As I always write on this SEO blog, I am not the world’s foremost expert on search-engine marketing — I am not perfect, by any measure. Rather, I take what I have learned from the giants in the field and then tell what I learn from my practical applications of their theories. In this essay, I wish to tell my readers one thing that I have learned not to do in regards to optimizing search-engine optimization domain names.
In a prior post on how I had optimized SEO URLs for this blog, I discussed how it is better to simplify URLs and include keywords in a way that minimizes useless “junk” that Google does not want — or need — to read. Here is an excerpt:
I exported my initial XML sitemap (through a WordPress XML Sitemap plug-in) and then exported it into an Excel spreadsheet (see the left column). Then, I rewrote all the blog-post URLs (see the right column):
Next, I used the Redirection WordPress plug-in to create 301 redirects — the type of redirect that, as I am sure you know, passes PageRank or so-called “Link Juice” — from the old URLs to the new ones. It was just a two-copies-and-pastes job per URL. (If you have an extremely large website, you might want to put a cup of coffee on.) Then, I rebuilt the XML sitemap manually and resubmitted it in Google Webmaster Tools for a quick re-indexing of the new URLs. Ta-da!
From a simplistic, objective standpoint, such a change should have increased the SERPs for my blog posts in regards to the search-marketing keywords that they were targeting. After all, since Google reads code left-to-right, items including meta titles, URLs, and lines of code are better (or, “optimized”) when the targeted keyword is closer to the left. So, it is better to have URLs that are as short and simple as possible. This is logical.
But, as I found out, life is rarely that simple — even in online marketing. One month after I changed the URLs and implemented the 301 redirects, I found that nearly all of the SERPs for my blog-posts and keywords had dramatically declined. Here is an excerpt (click to expand the image) — the columns from the far-right to the third from the right show the timeline and progression:
So, what happened? Now, I understand — and I can tell everyone else so that all of you do not make the same mistake. I had focused so much on so-called “old-school” SEO that I had forgotten about the “new-school” aspects. Namely, social media. As I wrote in prior posts, an important part of SEO-page optimization is the effect of social-media today:
The reason should be clear to anyone who has worked in Internet marketing: Google has had to stay one step ahead of spammers and people who use black-hat SEO software. After people began stuffing keywords into pages, Google switched to preferring links as a sign of authoritativeness. After people began to obtain junk backlinks through tactics including directories and blog spamming, Google had to look elsewhere — and that will likely be quality content and social-media sharing.
What is the practical aspect? Well, here is a personal example. As you see on this blog and countless others, anyone who knows anything about inbound marketing will add social-media sharing buttons to blog posts and web pages in general. Here is just one example:
Every time that a blog post or web page is shared, “liked,” re-tweeted, or re-posted, that action sends a signal to search engines that an actual human being found that item to be valuable and quality content. (Unlike a backlink — which, for actions that I described above, can be faked.) However, because of the technical limitations of social media at the moment, these buttons and signals are dependent upon specific URLs.
Say this website has a blog post located at:
The social-media signals will reflect only and exactly that which was shared from that exact URL. Once I change the URL for the SEO purposes described earlier, then the URL will change to something like:
As a result, all of the social-media buttons will change to zero shares, “likes,” re-tweets and so on (as I can confirm) because nothing at that specific URL has been shared. So, search engines will read that nothing at that (new) URL was valuable enough to share — and thereby, its search-engine ranking will suffer. As my table of SERPs above reveal, this is the only possible reason that the rankings for my blog posts declined so much despite the facts that the content had not changed and the 301 redirects ensured that backlink “link juice” would be passed along.
The takeaway: 301 redirects pass “link juice” from backlinks, but they do not pass along what I call “social-media link-juice.” If you change the URL of a web page or blog post, you will lose all of the social-media linkage going to that place.
What this means is that while it may be a good idea to optimize the URLs of a new or revamped website, it is important to remember the negative side as far a social-media sharing. If you have a decent amount of shares and re-tweets, I can tell you that will almost surely lose rankings, at least in the short term. I cannot state whether the rankings will return anytime soon — I am trying to determine that myself.
Related: See a prior post for tips on optimizing a search-engine optimization URL.
Samuel J. Scott, a former journalist in Boston turned Internet marketer in Israel, is the founder and publisher of My SEO Software and Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader at The Cline Group. You can follow him at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. His views here and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of his company and clients.