URL parameters, also known as query strings, are a way to structure additional information for a given URL. It is the portion of a URL that follows a question mark.
There can even be multiple parameters added to a single page when separated by an ampersand.
The most common uses for parameters are:
Tracking – Used for specific advertising campaigns or click tracking.
For example: /?utm_source=pardot&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=junerockspromo
Filtering – This is often the case on large ecommerce sites to allow users to apply sorting and filtering.
For example: /products?brand=5501&cat=315&condition=5432
Searching – Certain parameters are passed through search queries used when searching site content.
For example: /catalogsearch/result/?q=device+rings
Paginating – Used in identifying multiple pages of archive or search results.
For example: /category?page=2
Why are URL parameters such a problem for SEO?
URL structure matters. It helps search engines understand the content of a page. Parameters are confusing and are less likely to be read properly. Not only that but, well written URLs are more clickable than their ugly counterparts.
The biggest SEO issues that URL parameters cause are:
Duplicate content – Typically, ecommerce websites allow customers to sort content by feature or price, and the various options don’t actually change the content of the page. Many different URLs that are all parameterized versions of the same page, especially across many categories on your site can add up to a significant amount of pages with duplicate content and keyword cannibalization.
Wasted crawl budget – The crawling of redundant pages can reduce your site’s ability to index relevant pages and can increase your server load.
Weakened page rank signals – URL parameters divide page rank between the pages that share the same content. Let’s say that other sites or even ads are linking to different versions of a primary page due to parameter usage. The value of those backlinks is going to be split among those different versions, weakening the strength of the primary page.
How do I know if URL parameters are hurting my SEO?
Before you make any changes to your site, you will need to check the extent of your parameter problem. There are a few steps you can take to determine your next steps.
1. Run a crawler
Using a tool such as Screaming Frog, you can search your site for URLs containing a “?”. There is a FREE version of the tool allowing you to crawl 500 URLs. If you have a larger site, you will need a more capable tool.
2. Check Search Console
The search console URL parameter tool will list all parameters found on your site URLs. While this will show you a comprehensive listing of all parameters found, it is not recommended that you take action to remove URLs unless you have a firm understanding of how parameters work. Changes you make in this tool could result in URLs disappearing from search.
3. Check Google Analytics
While in the All Pages report, search for “?”. (Be sure that your URL query parameters have not been excluded from the view) See how the resulting pages are used by your site visitors.
How do I remedy SEO issues associated with URL parameters?
These solutions will require not only a solid understanding of parameters, but also of the various tools needed to fix these issues. It is always a good idea to enlist the help of an SEO expert before attempting to make changes on your own as the result could have a negative impact on your site’s ranking.
This method will allow you to block crawler access to every parameter based URL or only to specific strings that you don’t want indexed. This is a good way to block a significant number of pages at once with little effort but this method will not consolidate ranking signals so it is important that you do not block any pages that offer value or use parameters for tracking campaigns activity.
Canonical Link Attribute
The rel=”canonical” link attribute will indicate to a search engine that a page has identical or very similar content to another. It acts as a request to the search engines to consolidate the ranking to a specified canonical URL. This option would be appropriate for tracking, identifying or reordering parameters. This would not be appropriate when the parameter page content is not close enough to the canonical, such as pagination, searching, translating or some filtering parameters.
URL Parameter Tool in Search Console
The Google parameter tool can be configured to tell crawlers how you would like your parameters to be handled. After logging in to the tool, you will automatically be presented with a list of parameters for your site. Once you select a parameter, questions will help to guide you to your choices.
How do I know which solution is best?
There is not one choice that is perfect for everyone. Each platform is a little different as well as the goals for your site will be different from those of another. You should assess your situation fully. Enlist the help of a developer if you are not confident in the choice you have made. Also, be sure that you monitor the results of any changes for positive impact.
Allegro Consultants offers SEO services, including remedies for the issues discussed in this post. We can help you determine if your site is being affected by URL parameters and offer a solution that fits your business needs. If you are interested in learning more, please get in touch.