Examples of Parameter Problems: When it All Goes Wrong

Examples of Parameter Problems: When it All Goes Wrong


At one point or another, most SEOs have been frustrated by the fact that they can't seem to get a website they are trying to rank in #1 position for their desired keywords. Search engine optimization is a constant battle, but sometimes the situation gets so bad that Google has to step in and help out.

What is a parameter?

A search engine crawler / spider will check your website every now and then for any changes you might have made. This process of going through your website checking links etc. is what we call 'crawling'. One of the ways it decides whether your site has changed, apart from receiving notification from you (in the form of an RSS feed) is by checking back with what is known as a 'referrer' URL.

A URL is a 'uniform resource locator', which simply means that it is your website address ( http://www.mydomainname.com). To the right of the 'dot' in most browsers, you will see a box labelled: "Referrer". This shows what site has linked to your page, and it might say www.google.com for example; Google has linked to my domain name at www.seo-software-reviews.info/parameters/.

A parameter, therefore, is something like this: www.seo-software-reviews.info/parameters/?a=b&c=d . Instead of seeing one long uninterrupted displayed weblink, we see many different variables and parts of a URL.

Search engine crawlers don't read these types of URLs, just as you wouldn't expect your browser to. It would be very out-of-date if it did, so that is why search engines use this type of thing called 'crawling'. So what happens when parameters go wrong? Well…

Parameter problems - part 1: The non-existent page problem

If you thought the quote from Jaws was terrifying, wait till Google spits it at you in its own language! If a parameter behaves badly enough to keep Google away from a web page even though you can find it with your browser's address bar, then they will simply ignore the entire domain name.

"I think we can agree, its been a long day"

The best example of this I have ever seen was www.halfordsautocentres.com/location_results?address=Chelmsford&zipcode=-%3E-. There you go. If that existed on the web, then it could be considered to be at: www.halfordsautocentres.com/location_results?address= and www.halfordsautocentres.com/location_results?address=/ZIPCODE=-%3E- . Well if Google can't find one page on your website, it has no alternative but to ignore the entire thing!

Parameter problems - part: The duplicate content problem


If you have a site with duplicate content, and your URL shows up as: www.mydomainname.com/category1/?var=value&var2=value2 then that is how it will appear in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Google can't tell whether this page exists or not because there are too many variables to take into account, so they just assume no such page exists and rank you solely on the basis of what they consider to be 'duplicate content'.

Parameter problems - part 3: The problem with Google's indexing system

Sometimes you can find out for yourself if Google has decided to ignore everything but the first variable of your webpage by looking at their 'index' tool. I will give an example of that in the next section.

Parameter problems - part 4: When does it happen?

The most common problem with parameters is when you change your website's structure so much, especially to do with product pages, that Google can't tell which page it should be indexing. It may not change anything on the front-end of your site to do with what customers see, but internally there will be changes made to the way information is passed around between files and servers etc. Your marker pages (those low-quality directory listings) disappear completely because they shouldn't exist any more - just like this one!

Why should I care about markers anyway?

Markers are pages that were put into place by a search engine crawler to follow links on your website. They are effectively the search engine's 'back up' system in case you have moved or deleted a page - it can mark exactly where that page should have been by using these markers. Of course, there is no need for this because you can simply use Google Webmaster Tools to tell them the URL of any new pages etc.

Parameter problems - part 5: Why would I want to do anything about it?

It could be argued that having parameters not working correctly are beneficial, as they prevent low-quality directories from showing up in Google's SERPs, but if all your marker pages disappear then that makes your website look very untidy and out of date. The search engine will also flag this up in Webmaster Tools, which doesn't look good.

Parameter problems - part 6: What can I do about it?

The chances are that you already know the answer to this; the best thing is to remove all your marker URLs (you can find out how here ). If you really want to make sure that all your pages get indexed, then you will also have to edit your robots.txt file and follow Google's guidelines here . One last thing; make sure none of your user-generated content has parameters in its URL! That should leave you with a search engine friendly site again, but just remember that these things can happen if you don't watch out for them! Now read on…

Example of parameter problems - when it all goes wrong

Well, I don't think it can get much worse than this. The screenshot below shows what happens when you use parameters with user-generated content on your site. As you can see, all of the URLs on this page are wrapped together with no spaces - just one long string of text!


Not only that, but Google appears to have split some of these into more pieces that it probably should have done - take a look at the first few lines in particular...

they really are so badly mangled up there is no way to tell how they once looked on my site. Not good for SEO at all!

The solution? Well, I had to go through each page on my website manually and change every single parameter that was used for user-generated content back to its original value (it took me a long time!). I know this may be an extreme example, but if you use many product pages with parameters on your website then it could happen to you too. The best thing is prevention; don't put any unnecessary variables into the links of user-generated content and keep all other URLs nice and clean!

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The next section of this article discusses some more examples that show how Google has indexed webpages over the years. It also makes mention that alternative methods can help improve search engine rankings.

The next section of this article discusses improving your websites search engine listings by using alternative methods instead of relying on parameters.


The next section of this article discusses the use of subdomains, subdirectories and hreflang tags to help improve your websites rankings.

A final note about this article states that no matter how many examples are given, there remains another situation where even more exceptions can be encountered. This final note encourages readers to learn from these examples so that they may avoid similar problems occurring in their own website's future.

Thank you for reading. I hope this helped! If it did, please take a moment to share it with your friends by clicking any of the sharing buttons below! Please feel free to leave any feedback or questions in the comments box below too! Have a nice day :) ~ Drew.

Thank you for reading. I hope this helped! If it did, please take a moment to share it with your friends by clicking any of the sharing buttons below! Please feel free to leave any feedback or questions in the comments box below too! Have a nice day :) ~ Drew.

For more information on what not to do when using parameters, check out my follow-up article: Examples of Parameter Problems: Do's and Don'ts

Please let me know if there is anything that needs clarifying or explaining better - I am always open to suggestions and extra content ideas :) Thanks again for visiting - I really appreciate it. If you haven't already seen so, make sure you check out my Facebook Page and Follow me on Twitter for updates and all the latest news! :)


Article background information [to use as knowledge, not to be copied verbatim]: When I originally wrote this post, I discussed the problems with the Halfords (www.halfords.com) website that they were having due to parameters. I am pleased to say that the issues have mostly been resolved and that their category pages rank better than before, but the site still has some issues.

Title: Examples of Parameter Problems: Do's & Don'ts - Part II

In this article you will find more examples from well known websites on why using parameters is a bad idea if you want to boost your search engine listings.

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