I asked for some SEO advice from someone who was/is in the business of offering SEO advice. He suggested removing some parts of the URL structure to make the URLs more Google-friendly. They way this would do that, so he said, was to shorten the steps that Google would’ve to crawl to find a product.
So here’s a piece of advice for anyone in a similar position. Go do your own research before you say yes. I went checking mostly because I thought there had to be a penalty to pay with all the 301 redirects, but also because changing the URL structure so fundamentally rang alarm bells.
But I was surprised when it took about two seconds to find a warning article about changing the structure. And that warning article was right there on WooCommerce’s own pages.
Here’s the link to the article Removing product, product-category, or shop from the URLs if you want to read it in full.
In sum, the article says:
Removing /product/, /product-category/, or /shop/ from the URLs is not advisable due to the way WordPress resolves its URLs. It uses the product-category (or any other text for that matter) base of an URL to detect that it is an URL leading to a product category.
There are SEO plugins that allow you to remove this base, but that can lead to a number of problems with performance and duplicate URLs.
I thought maybe, just maybe, the article was old advice and no longer relevant. So I asked Support at WooCommerce, and Support confirmed that the article is current advice. That was about March of this year.
I went back to the SEO and he checked with his tech person in his firm and then came back and told me it was a bad idea. What took the biscuit was that he didn’t put his hand up to his mistake. Instead he tried to tell me it was a bad idea as though it was his idea. He fed back to me almost word for word what I had raised with him.
Unsurprisingly, that was the end of relationship.
The bottom line is that the problem was avoided and the URL structure remains intact. I was lucky, and avoided the problem by the skin of my teeth, as it were. I might well not have listened to the alarm bells in my head because they often don’t ring very loudly, and because I had advice from a professional SEO, who must be right, right? Wrong.