The answer is, it depends who you ask. There are two very solid “camps” for this one, and each camp have a way of making you feel fearful by not believing them.
One point of definition: a clean URL is one that only contains keywords and is missing any of the traditional calls to the server including “?”, “&” and other funky characters.
and this example of a clean URL:
Camp 1 – Clean URL is a MUST
As a result of years of people caring about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), this camp has the highest number of sleeping bags, and for good reason. Up until recently, Google and others were unable to index pages correctly that contained “?” or “&” in the URL, so it would absolutely hurt your chances of being found through their services. There are still many who feel this is a crucial element (even though not required by the search engines any longer) but the reasons are varied.
Some feel that the keyword richness in the URL is important, while there are others who believe it’s the marketing effect of being able to use words rather than clunky links that is making the difference. For many it’s just a preference thing. Either way, the game has changed now that the primary search engines can and index every type of URL.
Camp 2 – You can still achieve a high ranking regardless
This camp believes that because the “?” can now be read by the search engines, it really doesn’t matter as long as the page itself is optimized correctly. This camp is growing. The reality is, however, that changing the URL to be clean is a fairly simple process if you have access to the server, so this argument is quickly going away. For those who don’t have that type of access, fear not, there are a growing number of sites in the same situation and are still able to achieve high rankings.
There are a few facts that will absolutely help your SEO ranking as it pertains to URL:
- The more your domain name reflects your site, cause and message, the better. For instance, if your organization is about fighting hunger, it should have those primary keywords in the name if possible.
- If you have dynamic URLs with a lot of “?” and “&” in them, ensure that the page name itself is set in such a way to help you out. For instance, most sites with dynamic URLs will have something like www.yourdomain.org/?p=234jhfudfhjdhfduhu&id=45&n=home.html. So you see there is a page called “home.html” that is named in the system. Make sure that is something a bit more sympathetic to your keywords so even though there are a lot of characters in the URL, there are some juicy keywords Google and others can latch on to.
- Make sure to register your domain for greater than 3 years. If you just renew year-to-year, even with a domain that’s been around a while, there is a fear the search engines will think the site is dying or not as trustworthy.
In general, it seems the preference is clean URLs. They are easier to say, they print better for other marketing efforts, they seem a bit more “real” than just a link with a bunch of characters and numbers, and the search engines have a better history with them. The good news, however, is everyone has a fair shot now.
Remember, as well, this is only one of the MANY factors affecting your SEO ranking.