A day or two ago I was pinged by a co-worker from my previous job. He wanted to know why, during its recent redesign, I didn’t include keywords in the URLs of the pages on a site I originally built a long, long time ago. I told him that there was no concrete evidence anywhere to support the theory that search engines give any weight to keywords in URLs. He then pointed me to an article at Search Engine Land that begins by stating that, “Keywords in the URL can help rankings,” and, “Hyphens are better than underscores when separating multiple words.”

Google hates underscores?!

First I noted that I don’t include keywords on this site, either, and it’s been doing just fine. Then I argued that I find it very, very hard to believe that Google (or any other search engine) has some sort of negative bias against the underscore character but that hyphens are just fine. So basically I completely disagree with the single piece of actual “advice” in the article.

Am I saying that it is wrong to include keywords in your URLs? No. I don’t think that at all. I just don’t think you should be stuffing keywords into your URLs in an effort to boost your pages’ rankings in search engine result pages. It makes great sense to use words in your URLs if you’re doing it to improve the usability of your site or to make it easier for people to link to your site. Unfortunately most site designers and blog engines — WordPress included — fail to effectively do this.

One of my favorite websites is Caroline on Crack. (I’m going to use her site as an example and I really, really hope that she doesn’t get mad at me for this.) Caroline uses WordPress to publish her blog and has chosen the option to create her URLs based on the date and title of her posts. That means that almost all of her posts have URLs that look like this:


This URL includes so much information that it’s effectively useless to a human being. It’s great for computers (and possibly search engines), but it’s nothing that you or I could remember easily. It doesn’t seriously help all that much with navigation, either.

My biggest problem with websites that publish URLs like this, though, is that if you attempt to email someone a link to an individual page, you are almost guaranteed to fail. Most email clients truncate lines at 76 characters or so. The recipient will more often than not receive something like this in her inbox:


If you try to click the link above, you’re not going to go where I was trying to send you.

Now understand that this ain’t my first rodeo. I know when I send someone a link that’s too long that I need to use tinyurl to make it smaller. But (a) this is a pain in my ass and (b) hardly anyone else thinks to do this, so I am constantly receiving emails with truncated, broken links in them.

The URLs on my site are certainly not perfect. A link like “http://www.davidgagne.net/?p=6388” doesn’t convey any information at all, so — for the benefit of my human readers — I should certainly do something to improve it. But at least it’s easy to send to your friends. And as for Google rankings? Well, just wait a day or two and search for the title of this post. And don’t waste your money on search engine optimization companies. Remember that most of them are just guessing.