How to Handle URL Parameters: A SEO Guide

URL Parameters

Written by Jeremy Earle, JD

July 25, 2022

Duplicate material, wasted crawl expense, and diluted ranking signals are consequences of URL parameters. Here are six techniques to prevent URL parameters from causing problems for your SEO.

Developers and analytics enthusiasts adore parameters, but they may be a headache for search engine optimization (SEO). A single piece of information may be transformed into an infinite number of different URLs by changing a few factors.

This is a big issue since we can’t just wish away the parameters. They have a significant impact on the user experience of a website. To be SEO-friendly, we need to know how to deal with them.

To do this, we investigate:

  • What URL parameters are and how they work
  • SEO difficulties resulting from the parameters
  • Understanding the full scope of the issue with your parameter
  • Parameter-taming SEO approaches
  • URL parameter processing in the best possible way

URL Parameters: What Are They?

Other parameter names are query strings (URL variables) and query strings (URL query strings). They consist of an equal sign separating a key and a value pair. Ampersands may be used to add several parameters to a single page.

Parameters are most often used for:

  • Tracking – What about, for instance?

UTM medium=social, what exactly do you mean?

Is sessionid=123 correct, or am I missing something?

affiliateid=abc

As an example, what about rearranging the order of things?

Is this the cheapest option?

Is it better to put the most highly rated at the top of the list or the least rated at the bottom?

so=newest

  • Filtering – What about, say,

What is the widget’s type? Is it blue?

price-range=20-50

  • Recognizing – For instance,

In this case, the product is a small-blue widget, and the category is 124.

  • Sorting – For instance,?

page=2; what now?

viewItems=10-30 or p=2 is an alternative.

As an example, what are you searching for?

If the inquiry is?

Or?

search=drop-down-option

This includes translating words and phrases like as

If the language is French, what should I do?

language is either de (German) or

With regards to URL Parameters, SEO issues

1. Content Duplication is Induced by Parameters

Frequently, URL parameters have little effect on the content of a website. The page’s re-ordered version typically looks the same as the original. Using tracking tags or a session ID does not alter the URL’s uniqueness.

All of the following URLs, for example, yield a list of widgets.

Widgets may be found at https://www.example.com.

This is the tracking parameter: https://www.example.com/widgets/.

sessionID=32764

  • The reordering parameter: https://www.example.com/widgets?

sort=newest

The URL: https://www.example.com?

category=widgets

When you type in the URL: https://www.example.com/products?

search=widget

The number of URLs for the same content is fairly high; now imagine doing this for every category on your site. It’s a lot of money.

There is a problem, though, since search engines interpret each URL with parameters as a whole new page. As a result, they are presented with various versions of the page. Each page targets the same keyword phrase or semantic issue.

You may not be fully blocked out of the search results. Still, keyword cannibalization and a decrease in Google’s perception of your overall site quality might happen from this kind of repetition, even if it is rare to do so.

2. The Waste Crawl Budget Parameters

The crawl budget makes it more difficult to index SEO-relevant content on your site and raise server load.

Google nicely encapsulates this notion.

If you have many URLs that lead to the same or comparable content on your site, this might be a difficulty for crawlers. To avoid over-indexing your site, Googlebot will have to use more bandwidth than is required.

3. Separate Page Rank Signals for Different Parameters

Links and social media shares may come in on different copies of the same page content if you have many permutations.

This dilutes your ranking signals. Crawlers are confused when choosing between competing sites for a search query.

4. URLs are less likely to be clicked on because of parameters.

Let’s face it: We’re going to have to do this. URL parameters are an eyesore. They’re a pain to decipher. They don’t seem to be as trustworthy as they used to be. As a result, they get fewer clicks.

This will affect the performance of the page. CTR isn’t only a ranking factor; it’s also less clickable on social media, in emails, when copied into forums, or anyplace the complete URL may be exposed.

Every tweet, like, share, email, link, and mention is important for the domain, even if it just has a little influence on a single page’s amplification.

A decline in brand engagement might be caused by URLs that are difficult to read.

Take a look at the scope of your parameter issue.

Your website’s parameters should be well-understood. It’s possible, though, that your engineers don’t retain a current list of issues.

Where are all the parameters that need to be handled, then? Do you want to know how search engines find and index this page? How much do you know about their impact on users?

Here are the first five steps to take:

  • Use a crawler: You may search for “??” using a program like Screaming Frog.

The URL contains ”

  • Use the URL Parameters Tool in Google Search Console: Google automatically inserts the query strings it discovers.
  • See whether Googlebot is crawling URLs with parameters in your log files.
  • Learn how Google indexes the parameters you identified using the site: example. cominurl: key combination query. • Use sophisticated operators for searching inside the URL.
  • All Pages report in Google Analytics: “?” may be found by searching for it.

Examine how users utilize each of the parameters you discovered. Verify that the view setting does not exclude URL query parameters.

Now that you have this information, you can make informed decisions about how to effectively manage the various aspects of your website.

