For the last few years, URL structure has been a topic to discuss among SEO industry. Whether a certain number of subdirectories or keywords placement in URLs can affect traffic. Many SEO marketers have experiment lots of optimization techniques improve their sites’ rankings and achieve their goals. But the main question remains, as how URL structure can help overall traffic? To know the answer, there are few researches that can help.
When URL has extraneous characters like @, &, $ and %, this will make search engines having a hard time crawling a website that has these strange characters. If you don’t believe that strange characters can affect traffic, Google already explained that using dashes (-) for URL is much better that using underscore (_), because this is affecting on how search engines read the keyword in URL. For example, URL of a page is .com/online-marketing, phrase that Google reads in the URL is “online marketing”, but if URL is .com/online_marketing, then Google sees phrase in the URL as “onlinemarketing”. After analyzed the top 100 results for 1,000 keywords in many industries, only about a fifth of percent or .194% that are using extraneous characters in their URL.
For URL length, researchers observe many Google domains. They found out that, Gmail URLs have average of 59 characters, average URL of Google Blog is 76 characters and Webmaster Tool average URL is 90 characters. In 2011, long URL has started to not rank well in search result. John Doherty of Google explains one of the main reasons is that they have to build many backlinks over time that affecting rankings a lot more than URL length does.
From research of average URL characters in top 100 results, is that URLs that have between 35 to 40 characters are tend to rank well in search result page. But this result doesn’t really said that long URLs are not can’t rank well, because there 21% of URL in page 1 that contained more than 60 characters. Still, the majority of URL structures in the page 1 has range between 35 to 40 characters.
In 2014, Searchmetrics analyzing 300,000 URLs and what they found is quite interesting. Having a keyword in domain name of a website and in URL has a new turn. Now keyword in domain name has become less important since Google is putting more focus on other search factors. When creating URL for a website, making it keyword rich is not going to be a problem. But it will be a problem, when putting repeated keywords in the URL, which makes it seems unnatural.
For URLs that contain subfolders like, http://wordpress-11340-25313-60382.cloudwaysapps.com//www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/06/29/pop-up, it has 4 main subfolders: magazine, 2015, 06, and 29. After analyzing top 10 results for 1,000 keywords, some of the top ranking URLs are not having any subfolders, but there are URLs that contain subfolders up to 12 in the result. This means, it doesn’t matter how many subfolders that URL has with website ranking. Many websites decided not to have subfolders only to make their URLs clean. Even though, it doesn’t have too much impact on ranking. In the end, to optimize URL structure is to avoid using extraneous characters, using dashes and placing appropriate keywords. But URL structure is not something that needs too much focus on, because it doesn’t really effecting rankings unlike content quality or backlinks.