with plentiful referring site traffic. But, if you plan to move your site or change URLs, you just might end up losing the referring traffic that you’ve worked so hard to build. Changing URLs may cause the referring links to lead website visitors to error pages. These broken links are going to hurt your referring traffic and your site’s credibility.
Email Clicks Go to Dead URLs
URL changes can negatively impact your email marketing campaign due to the fact email subscribers may click on a link that sends them to a dead URL. Without the proper redirects, broken links will flood your subscribers’ inboxes, causing your email clicks and subscriber base to drop.
Prior to making the choice to change any URL, you need to weigh your decision heavily. URLs are the very life source to your website. Even one broken link can wreak havoc for your website. You should only change URLs when it’s 100 percent necessary. Ask yourself whether or not you’re ready to experience an estimated 25 percent loss in your traffic while you wait for 301 redirects to properly kick in?
You may think that a temporary drop in traffic will be better in the long run in terms of SEO, but in 2013 Google’s John Mueller stated that he doesn’t recommend changing URLs just for SEO reasons. Now, there are many who disagree with him, but you should take it as a word of warning. Only change your URLs if it’s 100 percent necessary.
For example, if you’re going to do a significant overhaul of your entire website, it may be a viable option, especially when you’ll be moving to a new site. Only change your URLs if you need to permanently redirect. Using a 301 redirect will prevent the majority of any link juice from being lost by effectively resolving broken links or indexing errors.
Dynamic and static URLs are a large contributing factor for many when making the choice. Google admits that static URLs may have a slight advantage in terms of click through rates (but really they have a huge advantage for tons of reasons!), while dynamic URLs are favored over hiding parameters to make them look static. Google also admits they have made progress in both areas and despite what many believe, dynamic URLs can be crawled by Google. Google recommends avoiding rewriting dynamic URLs unless you’re removing unnecessary parameters or parameters that can cause issues down the road.
Only Use 301 Redirects
Google recommends using 301 redirects if you need to change the URL of a page. A 301 redirect is appropriate if you want a seamless transition to move an old site to a new domain. Or, if you want people to be able to access your website through multiple URLs. A 301 will also allow you to merge websites to ensure outdated URLs are redirected to the new website. Also, small side note. Don’t do a rel canonical from https to http, and leave the https live, especially if your website doesn’t work on https. That will be very bad for CRO.
Before you begin, create an effective redirect strategy, which will help preserve your site’s traffic and link quality. This will help your new URL inherit the old URL’s link juice, rather than having to earn it from scratch; thus, allowing the old links to be de-indexed over time. Overall, a link strategy will minimize the amount of time your organic search will suffer before returning to normal. Plus, it will ensure all necessary steps have been taken to reduce any broken links or loss of referral traffic.
If you’ve decided to make the change, follow the necessary steps to ensure a smooth transition with little to no SEO implications. Only use 301 redirects with a redirect URL-to-URL for every page you’re going to keep. Be sure to update all on-page links to accommodate the change, but don’t create chain redirects if possible. A new XML sitemap will need to be created and submitted to Google. If you’re moving an old site to a new site, leave the old site map up temporarily.
Check Your URLs
Before your work is done, you need to use tools, such as Screaming Frog, to check for any errors to determine how your new links will perform. With the use of SEO spider tools, analyze and audit your site to review for any missed redirects or duplicate page issues. You’re able to review and resolve any onsite issues that may hurt your SEO efforts before they become a problem.
URLs and redirects are tedious and often misunderstood. Changing URLs may seem like a good idea, but you need to consider how it will hurt or help your bottom line. When considering site redesigns and platform changes, fully evaluate the risks and benefits involved as to how URL structural changes will affect SEO. Don’t take the decision lightly as your URLs are the very life source to your website’s viability.
- How To Avoid SEO Disaster During a Website Redesign – Top Marketer Concerns. SEJ
- Google: Don’t Change Your URLs For SEO Purposes. SER. Barry Schwartz
- Should I Change my URLs for SEO? Moz. 2011