Optimizing URL Parameters for SEO

You have six SEO weapons at your disposal for strategically dealing with URL parameters.

Limit URLs based on Parameters

A cursory look into how and why parameters are produced might provide a significant SEO boost. In most cases, you will decrease the number of parameter URLs and therefore lessen the negative SEO effect. As a starting point, consider these four frequent problems.

1. Remove Unnecessary Options

Inquire about all the website parameters and how they are used. Parameters that no longer serve a useful purpose are likely to light.

Cookies, rather than sessionIDs, may be used to identify users. In the past, your website could have utilized the sessionID option.

You may also find that your consumers seldom utilize a certain filter in your faceted navigation.

Technical debt should be reduced as soon as possible.

2. Prevent Values With No Data

URL parameters should only be included in URLs if they serve a purpose. Don’t allow blank parameter keys to be inserted.

In the scenario, keys 2 and 3 in the preceding example are of little use, both literally and symbolically.

3. Only use the keys once.

It’s best to avoid using the same parameter name but a different value many times.

Using a single keystroke is preferable for multi-select choices.

4. Specify URL Parameters

Search engines view URL parameters as equal even if they are rearranged.

As a result, the parameter order is irrelevant in terms of duplicate content. However, every one of these combinations depletes the crawl budget and splits the signal of rank.

You may avoid these problems by requesting that your developer design a script that constantly places arguments in the same order.

In my view, translating parameters, identification, pagination, filtering, reordering, and search parameters should all come first.

Pros:

  • As a result, the crawl budget is better used.
  • Eliminates the problem of republishing information that is already out there.
  • Focuses ranking signals on a smaller number of pages.
  • All parameter types are supported.

Cons:

  • Moderate technical implementation time

Attribute Rel=”Canonical” for Web Links

When you use the rel=”canonical” link property, you indicate that one page’s content is identical or nearly similar to another. Specifying a URL as canonical helps search engines condense ranking signals to that URL.

When monitoring, identifying, or reordering parameters, you may use rel=canonical to link your parameter-based URLs to your SEO-friendly URL. For example, pagination, searching, translating, or other filtering parameters are not suited for this technique since they are not canonical.

Pros:

  • Technical implementation is rather straightforward.
  • Predominantly to prevent difficulties with duplicating content.
  • Ranking signals are consolidated and directed toward the canonical URL.

Cons:

  • Parameter pages take up too much of the crawl budget.
  • Some parameter types are more suited than others.
  • Search engines see this as a strong signal, not a command.

Noindex Robots Meta Tag

A noindex directive should be used for any parameter-based page that doesn’t optimize a search engine. Use this tag to prevent search engines from indexing your page.

Noindex URLs are also likely to be crawled less often, and if they’re present for an extended period, Google will nofollow the page’s links.

Pros:

  • Technical implementation is rather straightforward.
  • Predominantly to prevent difficulties with duplicating content.
  • No indexing is possible for all parameter types.
  • Removes URLs depending on parameters from the search index.

Cons:

  • The crawling of URLs will not be stopped, but the frequency of crawling will be reduced.
  • No ranking signals are consolidated.
  • Search engines see this as a strong signal, not a command.

Restrictions on the robots.txt file

The robots.txt file is the first place to examine before crawling your site for search engines. They won’t even enter a restricted area if they find anything prohibited.

This file may be used to prevent crawlers from accessing any URL with parameters (with Disallow: /*?*) or just specified query strings.

Pros:

  • Efficient technological setup.
  • As a result, the crawl budget is better used.
  • Prevents concerns with duplicating content.
  • For all parameter types that you do not want to be crawled.

Cons:

  • No ranking signals are consolidated.
  • Existing URLs are not removed from the index.

Google Search Console’s URL Parameter Tool

Your parameters should be set up to inform Google exactly what they’re for and how they should be handled.

An alert in the Google Search Console warns that utilizing the tool may cause “many sites to vanish from a search.”

Ominous-sounding? In addition, hundreds of duplicate pages might hurt your website’s search engine rankings.

That is why it is important to learn about URL parameters in Google Search Console rather than rely on Googlebot to make these decisions.

The most important thing to remember is considering how the parameter will affect the page’s content.

  • The content of the page is not altered by tracking settings. Set them up as “representative URLs” in the settings.
  • Create “sorts” parameters to arrange the content of pages. Crawl should be set to “No URLs” if the user chooses to enable it. If the sort argument is used, you may use “Only URLs with value” with the default value.
  • Specify “narrows” for parameters that limit the page to a certain subset of material. Crawl to “No URLs” if these criteria are not important to SEO. “Every URL” should be selected if they’re significant to SEO.
  • It’s possible to define “specifies” parameters for a certain item or set of materials. This should have a permanent URL. Set “Every URL” to this option if you can’t do so.
  • Set parameters to “translates” to show a translated material version. A subfolder system is ideal for translation. If this is not feasible, you should probably choose “Every URL.”
  • Configuration options allow a page to be shown as a “paginate” in a longer sequence. You may use XML sitemaps to save money on crawling to accomplish efficient indexation. If you don’t want search engines to access all of the things on your site, choose the “Every URL” option.

