The answer to the question “are keywords in URLs used for ranking” is a definite maybe.
There actually isn’t a definitive yes or no for this one—and that's what makes it interesting. It can be difficult to determine whether or not Google uses keywords from the URL as a ranking signal, because there are other factors that could come into play here. Some people seem convinced that identifying keyword terms in your page’s URL will positively affect rankings, but others aren't so sure. Here are some of the most important factors you should consider when trying to determine how much weight Google might give keywords appearing in your URL:
1) Keywords need context
First and foremost, you have to understand why Google might choose to ignore the keywords in your URL, and that comes down to context. Think about it: if you type in a search like “Britney Spears” into Google, the page with the keyword “Britney” in its URL is probably not going to rank #1 for that search—because there are hundreds of pages on the entire web with these two words somewhere near each other! In order to rank well for a search query, Google has to find a reason or sign of authority beyond just having these two words next to each other.
Therefore, from Google's point of view, keywords alone won't guarantee top rankings—context does. If you're trying to identify a keyword within a URL because you think will help you rank better, make sure your content is useful and relevant for that topic.
2) Keywords in the URL could be a sign of spam
Another important thing to keep in mind is whether or not Google might choose to ignore keywords in the URL because they believe it's an indicator of spam. If there are some obvious keyword stuffing techniques involved—like using lots of keywords with little to no context—Google might devalue that page or site before even looking at what it's trying to accomplish.
3) Placement matters, too
If people searching online were only concerned with seeing results #1-10 on SERPs, then this would probably be an easy question to answer: yes, having keywords in your URL will help you rank higher in Google. However, this question gets a little more complicated when you consider rankings in search results overall.
When you consider the fact that people don't only click SERP listings in position #1, but also #2-10 and beyond—and that Google shows snippets from web pages above these listings—then it becomes clear just how many factors come into play when determining where a page will rank for a given search phrase. In addition to looking at keywords in the URL for signs of authority, Google might look at what site is linking back to your site, the content on the page itself, and whether or not it's satisfying users' needs based on their search queries.
Therefore, "how much weight" keyword-containing URLs can have in search rankings is going to vary from page-to-page, and "how much weight" a given page should be given for a specific keyword phrase depends on a lot of other factors as well.
In general, though, you probably shouldn't obsess over keywords in the URL as your only SEO strategy—especially if those keywords are stuffed with irrelevant content or spammy links. While having keywords in your URL might help improve your site's authority and offer some clues as to what kind of content you're publishing, it's only one tool among many that Google uses to rank pages.
That said, there definitely may be times when the presence of certain terms within a page’s URLs can positively affect its placement – especially when those keywords are highly relevant to the page’s content. The bottom line is that you should experiment, test and re-test your approach to determine what works best for you.
According to this article on Moz, "It seems like Google often displays URLs without any kind of editorial discretion over them" ( https://moz.com/blog/keywords-in-url ). Furthermore, it's an accepted truth in SEO circles that there needs to be real content on the page ranking for those keywords first; otherwise it can look like spam or mistake a keyword phrase for spam if the URL doesn't make sense contextually with regards to the page itself (e.g., www.example.com?startatthebeginningofmyarticle ). Additionally, according to the Local Search Ranking Factors Study by Whitespark in 2013, one factor that differentiates a page with high rankings from a page with low rankings is the presence of keywords in the URL. The study found that "pages ranking at #1 have twice as many search terms in their URLs than pages ranked between 6-10" (see slides 11 and 12).
Whitespark also cites Moz's article above, which states "Google has said directly on several occasions that it ignores words contained in the URL when calculating keyword relevance."
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