SEO is an important consideration when setting up or updating your website. URL parameters are an integral part of a site’s usability and searchability on the web when appropriately used. Too many query strings in the search results dilute rankings and reduce clickability, so always closely monitor URL parameters. Exclude unuseful ones from indexing and crawler searches.
We discuss what a URL parameter is and how to recognize it and optimize your page’s URL parameters. Additionally, we discuss the pitfalls of having too many parameters wasting the crawl budget.
By Google’s definition, a URL parameter is a method of passing information about a click from the client to the server. There are several ways of creating parameters, such as a user clicking on the search button after typing in what they are looking for or using a filter provided on your page. Advertisers can also create tracking parameters to pass information to their tracking template about where clicks came from (network). Sometimes they want to track where clicks were directed, such as a brand or a specific type of item advertised.
We can deduce two things from this definition; First, we can’t avoid URL parameters. Second, URL parameters can help track a page’s performance, which is why developers, marketers, SEOs, and site owners love them. Less clear is the negative implications they can have on a page’s performance. In a nutshell, query string parameters have endless variations, all pointing to the same content, are unsightly to human readers, and can even cause search bots problems indexing your site content. Luckily there are ways to exclude certain strings from indexing and search results, keeping your page optimized.
A question mark(?) always precedes an URL variable or parameter, consisting of a key and a value pair. The key and value pair are separated by an equal sign (=). An ampersand (&) designates multiple variables.
Here is an example:
For this example, we have bolded the entire parameter to make it easy to see. The query was on a site selling sneakers, and the user set out the query with the key being “color” and the value pair being “yellow.”
They added a second parameter, with the key being “sort” and the value pair being “newest.” In standard human language, the search query was for the newest yellow sneakers. If this URL with its parameters shows up in search results, people may be wary of clicking on it.
Below are a few more examples of types of URL parameters:
Unfortunately, you eventually have too many URLs pointing to the same content as you can see below from these parameters that all direct you to the same page:
So what are URL parameters’ downside then? The example above showed different parameters, all offering the same content. The search engines treat each URL parameter as a separate page, so what they see is many pages, all showing the same content and targeting the exact keywords. The search engine’s overall view of your site is downgraded, pushing you lower in the search rankings, or even filtering you out.
Having too many URLs or overly complicated URLs, such as URLs with multiple parameters, makes it difficult for the search bots to index and crawl the site. This uses up bandwidth and increases the servers’ load.
Parameters attached to URLs make pages less clickable, especially when shared via social media.
Which URL is more appealing to the human eye? mysite.com/yellow-sneakers or mysite.com/sneakers?colour=yellow.
URL parameters are necessary for you to analyze your page and track users’ preferences. Still, the endless combinations also cause problems for your site. The first step is to find the query strings or parameters that add no value to your site and eliminate them from searches.
You can do this by running a crawler or looking in Google search console’s URL parameters tool, which adds each new query string. You can also review your log files or check the Google analytics report.
The next step is to eliminate non-value-adding URLs from the search bots’ notice. Take care, as some URL parameters help your page’s searchability, so a proper understanding of the process is vital.
Examples of URL types that you should ensure that bots ignore are session IDs and parameters with a key but no value after the = symbol. You can use Google’s search console tool called URL parameters to instruct the bots which parameters to ignore. Bing also has a similar function, allowing you to optimize your page’s searchability for their crawls. Always use caution when excluding URLs or parameters from searches, though, as it impacts how your page shows in search results.
URL parameters are useful tools for SEO as they assist with site analytics and tracking. Still, too many negatively affect how search engines view your page. For these reasons, you must instruct the search engines to ignore as many of the non-value-adding URLs as possible, leaving the valuable query strings available for searches. Deciding which to keep and which to exclude can be tricky, so if you’re unsure, it’s always best to ask an expert rather than risk damaging your site’s searchability.