Google Answers whether or not stop words should be used in URLs

Google’s John Mueller answered a question about whether stop words should be used in the URLs. How do you feel about including stop words?

Mueller answered the reporter’s question, but he also discussed the importance of words used in URLs. He recommended that metadata should be created to identify the type of content a certain URL will lead to.

Background of Stop Words in Search

Understanding the use of stop words in URLs

In its early years, search engines propagated the views that these kinds of words were irrelevant for optimization.

Prior to the 2000s, stop words were neglected since search engines of the time did not understand what a page’s content was about and only identified keywords.

In Bill Slawski’s article, he claims that stop words are not as important as experts originally thought.

“Not too long ago, if you entered in Google the phrase (without quotation marks) “a room with a view,” you might have received some warnings that your query contained “Stopwords.”

In that search for “a room with a view,” you might have received results like “a room for a view,” or “room to view,” or other phrases that replaced some stop words with others. That made it less likely to find exactly what you were looking for when you searched for a phrase with stop words in it.”

In a different patent Bill discusses meaningful stop words, and argues that they represent a turning point in Google’s treatment of stop words.

This article discusses a patent that determines whether stop words are meaningful

The result of this patent is that stop words like “a” and “the” can be important to the meaning of a keyword phrase, but it is limited to just those two.

Google answer: Stop words are allowed in URLS

All about stop words, do they matter?

Stop Words in a URL

John Mueller paraphrased the question:

“In Short, when using words from a page title in the URL, should I include stopper words, too?

For example, should I call a page why-is-the-sky-blue.html or why-sky-blue.html?”

Mueller answered:

“Words in URLs only play a tiny role for Google Search.

I would recommend not overthinking it.

Use the URLs that can last over time, avoid changing them too often and try to make them useful for users.

Whether you include stop words in them or not, decide to use numeric IDs, that’s totally up to you.”

Importance of Stop Words in URL is Minimal

Mueller minimized the importance to Google of words in the URL, to the point that he said it didn’t matter if one uses numeric IDs in a URL.

That answer is similar to a Google Office hours hangout answer he gave back in 2016 (watch at the 17:57 minute mark).

Mueller said:

“I believe that’s a very small ranking factor, so it’s not something I’d really try to force.

And it’s not something where I’d say it’s even worth your effort to kind of restructure a site just so you can include keywords in the URL.”

Six years later, Mueller didn’t even mention whether words in URL were even a tiny ranking factor, he just said that they played a “tiny role for Google Search.”

Circling back to the use of stop words in the URL, Mueller said to make the URLs useful for users and that’s good advice.

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Google doesn’t show the URLs in the search results, so it doesn’t matter (for click through rate) if the URLs contain stop words or not because it won’t have an effect in any way.

It’s likely, in a context where a potential site visitor can see the URL, a URL that contains stop words that add meaningful context will look more natural than a URL that is missing those stop words and as a consequence may inspire more confidence and a higher click through rate.

Google’s own documentation on URLs list several rules to follow as a best practice.

  • “When possible, use readable words rather than long ID numbers in your URLs.
  • Localized words in the URL, if applicable.
  • Use UTF-8 encoding as necessary.”

Google also states that using hyphens helps the search engine understand concepts. Something to think about.

“Consider using hyphens to separate words in your URLs, as it helps users and search engines identify concepts in the URL more easily. We recommend that you use hyphens (-) instead of underscores (_) in your URLs.”

The guidelines also list things not to do:

  • Not recommended: Using non-ASCII characters in the URL
  • Not recommended: Unreadable, long ID numbers in the URL:
  • Not recommended: Keywords in the URL joined together:

There are many other recommendations and warnings about URLs on that Google Search Central page, but nothing about stop words.

That’s probably not an oversight, it may be an indicator that maybe it’s a consideration that is trivial in the bigger scheme of things.

Ultimately, as John Mueller said, “that’s totally up to you.”

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