One of the things that I see come up quite a lot within SEO industry, is questions around URL structure and site architecture. In particular, people often ask about how they should structure their URLs for the best possible results (from a ranking perspective).
There’s a common misconception that simply having shorter URLs will help you rank better. This isn’t the case. You could have an extremely long URL and it still has a strong potential to rank assuming everything else is equal.
Where this misconception stems from is the idea that having a page URL live as close to the domain root as possible (i.e. domain.com/page-url vs `domain.com/folder/page-url`) will pass more authority to the URL. This is not the case. I hear the words PageRank, URL structure and architecture often all in the same sentence as if they’re one thing but, while they’re related, they’re not the same.
Click depth is an important concept to understand and it relates to the number of clicks it takes to reach a page from the homepage (taking the shortest path, that is). So, if a page has a link from the homepage, it’s got the shortest possible click depth, which is good if you want to make it as easy as possible to crawl, and (assuming it’s also linked to from other pages) push as much authority to it as possible.
If you have a page that sits 10 layers deep in your site architecture, that means it takes 10 clicks to finally reach a page on your site when starting at the homepage (again, assuming you reach it in the shortest number of clicks possible). Now, you could reduce that click depth to be just one layer deep by adding a homepage link to it, or you could put it 2 layers deep by adding a link from a page that is directly linked to by the homepage (see how this works?). Each of these reductions in click depth will help with that page’s ability to be crawled and likely ranked (as it is getting more internal links from pages near the top of your site’s architecture, which are usually the most authoritative).
Here’s where the mix-up happens in relation to URL structure… if you have the following URL: domain.com/folder/folder/folder/page-url and you were worried that it was sitting quite deep in your architecture, so you decide that the way to solve this is by changing the URL to domain.com/page-url and then 301 redirect the old page to the new, well, this is wrong. Also, if you assumed that the original page sits deep in the architecture purely because it lives off of a few subdirectories, well, this is also wrong.
I could have the following URL, domain.com/folder/folder/folder/folder/folder/folder/page-url and if it has a single internal link from the homepage, it sits at the top of the site architecture. It’s nothing to do with the URL.
So, why do we care about URL length and structure? There are lots of reasons, but if I had to distill them down into a few buckets, it would be as follows:
1. Content Grouping for Analysis: having a load of related content live within one subdirectory can be really useful if you want to do a bulk analysis of all the content together within your analytics platform. For example, if all my product pages live in /products/ then I can easily do a regex query to grab analytics data on all URLs with this subdirectory in the URL.
2. Content Grouping for Crawling: this is more for larger sites but it can also be useful to group large amounts of related content together in one subdirectory (or subdomain) so that you are indicating to Google et al. that all of this content is related and that it could be crawled in a similar way. Google often uses sites sections to help shape its crawl behavior, so this can be useful. It’s also just much cleaner this way and you could build out site-section sitemaps etc. much easier.
3. Shorter URLs are more Readable: having a URL that you need to scroll to the right in your browser for half an hour just to read is not ideal. If you want someone to remember a URL, it’s much easier for it to be shorter. Shorter URLs are typically (not always) shared more – this is often why vanity URLs are used.
Anyway, I hope this helps. I wanted to write something more comprehensive up to dig into this a little so it can be a reference point for any future questions on this. Also, if you have Qs, drop them in the thread and I’ll do my best to answer them.