Cases when you should change the URL structure

Imagine this scenario: you’ve come across  a dozen reliable tips on how to build the ideal URL structure and you’ve spent a lot of time tweaking until you get it right. But then you realize that it’s just a case of diminishing returns – your textbook execution of URL changing only brings a slight improvement and certainly isn’t worth the time and effort you spent doing it.

Lesson learned: you shouldn’t obsess too much about URL structure. Fixing URLs can’t be a solution for a bad site architecture, nor it can bring a significant improvement in SERP. However, there are always scenarios when changing URLs is a must, here they are:

1. Long URLs

How long of a URL is too long? Technically, a URL can be as long as it needs to be. Some browsers and servers may have limits, but those limits are well beyond anything you would consider sane by SEO or usability standards. For example, Internet Explorer 8 can support a URL of up to 2,083 characters.

Practically speaking, though, long URLs can weaken the ranking power of any given URL keyword, hurt usability and click-through rates, and get cut off when people copy-and-paste.

How long is ‘too long’ is a bit more art than science. One of the key issues, in my mind, is redundancy. Good URLs are like good copy – if there’s something that adds no meaning, you should probably lose it.

2. Dynamic URLs

A dynamic URL creates content from code and data and carries parameters, like this:

It’s a common SEO misconception that Google can’t read these URLs or gets cut off after 2 or 3 parameters. In 2011, that’s just not true – although there are reasonable limits on URL length. The real problems with dynamic URLs are usually more complex:

  • They don’t contain relevant keywords.
  • They’re more prone to creating duplicate content.
  • They tend to be less user-friendly (lower click-through).
  • They tend to be longer.

So, when are your URLs too dynamic? The example above definitely needs help. It’s long, has no relevant keywords, and the parameters are likely to create tons of near-duplicates. In other cases, though, the URLs aren’t that messy, like this example:

Technically, it’s a dynamic URL. So ideally you will change it to something like:

Perhaps you won’t see much SEO benefit, but still, the second URL is better. If you’re just starting a blog from scratch, you’d want to choose that one.