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What happens when you change WordPress’ URL structure? Will it kill SEO?

Earlier this year I switched all my WordPress URLs (aka permalinks) from date based to ID and post names. Since then I haven’t seen any negative effects from search engines when it comes to the amount of referral traffic.

The Background

Now, when a blog is set up, the URL structure is defined. If you don’t really know what you’re doing, then you probably don’t think twice about the URL structure. I sure didn’t when I setup my blog in 2004. However, years later, I realized that I hated having the month and day in the URL and I wanted to change it to be shorter and cleaner.

The hardest thing I had to do was convince myself that it was OK. All I could think about is how search engines would take the change. I do SEO for a living and I’m pre-programmed to never change a URL unless absolutely necessary. It’s just not a good idea. But, if it’s going to change, then 301 redirects need to be setup on a page by page basis. Now, with thousands of posts, creating thousands of redirects wasn’t my idea of a good time. However I really wanted to change the URL structure.

Then one day, my host setup code to block Google from one of the site on the shared server. Unfortunately, they did it wrong and blocked all sites on the server. Oops. When that happened my traffic tanked.

The bright side to the issue is that it was what I needed to convince myself to change the URLs. Why not? Google had already stopped sending traffic to my site. How much worse could it get?

Another big determining factor is the fact that WordPress creates all the 301 redirects for me. It’s smart enough to take an invalid URL, find the valid one and redirect in a way that is search engine friendly. Perfect! Ok, so it wasn’t perfect. There were some conflicts with pages and posts when they had similar names, but I think I created 10 manual redirects overall which wasn’t bad.

So what happened?

It turns out that it didn’t matter what my URL structure was. As long as I had the redirects setup, search engines didn’t care. They interpreted the redirects, and kept sending me traffic just as they had done before. I had done all that worrying for nothing.

What about rankings?

To be honest, I don’t track rankings on my site. I’m more concerned with how much traffic I’m getting not where my site is ranking. However, I’d assume that if my rankings dropped off, so would my traffic; and that didn’t happen. I can’t say for sure, but my instinct says everything is ok.

Just do it.

The most important thing to do on your blog is make yourself, and your visitors, happy. If that means re-configuring the URLs, do it. Just make sure the redirects get setup. We shouldn’t bow down to the all mighty Google, even though you know we all do. 🙂

In my experience, changing the URL structure had no negative effect. I’m happier, search engines are just the same as ever, and I spent a lot of time worrying about nothing.

Original photo credit: jmorgan.

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