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I'm working with a site that has millions of pages along the lines of:

domain.com/entity/John_Smith
domain.com/entity/Google
domain.com/entity/HTML

One of the problems is that particularly for people names, there are lots of duplicates, so we end up with

domain.com/entity/John_Smith
domain.com/entity/John_Smith_(explorer)
domain.com/entity/John_Smith_(politician)

We instead want to move to a url scheme (much like StackExchange) like:

domain.com/entity/1234/John_Smith (where 1234 is a unique ID).

I assume that if we:

  • put in 301 redirects from every old page to new page
  • updated our sitemap with the new urls

then we'll be pretty much covered. But could there be any short-term SEO implications that we should expect? (Dips in traffic, etc.?) Are there any pieces of this puzzle that we're missing?

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There is a risk with URL changes of SEO problems, ranking loss, and traffic declines. When correctly implemented with 301 redirects, it can go perfectly fine, but it doesn't always do so.

I recommend changing URLs only when there is an overwhelming need. If you do want to change URLs you should consider gentler changes as well:

  • Chang the URL structure only for new URLs. Leave the old URLs grandfathered at their old locations.
  • Or change the URLs slowly over time in batches.
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If you correctly put in 301 redirects and update your sitemap, the site will be fine. However...

What are you trying to gain from this change?

The Stack Exchange-style hierarchy doesn't make sense for what it seems you're trying to accomplish (a Wikipedia-style website?). What you currently have makes more sense in terms of organizing the information:

domain.com/entity/John_Smith
domain.com/entity/John_Smith_(explorer)
domain.com/entity/John_Smith_(politician)

That's a fair amount of work for no apparent benefit.

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  • The immediate case is that we have some data sources where we know someone's name, but we don't necessarily have enough information to append something like (explorer) or (politician) without a ton of work. Right now we'd have to do something like John_Smith_(1) or John_Smith_(2) until we figured it out, which is a pretty bad user experience on our site. – Jed Christiansen Jan 7 at 18:53
  • I would actually pay more attention to the titles then to URLs. When you think about it, there's a bunch of commerce website dealing with similar issues all the time with IDs, and it's working perfectly fine. – Mnea Jan 7 at 20:22
  • @JedChristiansen What makes /John_Smith_1 or /John_Smith_2 any worse than /72543425/John_Smith or /25357443/John_Smith in terms of user experience? If the latter makes development easier, then I'd understand the case. I can't make any strong recommendation in good faith without understanding the purpose of the site. – Warren Halderman Jan 8 at 2:20
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    My feeling is that most users don't look at URLs, and search engines wouldn't care either way. I'd worry that you're spending time on a non-issue, and adding complexity (URL changes, redirects) that can break. – John Mueller Jan 8 at 8:09
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    @JohnMueller Agreed. P.S. I know it's more Gary's thing, but if you're ever at Google Japan, I'd like to buy you dinner for all the help you've provided me and the community ;) – Warren Halderman Jan 8 at 8:59

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