A few weeks ago, I was reading through some posts on the official Google blogs, such as InsideSearch, WebmasterCentral, and the GoogleBlog. I was taking notes and sharing a few links via the Tweeters, and while doing such I noticed a link like this:
I did some more poking around and came across more URLs like this, such as:
What was going on?
Of course, I kept digging. I found more and more and more examples of these URLs. “Why are they doing this, and what’s the average length?” I thought to myself.
I did a bit of number crunching and here is what I found:
The longest URL I found: Create and manage Custom Search Engines from within Webmaster Tools with 95 characters
The shortest URL I found: Gmail’s new look at 59 characters
The average length for Webmaster Central: 90 characters
The average length for GoogleBlog: 76 characters
The average length for InsideSearch: 81 characters
Why would Google do this?
I have a couple of thoughts as to why Google is cutting off their URL before the whole title is finished. Here they are.
Too long of URL could be a negative ranking factor
SEO best practices have often been that you should have title tags shorter than 77 characters, which is what the search engines have historically shown. What I am finding nowadays is more along the lines of 62-67 characters. That being said, Cyrus has an interesting Whiteboard Friday about tests with title tags where he found that a really long title correlated with higher rankings in some cases, but not others.
Here is an example I found of a title tag that is uber long, yet I cannot find it ranking. Here’s the URL:
I searched for “we are just doing this to be stupid now” and “it still looks kind of neat in the browser even though”, which are both in the URL. The post isn’t found on the first page. And obviously these are not competitive terms!
Here’s another. This post from The Blaze has this URL:
Yet it does not rank for the query of “kansas city star complains about the lack of response to”.
I suspect that URL length could be a negative ranking factor if you are stuffing your URLs with a lot of keywords. At least, I’d hope this is so, since otherwise we’d have the new version of meta keywords stuffing. Yikes.
At first I wondered if there was a technical limitation, but according to this old Webmaster World forum discussion, the maximum was in the 2,000+ character realm for points at which the search engines had trouble. Of course that was 2007, so take it with a grain of salt.
URL length affects usability
The next argument I could think of for shorter URL, just like shorter title tags, is usability/linkability. If your URL is 500 or more characters long, people will probably be less inclined to share it. With today’s more widespread use of URL shorteners such as bit.ly, this may be less of a consideration, yet still a valid one.
I’m interested if anyone has insights into this. Personally, I think it is best to keep URLs shorter rather than longer for shareability reasons and because of the possible negative correlation with rankings. Since the Google blogs are between 76-90 characters on average, I’d shoot for that range.
If you use WordPress, maybe you should use the SEO Slugs plugin.
I’d be interested to see, though, if anyone else has tested or has any more ideas.