Recently I noticed a difference in the way that the URLs of my blog posts were being generated and presented. Some of the ‘gubbins’ words such as “the” and “a” (I believe articles is the correct grammatical term) would be taken out when I generated a draft, so for example, for a post called “Why I Prefer A Full URL Slug”, instead of the URL being /why-i-prefer-a-full-url-slug/, it would be /why-prefer-full-url-slug/.
I checked my plugins, immediately suspecting that it was a change made to the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast (which is awesome, by the way). I couldn’t find anything related to it in its settings, so I let it go, manually ‘beefing out’ the URL each time I drafted a new post. However, a few weeks later, I checked Yoast SEO looking for another feature and came across this…
This feature of the plugin “helps you to create cleaner URLs by automatically removing the stopwords from them.”
In the words of the mighty Partridge: “A-HA!” Bingo. Unticked. Job done. All is well.
Here’s the thing though… It’s ticked as the default, suggesting that most people prefer it this way, and/or that it is the standard as far as SEO is concerned.
Always enjoying an opportunity to be controversial, I disagree!
1) Usability (or Readability)
Sometimes URLs are shared in their full, plain format (warts-n’-all, as I like to call it). So instead of posting a URL as Why Sharing The Source Is So Important… (i.e. with the title as the anchor text), it might be shared as http://seono.co.uk/2013/09/18/why-sharing-the-source-is-so-important/ instead. This is often the case in blog comments, forum threads, some old-school ‘Links’ pages, in emails and even on social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, especially if the URL box on those sites (if that’s what it’s called…?) doesn’t load the shared URL info properly, or it’s disabled/closed by the sharer.
Now then… For someone without access to the title, which one reads better?
The first one, right? Yes, it’s much longer, but you can see the full title there, albeit all lowercase and with dashes instead of spaces. But even so, it’s much easier to read compared to the clunky, doesn’t-even-make-sense shorter version.
So if someone’s sharing a URL of yours (and let’s face, we can’t help who shares something, where they share it and how they share it), if they share the warts-n’-all version, you want it looking its best…
2) Click-through rate(?)
Unfortunately I don’t have data to back this up and I can’t find any case studies that have tested it exactly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if out of the two above examples, all else being equal, the first one would receive a higher CTR than the second one from places like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. (especially if the URL box isn’t showing).
In this case study video, a “descriptive URL” is tested against a shortened URL (i.e. a bit.ly link) and the former “got more than 4 times the CTR.” I wonder if other factors play into that (e.g. the fact that people are becoming more and more sceptical of URL shorteners – what if the page behind it is dodgy?), but I wouldn’t be surprised if a full (albeit longer) URL has a CTR advantage over one that’s had all the article words taken out of it.
Might have to test that sometime…
I’d also argue that if its readability and CTR are improved then surely its ‘shareability’ is, too. After all, the more people who read an article, the more likely that they’ll share it.
And what does more sharing lead to? More social shares, more links… and therefore better SEO.
So what it boils down to is this… Which is better for SEO: fewer article words and therefore a shorter URL (with the important keywords more towards the front of the URL), or the additional links/shares you’d possibly get with a longer/full URL…?
I also wonder if Matt Cutts’ statement of ‘less words is better’ (which many of those articles that I’ve linked to above link to) has been taken out of context. Although the interviewer did mention blog posts titles as an example, Matt does say “if, at any time, somebody comes to your page… and finds 15 words all strung together like variants of the same word, then that does look like spam” (emphasis added). He was probably thinking of the kind of thing TMZ do (i.e. spam the URL slug with every keyword going) as opposed to removing the article words…
What do you reckon? Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to drop a comment below!
(Oh and if anyone has come across a case study of CTR with URL lengths of this nature then please share it!)
[Slug image credit: Michael Scott]