One question I’m often asked by my clients is whether or not they’re allowed to change the URL of a specific webpage. It’s totally understandable for a non-SEO to want to change a bunch of URLs around, but it’s one of the worst things you can do for your website’s traffic. When you’re optimizing any given webpage, there are several places where you can change some of the wording around.
The page’s URL is NOT one of those places. But…why?
Any web page that brings you organic traffic is doing so because it has been indexed by Google. This basically means that Google has identified the exact URL of that web page has determined what that web page is about. The longer a web page is live, the more data Google can collect about user behaviour and search intent. When Google can clearly understand the purpose and intent of your web pages, it can better direct more traffic to that page.
Keep reading to learn why pages lose SEO value once you change their URL.
How to Change a Page’s URL Without Losing SEO
You can change the URL of any given page and keep the SEO value by using a 301 redirect. A 301 redirect tells search engines that a page URL has been permanently moved to a new URL. This will automatically redirect the webpage to the new URL while preserving the SEO value accrued since the URL has gone live.
Bear in mind that redirection does not preserve 100% of the SEO value. Any time a URL has to be redirected, it can lose nearly 20% of its value for every redirect “hop” it has to jump through. This is mostly due to the complicated data collection process that has to begin for every new URL indexed by Google.
How to Perform a 301 Redirect
301 redirects can be complicated if you’ve never had to do one. They typically require adding a line or two of code in your website’s htaccess file. If you’re using WordPress, then using an SEO plugin like RankMath or YoastSEO will provide you with a 301 redirection tool. Also look into reading Ahref’s guide that covers 301 redirects extensively.
Continue reading to learn about indexation and search data.
What Happens When You Change a Page URL
Changing an aged URL is no different than deleting that web page from the internet. To better understand what happens when you change a page’s URL, you need to understand what happens when you publish a new web page, and therefore, a new URL.
Getting a URL Indexed
When a new page is published and a new URL is created, Google has no idea that it exists. In order to get Google to discover the new URL, it needs to be accessible somewhere in your website’s navigation. This process is called indexation, and getting your URL indexed is crucial to ranking.
This can be done by putting a link to the new page in:
- your homepage
- any other existing, previously discovered (indexed) page.
- your site navigation
- a sidebar or widget
Every now and again, Google will re-scan your website and try to discover as many new webpages as possible. This is called “crawling”, and it is done as frequently as Google deems necessary. The time Google spends scanning your site is determined by your site’s crawl budget, which is only something you need to worry about if your website has at least a few thousand pages.
Alternatively, you can submit your new URL directly to Google using the Search Console tool. When you submit your URL to Google, it will check if the page is live, then will give you an option to request indexing. For any webpage that is critical to your SEO efforts, it is highly recommended to request indexation directly from Google.
Wait For Google to Start Collecting Search Data
Search data is what makes the SEO world go ’round. Your URL won’t see any traction until people actually use Google to search for the keywords you’re targeting. This data is entirely built from user behaviour.
Google looks at:
- How many different keywords are triggering your webpage to show up in search results
- The impressions your URL gets from search results
- Whether or not people are actually clicking your headline (click-through rate or CTR)
- What your current position (ranking) is in relation to your competitors (and all their search data)
Building Internal Links to Boost Relevance
Linking your webpages together is not just about helping Google to discover new pages. It can also be a powerhouse driver of relevance. Internal linking is almost like a cheating way to earn a backlink from your own website. Any time you need to boost up the ranking of another page, simply mention some key points from that article and link to it. Bonus points if you can optimize your anchor text efficiently. Some tools can even help you do internal linking without thinking too much about it.
If you’ve been doing some strong internal linking throughout your site, then changing a page URL will give you tons of broken links that need fixing. Not only do you wipe all the search data for that web page, you create a handful of crawling errors throughout your site.
Building Backlinks to Improve The Authority of a URL
Backlinks will point directly to the URL you’re trying to rank. If you lose that URL, you lose that backlink and all the benefit it was providing to your web page and your entire domain. Broken backlinks are also hurtful for the websites that were gracious enough to provide you with one. Don’t piss off other website owners by giving them SEO errors on their end.
Losing backlinks because of a URL change is one of the most expensive mistakes you can make for your website. A backlink offers relevance, authority, and adds to your domain’s overall authority and online presence.