If I asked you if there’s a difference between ‘www.mysite.com/products’ and ‘www.mysite.com/products/’ or indeed ‘www.mysite.com/hyphens_or_underlines_between_url’s’ and ‘www.mysite.com/hyphens-or-underlines-between-urls’ from a SEO perspective – you’d probably say ‘not much’ and you’d be quite right. The latter examples in both cases are what we might consider best practice and in some very competitive situations may make a slight difference to SEO – but its marginal.

So recently one of our clients was offered a SEO friendly update to his ecommerce site which, amongst other things, changed urls to have a trailing ‘/’ and also to replace underlines with hyphens. Knowing a little about SEO himself he suspected changing urls might change his ranking performance and bounced the question off us. ‘Jan is this a wise thing for us to do?’ He asked. ‘I thought changing urls, however slightly will impact my rankings?’
He’s right of course, it will (and has ) for others who decided to go for the ironically labelled SEO friendly upgrade.

So, dear reader, let me empahsise that if Google sees new urls you’re starting again from scratch building up the equity in that new page and your rankings – the old page equity is lost unless (you probably remember this) you do 301 redirects from the old to new url. Which, in this case, wasnt part of the SEO friendly upgrade.

You might ask how a major ecommerce vendor could foist a damaging upgrade on its customers who, incidentally in this case generates £4.5M per year from their website – and over half the sales are courtesy of Google natural rankings. I dont know the answer – I think its a bit like the banking disaster where such people as Sir Fred (knighted for services to banking) Goodwin sits in a ivory tower and has no conception of what havoc his underlings are creating. Its another example of the disconnect which exists between many ecommerce products and SEO.

I’ll give you a checklist a bit lower down so you can protect yourself from such practices, but here’s another example….

Recently I was invited to review a new ecommerce website. The company had a reasonable amount of success and wanted to create a new site with a new content managment system (CMS). In these cases I always do a thorough examination of the CMS to ensure its SEO compliant (Here’s a checklist for you so you know what to look for in a SEO COMPLIANT CMS).

Initially it all looked good, metadata was produced directly from product information and this metadata could then be tweaked, even SEO friendly urls were created directly for product information, so for example a product entered via the CMS such as ‘Blue widget model XYZ’ generated a url ‘www.yoursite.com/blue-widget-model-XYZ/, brilliant! But then, guess what? when you modified the product description a brand new url was generated! Exactly the same problem as mentioned above. How do these people get away with it?

It reminds me of a comment I heard at a SEO conference a couple of years back – ‘The more expensive a CMS and the larger the supplier it comes from the more likely it is to fuck up your SEO’.

I thought it an amusing quote at the time but unfortunately it reflects reality. So here’s a few reminders for you to ensure you protect yourself from such practices….

1. Dont change urls unless you really have to

2. If you do you must do 301 redirects from old to new pages to maintain your rankings

3. Choose your CMS with care – check it out thoroughly… here’s what you should be looking for…