Google’s John Mueller answered a question about whether stop words should be used in the URLs.
Mueller answered the question but also discussed the impact of words in URLs and recommended how to approach what words are used in URLs.
Background of Stop Words in Search
Stop Words are common words like “a”, “and”, and “the.”
In the early days of search, those kinds of words used to not be considered important for SEO because they weren’t considered important for search engines.
As I recall, in the early 2000s, stop words were not considered important because search engines of the time didn’t actually understand what a page is about. They worked by identifying what keywords a page was relevant for, with stop words being generally disregarded.
Bill Slawski alluded to this lack of importance of stop words in an article from 2008 (New Google Approach to Indexing and Stopwords)
“Not too long ago, if you entered in Google the phrase (without quotation marks) “a room with a view,” you might have received some warnings that your query contained “Stopwords.”
In that search for “a room with a view,” you might have received results like “a room for a view,” or “room to view,” or other phrases that replaced some stop words with others. That made it less likely to find exactly what you were looking for when you searched for a phrase with stop words in it.”
Later that year Bill wrote about a different patent that discusses meaningful stop words, and that could be considered a turning point in how Google handled stop words in search queries and on webpage content.
His article discussed a patent that determined whether the stop word was meaningful.
The result is that sometimes stop words like “a” and “the” were considered important to the meaning of keyword phrases, but this patent, like the previous patent Bill discussed, was limited to stop words in the content and in search queries.
The patents didn’t even bother with stop words in the URL.
So, do stop words matter when they’re in a URL?
Stop Words in a URL
John Mueller paraphrased the question:
“In Short, when using words from a page title in the URL, should I include stopper words, too?
For example, should I call a page why-is-the-sky-blue.html or why-sky-blue.html?”
“Words in URLs only play a tiny role for Google Search.
I would recommend not overthinking it.
Use the URLs that can last over time, avoid changing them too often and try to make them useful for users.
Whether you include stop words in them or not, decide to use numeric IDs, that’s totally up to you.”
Importance of Stop Words in URL is Minimal
Mueller minimized the importance to Google of words in the URL, to the point that he said it didn’t matter if one uses numeric IDs in a URL.
A numeric ID is a URL file name that doesn’t have any words, like /article-id-12345.
That answer is similar to a Google Office hours hangout answer he gave back in 2016 (watch at the 17:57 minute mark).
“I believe that’s a very small ranking factor, so it’s not something I’d really try to force.
And it’s not something where I’d say it’s even worth your effort to kind of restructure a site just so you can include keywords in the URL.”
Six years later, Mueller didn’t even mention whether words in URL were even a tiny ranking factor, he just said that they played a “tiny role for Google Search.”
Circling back to the use of stop words in the URL, Mueller said to make the URLs useful for users and that’s good advice.
Google doesn’t show the URLs in the search results, so it doesn’t matter (for click through rate) if the URLs contain stop words or not because it won’t have an effect in any way.
It’s likely, in a context where a potential site visitor can see the URL, a URL that contains stop words that add meaningful context will look more natural than a URL that is missing those stop words and as a consequence may inspire more confidence and a higher click through rate.
Google’s own documentation on URLs list several rules to follow as a best practice.
- “When possible, use readable words rather than long ID numbers in your URLs.
- Localized words in the URL, if applicable.
- Use UTF-8 encoding as necessary.”
Google also states that using hyphens helps the search engine understand concepts. Something to think about.
“Consider using hyphens to separate words in your URLs, as it helps users and search engines identify concepts in the URL more easily. We recommend that you use hyphens (-) instead of underscores (_) in your URLs.”
The guidelines also list things not to do:
- Not recommended: Using non-ASCII characters in the URL
- Not recommended: Unreadable, long ID numbers in the URL:
- Not recommended: Keywords in the URL joined together:
There are many other recommendations and warnings about URLs on that Google Search Central page, but nothing about stop words.
That’s probably not an oversight, it may be an indicator that maybe it’s a consideration that is trivial in the bigger scheme of things.
Ultimately, as John Mueller said, “that’s totally up to you.”
Watch John Mueller answer the question at the 7:50 minute mark
Featured image by Shutterstock/Khosro