Why does changing site URLs have more impact than you think?

Our latest blog post takes a look at some recent commentary that has been provided around the concept of changing URLs, how Google processes these and whether this has an ultimate impact to a website. A recent video has been released by Google on this very subject, and we’ll now take a closer look at what it all means.

The question

The topic came about because someone posed a question that they were currently going through a site migration and wanted to restructure their URLs on the new site. They asked whether this was good practice and whether any risks or penalties could potentially apply to the new site.

The answer

Google has confirmed the view that has previously been implied, that changing URLs is not a quick and instantly digestible alteration. If the changes are done correctly and for the right reasons, there is an indication that it could take a number of months to process these changes. That immediately tells a number of things:

(1) It is something you should be doing as infrequently as possible,

(2) If it does need to be done, care should be taken to make sure that all changes are made at the same time, and these are comprehensive changes, to avoid the need to go back and cause further disturbance.

To many people – perhaps not familiar with websites or SEO, altering a URL address seems like a very small and minor change. The problem is that as far as web addresses are concerned, Google stores these on an individual page basis. The moment that URL is changed, everything associated with it (be that links, or other factors) need to be transferred to the new page. If this is happening with multiple pages or a complete website, it can take a lot of time to sort through, not to mention everyone else who is doing it and waiting for the same result.

Points to remember

When thinking about undertaking a task such as this, it might be helpful to look at the Google site move documentation, which gives tips and best practices to make this process a smooth transition. This document (whilst a little old,) only previously implied that changing URLs was a complex process by its wording and action points. The difference now is Google have actually been directly quoted as saying so.

The site move documentation tells users to: do research on the process, plan the changes accordingly, make sure a list of old and new URLs are kept for comparison purposes or if any alterations are needed, and ensure that 301 redirects are kept in place for sufficient time.

What is the ultimate thing to keep in mind?

Changing a site’s URL (especially multiple pages or a compete website) will have an impact on ranking signals and factors – even if this is only a temporary or transitory effect. In this, the point is proved that it will have more impact than most people think, and Google have now expressly mentioned so too. That is why it is so important to not only make sure you get the timing right, but also to ensure that someone with sufficient knowledge or experience handles the process, so any hard work in building up positive credentials attached to those URLs are maintained, and not completely lost when a new web URL is selected.

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