Ok, there’s been a lot of questions by the SEO community on whether or not using your keywords in your website file names actually has an affect on Google search engine rankings. Does it help your ranking? Does it hurt the ranking? Does Google even pay attention to the keywords in the file names? And actually, I was confused and wondering about it myself. So, I decided to do some testing of my own, with one of my own websites, http://xpirtdesign.com and I’ll tell you some interesting facts that I’ve found with my own experience.

Test #1:

Here are the results of the test that I did for index.html (homepage) file:

I renamed index.html to another filename using my top 2 keyphrases and seperated each individual word using hyphens. (before renaming the file, I was nowhere to be found on Google, at least not in the top 100 sites).

Next, I submitted my XML sitemap to google and waited for Google to re-crawl and index my new URL (the new filename).

After a few days or so, Google did find my new URL and did re-index the filenames. However, I was still nowhere to be found within the top 100 sites using my target key phrases and keywords.

After about a month or so of waiting, still no improvement on my Google rankings. (keep in mind that my site is also completely optimized, as far as on-page optimization goes).

I’ve concluded that after about 2 months of waiting, renaming the index file to a keyword did not have any affect on my rankings. But keep reading on, this gets interesting…

Test #2

The next thing I wanted to find out is whether or not renaming my filenames on my other subpages (about us, contact, services, ect) would have any affect on my Google rankings.

Before renaming my filenames, my sub pages did actually show up in the top 100 sites in Google for my target key phrases, at least a couple of em did. SO, I did the same thing as I did with the index.html file, and renamed the filenames using my keywords and phrases using hyphens as a seperator.

I resubmitted my XML sitemap to Google, then waiting to be reindexed. Oh and by the way, you need to do a 301 redirect to make sure there are no 404 errors on the old URLs. A few days later, Google re-indexes my new URL filenames.

I waited about a week or so to recheck my rankings in Google… But this time, my MAIN PAGE (index.html) zooms up to the first page of Google (#8 spot with about 500,000 competitors), out of nowhere! Remember now, my main page wasnt even in the top 100, or 600 for that matter.

But what about my sub pages?

Well I immediately checked my sub pages for ranking, and let me tell you, out of about 10 keywords and keyphrases (all over 400,000 competitors for each keyphrase) I am either ranking on the 1st page, 2nd page, or within the top 40 sites!!! These are the sub pages that are ranking, as well as my mainpage.

Another thing that I want to add is this:

When searching in Google, you will notice that the keywords are highlighted in the URL file name as well as the Title tag and content of the page. If Google doesnt take the filenames into account for relevancy, then why would they highlight, or bold, the keywords and phrases that are within the actual filename? WHY??? Google is obviously taking filenames into consideration.

Test #3:

So how do I know that this is no coincidence?

Well, I went ahead and renamed the file names back to the original names to start with. Within a week or so, every single one of my sub pages, and main page disappeared. They pretty much dropped off into Google Space somewhere.

OK. Back to square one. I repeated my previous steps again (renaming the files using keywords and hyphens and resubmitted the new URLS to Google). In about another couple of weeks, my pages showed up again! They didnt show up in the EXACT same order as before, but they did come back to the first 2 pages, and a couple of rankings on the 3rd and 4th pages. And again, google is using a new cache of my site with the new filenames in the URL.

My conclusion to the testing:

Now, my site is only 3 months old or so. I have a pagerank 1 on the mainpage and 4 other pages (resources pages). I have about 400 backlinks so far. So YES, I have lots of work to do with link popularity and all that. But the point here is this: Using your target keywords in your filenames seperated by hyphens helps your site to be seen by Google as more relevant for your given keywords than a filename using no keywords. This, I believe, is a fact.

Also, keep in mind that my mainpage remained “index.html.” My mainpage is comming up on the 1st and 2nd pages of my target keyphrases with probably means that my subpages (using keywords in the filenames) are actually helping my mainpage increase in rank. My mainpage did not show up on the rankings before using the keywords, the mainpage showed up when my subpages used the keywords, the mainpage dissappeared when I removed the keywords, then reappeared when I re-added the keywords!

As far as hyphens and spam go:

On some pages I used 2 hyphens, some pages I used 4 or 5 hyphens. These factors did not affect anything, as far as I could see. Im pretty sure you dont want to use way too many hyphens, and you definately dont want to spam your keywords like crazy in the URL. Keep that in mind when renaming your files.

And, being only a PR1 on my site and a PR 0 on my subpages (not including my resources pages), I am ranking higher then many PR2, PR3, PR4, and PR5 sites that are targeting the same keywords. My site is much younger, and has much less backlinks.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all you need to do is rename the file names to rank higher. Ive worked extensively in analyzing my competitors, keyword density, analysed title tags, content, backlinks, you name it. All of these practices need to be applied without question. I am only saying that using keywords in the filenames definately helps increase the relevancy of your page with the given keywords you are searching for, in terms of Google.

I hope this articles helps you guys with the confusion thats been going on, and I hope you just dont take my word for it. Test it yourself and make your own decisions, like I did.

Stay tuned for more articles comming soon. If you find any of my articles helpful or interesting, please dont hesitate to subscribe to the RSS, Digg my post, and leave some comments.

Orange County Search Engine Optimization