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I'm targeting queries are in the form: "X Y for Z"

Website is very established (1M+ traffic), but the competitor with URLs /X-Y/for/Z got to the 1st place (we were a first place for years).

Our URLs are in the form /X-Y/something?A=Q&B=Z

Is it a good idea to rewrite our URLs to match a target query (to be same as competitors)? If we rewrite we will be using 301 permanent redirects for old URLs.

Or it is too risky to hurt rankings even more and a probablity to improve very low?

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  • I would suggest not to change the URL structure. It's very risky. Also double check if competition is above you for any other reason (features, content, speed, UI/UX) and work on that front rather than url. In case you decide to do the URL change, you may try it for couple of pages to see the impact and then proceed accordingly.
    – Aakash
    Apr 16 '16 at 19:44
  • You should never change URLS for search engines, only for users. If you want to do it for the later, or both then go ahead and use 301 redirects from OLD to new. Apr 16 '16 at 20:26
  • Besides the obvious checking the value of existing links and traffic from these links and whether you want to 301 any of them, this answer covers another consideration on how to structure the URI: webmasters.stackexchange.com/questions/74633/… I suspect it will help you to decide if a URI change is really necessary or how to change the URI.
    – closetnoc
    Apr 16 '16 at 22:06
  • #Aakash great point of trying with few URLs see the impact for them and then if positive change the others, implementation in my case is difficult/challenging since the content is from DB/software. The competetior has less features, content and speed but it is somewhat easier to navigate, the problem I cannot solve. Although, time on site, pages per visit according to Alexa ranking is on our side. Apr 17 '16 at 20:51
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Depends. Do external sites link to your URLs? Do people bookmark/favorite your URLs? Are you prepared to permanently set up 301 Redirects to the corresponding new URL? Do you get any kind of traffic from that? How does it convert?

Becuase the ruling factor in your "change URLs" decision should be that organic traffic. That type of traffic is far better qualified than any search result traffic could be. Searchers are tire kicking. Link followers are pre-sold. SEO pays the bull, it doesn't pay the bills. Conversions do that.

To get better SEO at the expense of better traffic is like having an electric car and trading it in for a gas car to reduce your electric bill.

If you just don't get organic traffic, that is, if your traffic is all-search, than this is not a factor.

Also, keyword stuffing URLs is malarkey. It doesn't work, and people only do it because everybody else does it. It's another example of crass, blatant SEO where ranking engineers simply turned the dial to remove its usefulness as soon as it started to affect testing.

I design URLs for the people who are pasting them into customer support emails, forums or tweets... Short enough not to be awkward but rich enough I can tell what the link is when I am pasting it into a customer support email. I.E. not

example.com/product?i=43101415

Obviously there'll be some keywords in there, but that's not the point.

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  • 1+ for keyword stuffing URLs is malarkey. I use stronger terms of course.
    – closetnoc
    Apr 16 '16 at 22:02
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Changing URLs is very risky. As your website is already established, it is dangerous. Your challenges would be

  1. Handling all the external links that leads to your site.
  2. Internal Links - Sometimes it is possible to overlook how the content is linked internally & How you can resolve.
  3. Is it OK if the traffic goes down suddenly? Because we cant quite tell how Google and Other search engines see the URL changes. If you don't execute well, you may be get penalized. Well, I am not sure about it but it is one possibility.

And I might have missed few more points in the list as well.

And finally, As suggested by the many other webmasters it is not good to take a decision on URLs. But there are many other soft ways to achieve top position.

Have you reviewed your on-page optimization? Can it be improved?

But if you really want to try, Try at database level. Try send some traffic to new URL format and check if it working or not first. Well, I never done such testing. It is just my idea.

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