When the “Let Googlebot decide” option is selected, Google will automatically add new parameters to the list. The problem is that even if the parameter is no longer present, it can never be deleted.

As a result, adding parameters yourself is always preferable. As a result, you may remove the parameter from GSC at any time.

Use Bing’s ignore URL parameters tool in conjunction with Google Search Console’s “No URL” parameter setting.

Pros:

  • There is no development time required.
  • As a result, the crawl budget is better used.
  • Protects against difficulties with duplicating material.
  • All parameter types are supported.

Cons:

  • No ranking signals are consolidated.
  • Google sees this as a suggestion rather than a command.

Google and Bing are only supported to a limited extent.

Dynamic URLs should replace static URLs

Many individuals believe that the best method to deal with URL parameters is to never use them at all. Static, keyword-based URLs and subfolders have long been staples of on-page SEO since they help Google grasp a site’s structure better.

Server-side URL rewrites may be used to transform arguments into subdirectory URLs.

Using the URL: as an example,

www.example.com/view-product?

id=482794

As a result of this,

www.example.com/widgets/blue

Keyword-based descriptive characteristics like those used to establish product categories or search engine relevance may benefit greatly from this method. Additionally, it works well when translating text.

Non-keyword-related components of faceted navigation, such as pricing, become difficult. Using a static, indexable URL as a filter has no benefit for search engine optimization.

As a result, every user-generated query would build a static page that competes with the canonical – or worse, offers to crawlers low-quality content sites whenever a user has looked for an item you don’t supply.

Even though it’s not unheard of thanks to WordPress, pagination may produce a weird URL like this:

www.example.com/widgets/blue/page2

If you were to rearrange, you’d get a URL like this:

www.example.com/widgets/blue/lowest-price

Tracking may be difficult using this method. Google Analytics does not recognize a static UTM parameter.

Pagination, onsite search box results, and sorting are examples of dynamic URLs that may be replaced with static URLs for pagination and sorting.

In addition, having all of your faceted navigation filter combinations as indexable URLs typically leads to thin content difficulties. It’s much better if you have multi-select filters available.

SEO experts contend that the same level of user experience may be delivered without altering the URL. For example, instead of modifying the page’s content using GET requests, use POST requests. As a result, the user experience is preserved, and SEO issues are avoided.

Your audience may not be able to bookmark or share a link to that particular page if you remove all of the parameters from it. If tracking parameters and pagination are incompatible, then so be it.

When it comes down to it, if you want to give a great user experience, it’s impossible to ignore parameters on many websites. It also wouldn’t be in line with good SEO practices.

This is all we have to work with. You may use query strings for parameters that you don’t want to appear in search results (paginating, reordering, tracking). Static URL routes should be used for parameters you do not wish to be indexed.

Pros:

  • Allows search engines to concentrate on URLs that are more likely to rank.

Cons:

  • It takes a lot of time and effort to change URLs and implement 301 redirects.
  • It Doesn’t eliminate the problem of duplicating material.
  • No ranking signals are consolidated.
  • Some parameter types are more suited than others.
  • Can result in concerns with a lack of substance.
  • It does not always produce a URL linked to or saved.

SEO Best Practices for Managing URL Parameters

So which of these six SEO strategies should you use?

There’s no way all of them are correct.

Even if it were possible, it would add unneeded complexity. On the other hand, SEO solutions are often at odds with one another.

You can’t use meta index tags if you use robots.txt prohibit, for example. A meta no-index tag with a rel=canonical link attribute should not be used together.

As it becomes evident, there is no one ideal option.

Even Google’s John Mueller is at a loss as to how to proceed in this case. If you ask him about this from the standpoint of multifaceted navigation, he says “it depends” at a Google Webmaster hangout. He originally advised against disabling parameters.

Even while concentrating authority signals might be useful, crawling efficiency is sometimes more essential.

It all comes down to what is most important to you regarding your website’s design.

Noindex or blocking access to parameter pages are not options that I use. To aggregate ranking signals, Google must be able to crawl and interpret all URL variables.

The following is my strategy for managing parameters in a way that’s beneficial to search engines:

  • Conduct keyword research to determine which parameters should be included in static URLs for the sake of search engine optimization.
  • Use rel=”next &rel=”prev” to properly handle pagination.
  • Limit the amount of parameter-based URLs by using consistent ordering rules that disallow empty values and only use keys once.
  • To increase the ranking power of your parameter pages, use the rel=canonical link tag.
  • As a failsafe, set up URL parameter handling in Google and Bing so that the search engines can better comprehend the role of each parameter.
  • Ensure the XML sitemap does not include any parameter-based URLs.

It doesn’t matter whatsoever parameter handling technique you choose to apply; be sure to record your efforts on KPIs.

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