Are Keywords at the Beginning of the URL a Google Ranking Factor?

Keywords at the beginning of the URL
Keywords at the beginning of the URL CREDIT: THE WEBMASTER
Jonathan Griffin
By Jonathan Griffin, Editor, SEO Consultant, & Developer.

Google has said on several occasions that adding a keyword to the structure of the URL IS a Google ranking factor, albeit a tiny one. In further comments, they confirm that the position of the keyword comes secondary to that, but nevertheless still makes a difference.

As usual, Google comments that it is better to focus on new content rather than what keywords are in the URL.

What do we mean by Keywords at the beginning of an URL?

An URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is the standardized naming convention for addressing documents on the internet.

There are several different parts of the URL. While a full explanation is outside the scope of this article, you can see some basic information about the URL structure in the following diagram:

The different parts of an URL
The different parts of an URL CREDIT: THE WEBMASTER

The following image shows a truncated URL in the Google search results, but because the keywords were placed at the beginning of the URL, they are still visible:

How keywords at the beginning of the URL look in the search results.
How keywords at the beginning of the URL look in the search results. CREDIT: THE WEBMASTER

Will adding keywords near the beginning of the URL improve your Google rankings?

We took an in-depth look at what the Googlers \ Experts had to say:

Does the position of keywords in the URL have a significant impact?

The only person to comment on whether having your keyword or keyword phrase near the start of your URL is a positive ranking factor is Matt Cutts, former head of the Google Web Spam Team. He seems to imply that any words past the first five will have less weight attached to them.

In a Google Webmaster video in 2009, Matt Cutts answered a question whether the position of keywords in the URL have a significant impact:

 Matt Cutts answered a question whether the position of keywords in the URL have a significant impact
Matt Cutts answered a question whether the position of keywords in the URL have a significant impact CREDIT: MATT CUTTS.

Matt Cutts answered:

Truthfully, I wouldn’t really obsess about it of that level of detail. It does help a little bit to have keywords in the URL. It doesn’t help so much that you should go stuffing a ton of keywords into your URL. You know, if there’s a convenient way that’s good for users where you have four or five keywords that might be worthwhile, but I wouldn’t obsess about it to the level of, you know, how deep is the URL in the path or, you know, how am I combining it.

For example, on my blog, when I do a post I’ll take the first four or five words or two or three words related to that post and I’ll use that as the URL. But, you know, you don’t need to make seven, eight, ten, twenty words because that just looks spammy to users and people will probably not click through as much in the first place. So position is going to be a very, very second order kind of thing of keywords in the URLs. I would not worry about that so much as having great content that people want to link to and people want to find out about.

You can watch the full video below:

Using Keywords in your URL is a very small Ranking Factor.

Matt Cutts said in a video that new domains might take a few months to rank to prevent spammers from abusing new domains.

The date of first registration does not necessarily determine domain age but instead may be based on their historical search data, i.e., the date they first saw the domain.

The difference between a domain that’s six months old vs. one year old is really not that big at all. As long as you’ve been around for at least a couple of months, you should be able make sure that you can show up in search results.

I cover this in more detail here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you recommend any best practices for it's implementation?

There are several things to bear in mind:

  • Matt Cutt implies that after about five words, the weight of the keyword in the URL dwindles. It is, therefore, advisable to have the keyword toward the beginning of the URL.
  • Separate words with dashes to make it easier to read, both by humans and by Google.
  • Use one, two, or three words with no numeric id in the URL where possible.
  • Don’t focus just on keywords. Pick URLs that are short and descriptive where possible
  • Avoid Keyword Stuffing. When you overuse keywords, including in the URL, it can contribute to a spam penalty for keyword stuffing.
Are there any other benefits of adding a keyword to the URL?

There are a few other benefits of using keyword or keywords at the beginning of your URL:

  • Increase click-through rate — By having keywords in the URL, it can help the user know what kind of content they might find on that page, thus making it more likely they will click on it:

How keywords at the beginning of the URL look in the search results.
How keywords at the beginning of the URL look in the search results. CREDIT: SCREENSHOT.

For a discussion of the benefits of using a keyword in your URL generally, click here.