What Is a URL?
A URL is an address to a specific online resource, such as an image or an HTML page. The following URLs are addresses to specific HTML pages:
Why Does Updating a URL Matter?
Updating a URL for a web page changes the address that page is located at. When a user, including search engine crawlers, then tries to locate the page using the old address it will not be available. This causes a page to suddenly drop out of search results because search engines do not wish to direct users to pages which appear to no longer exist:
What Should You Do?
When possible it is best to keep URLs consistent over time.
"Avoid changing URLs unless you have a really good reason to do so, and you're sure that they'll remain like that in the long run."
When updating a URL is necessary, then a redirect should be put in place to redirect users from the old URL to the new URL.
This redirect should return the code 301 to indicate the URL has been updated permanently. SEO redirection plugins will implement the redirect as a 301 as standard. In any other case, it is best to pass this information on to your website manager.
How About Draft Pages?
If you want to remove a page that has previously been published without deleting it you may opt to change it to a draft. Unfortunately, as far as search engines and visitors are concerned, there is no difference between a page that has been deleted and one that has been moved to a draft. The page will return a 404 (not found) error.
Note, this doesn't apply to pages that have never been public but for any page that has received traffic and is now being moved to a draft the same rules apply.
If a page is likely to remain as a draft indefinitely then a permanent 301 redirect should be put in place to direct visitors and search engines to a comparable page.
Other Side Effects of Changing or Removing URLs
There are other side effects of changing or removing URLs which could impact your digital marketing efforts. These include:
Paid Ads: Whether with Google Ads, Facebook Ads or another platform, advertising platforms rely on consistent URLs to send people who click the ads to the right destination. Changing the URLs could mean people are sent to an error page and even if redirected this will add a delay to the page loading. When it's absolutely necessary to update URLs they should also be changed wherever you do advertising.
Remarketing Lists: Remarketing lists can be built in a number of different ways but one way is via the URL structure of your website. By changing URLs unnecessarily it's possible that your remarketing lists may stop functioning properly, something you're unlikely to notice right away.
A Side Note About WordPress
A common way to update a page on WordPress is to duplicate the existing page, make changes to the duplicate, then publish the duplicate and unpublish the original. This is completely fine, but when doing so remember to move the original URL over to the new updated version of the page, so that the URL of the page remains consistent.