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URL Structure: The Closer to the Root – the Better?

Does it matter to Google if the specified page is in the root folder or deeper? This question has been popping up for ages and let’s discuss all possible angles of it.

1. The page physical location hardly matters

Though it is often speculated Google likes root folders more, it is more about the "visibility" of the page and proper interlinking than its actual location. Any page linked to repeatedly and consistently throughout the site will be found, indexed and ranked just fine.

Quoting WebmasterWorld thread,

For many sites today, the url is only a dynamic and virtual representation of the site structure and there are no "real" folders – so a search engine will not find a valuable signal if it looks at things like presence or absence of directories.

A quick example indirectly proving this point is that for many years Google was recommending using numbers in the end of the file path to get accepted to Google news (which is no longer true btw). This /XXXXX/ part could possibly look like separate folder and it would be weird if Google advised to have it and used it as a dampening ranking factor in general search.

Important note: it is speculated that Google may be using "URL stripping" (i.e. dropping the file path to discover and crawl the folder), so if you are using "virtual folder" which returns no content or 404 status code when queried directly, this may result in extra crawl errors. In this case the file location relative to the root may matter to some extent.

What does matter is the URL length:

Extra folders may make your URLs look much longer and this may be not really good in some cases.

User experience:

  • User browsers can handle very long URLs: Microsoft Internet Explorer, for example, has a maximum uniform resource locator (URL) length of 2,083 characters.
  • Users hardly pay attention to the URL in the browser address bar but shorter URLs do occasionally enhance user experience: for example, they are easier to remember and can improve the direct type-in traffic

This is called "intuitive URIs" when you can just type /your-word after the root and end up where you need to be.

Google:

  • Best SEO URL practice: it is recommended to have no more than 3-5 words in the file path (note: this is not really about the whole URL but the actual file path after the last / in the URL but should be mentioned anyway as it indirectly demonstrates Google’s overall treatment of the URL length):

    According to Google’s Matt Cutts if there are more than 5 words…

[Google] algorithms typically will just weight those words less and just not give you as much credit.”

  • Click-through: this research shows that short URLs within Google SERPs get clicked twice as often as long ones. Besides, longer URLs are cut off in Google SERPs – so the end user can’t see where he is going to land, this should be decreasing the click-through immensely.
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Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing, tutorials and her guest blogging project, MyBlogGuest.com.
f8d69258525dec38624a29eb3d570d8c 64 URL Structure: The Closer to the Root   the Better?

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11 thoughts on “URL Structure: The Closer to the Root – the Better?

  1. Yeah , thats true..Short urls will increase the user experience.Maintaining short paths helps us to edit the site pages or site navigation in much easier fashion.

  2. Great topic, Ann. Also a great vindication of my recent moves from blog.cre8asite.net/bwelford/ to bpwrap.com and strategicmarketingmontreal.ca to smmbc.ca

  3. I strongly believe in this: “it is more about the “visibility” of the page and proper interlinking than its actual location.”

    - “if you are using “virtual folder” which returns no content or 404 status code when queried directly”
    nice point, but it would probably show up in Webmasters Tools report, at least, it would be fair.

    @Michael Martinez: good point. And considering “longer URLs are cut off in Google SERPs”, maybe the algorithms are showing the words that matter in the URL, no matter how long they are. Besides, this is my general feeling, as I often see this happening through search results. Anyone else too?

    oh! great post, Ann! =)

  4. I strongly believe that URL path matters to Google. As Frank said, Google is showing just what matters into their snippet. It looks that Google is just showing us that the URL size don’t matter too much, but you should care to give users an easy way to remember your URL (increasing CTR).

  5. Nice pictures, indeed ! The Searchenginejournal spammed by a blogspot spammer : ). URLs are a mess to deal with. Especially within the case of a multilingual website, where different translations of the contents should be accessed form different domains — and should be indexed with different URL translations… Do anyone know any reliable ressource on these cases ?

  6. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.