URLs, or web addresses, play a huge role in SEO. Along with your title tags, your meta descriptions and your content, URLs serve to tell search engines what your page is about. Vital to on-site optimisation, URLs should be unique, keyword focused, and as short as possible.
Digital marketers have always approached URLs as tools for helping search engines to index their sites, and ensuring that they rank for their chosen keywords. However, a certain content giant has discovered, quite by accident, a method of using URLs to encourage the sharing of content across social media.
It’s called the “social URL”, and we have BuzzFeed to thank for this neat little trick.
What Is a Social URL?
Most of the time, URLs are automatically generated using the first few words contained in a page’s title tag. However, many online content management systems allow you to edit your URLs, and BuzzFeed writers have started using this feature to their advantage.
Talking to Digiday, BuzzFeed’s editorial director Jack Shepherd said that their writers are encouraged to disregard SEO.
“If you get too focused on search, you end up writing a headline for a robot. The bottom line for us is sharing and creating something that’s engaging enough.”
What Does a Social URL Look Like?
Digiday has outlined a few examples below:
A social URL functions a little bit like a clickbait headline. But rather than creating a curiosity gap, that awful feeling that this content cannot be missed; it is instead subtly suggested that this content might be of interest to you.
Clever puns, teasing hints and enticing nuggets: social URLs add another layer, a further opportunity to attract the attention of potential readers.
“It has a bit of an Easter egg quality,” said Shepherd. “It’s not something people immediately notice. It’s more fun for the reader, it’s more fun for the writers, and it can often make the post more shareable.”
Yes, the above pages will suffer in search engine rankings, but BuzzFeed has mastered viral content. So long as their posts are shared across social media, they couldn’t care less about search traffic. Though they’re not currently measuring the effectiveness of social URLs, some 75% of their traffic is already derived from social sharing. They’re therefore free to experiment. They have nothing to fear from poor Google rankings.
Should this tactic be immediately adopted by everyone? By no means. PPC landing pages, and the core pages of your website, should still be optimised for the search engines. But if you maintain a blog, social URLs may provide an effective means of spreading your brand message across social media channels.
However, given that the technique is still quite new, and given that there is currently no data to measure its effectiveness, it is not yet possible to advise on best practice, or to deduce just what makes for a “good” social URL link.
But experiment, by all means. People are increasingly accessing content through their social feeds, and the social URL may yet prove to be an irresistible tactic for selling a story.