Limit Parameter-Based URLs

Limit Parameter-Based URLs

24.Oct.2021

When the SEO community talks about parameter-based URLs, you will often find them referring to them as URL parameters or multi-dimensional / multidimensional URLs.

What is a Parameter?

A parameter is simply something that allows for change. Google uses this same definition when they talk about URL parameters. To put it more simply, parameters are variables in the URL path structure - specifically, anything other than "www" or ".com". So an example of a common parameter might be something like ?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term={keyword}. You can even find some specific examples right here on Moz with our guides on how we handle UTM tags and branded / non-branded queries.

 

How does a Parameter get Generated?

More often than not, Parameter-based URLs are generated automatically by software or automated processes. This can be useful for all sorts of applications, from personalized recommendations to tracking the performance of your marketing campaign. Although they don't always have negative SEO implications, parameter-based URLs do give you less control over the destination URL and whether or not it is indexed.

There are four common ways in which parameters get generated: 1) Tracking Codes - Software with tracking codes will use the ref= parameter to identify where it is sending you; 2) Personalization - Most eCommerce sites use some form of personalization with their product pages using parameters like color / size / etc.; 3) Ads - Many online ads use parameters to track effectiveness; 4) Content / Media - Sites using slideshows, galleries, or even auto-play media will often append URL parameters.

How Can I Check for Parameter URLs?

There are a number of different tools available to help you find parameter-based URLs, including your web browser's developer tools or Moz Pro campaign diagnostics features. You can also check manually through Google search by finding the right combination of keywords and checking each result page for any unusual URLs ending in ?param= .

What Can I do if my site has Parameters?

When dealing with an eCommerce site in particular, it can be very difficult and sometimes nearly impossible to remove all automatically generated elements from your website. The most common solution here is to consolidate all of your parameters into a single URL structure, which can be done through whatever software you are using. For example, if you are using campaign tracking for SEO and PPC, you might have something like www.example.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term={keyword}.

 

You could consolidate the three different sources in this case by simply changing it to one parameter: www.example.com/?source=google&medium=cpc&term={keyword}. This makes the URL much easier to read, but also contributes less to potential negative impacts from search engine optimization because there are fewer variables that come into play when it serves your website.

How do I know if I have to Change my Parameter URL Strategy?

If you find that your website is generating a large number of unusual and hard-to-read URLs, then it might be time for a change. You can also check using the three different search queries we mentioned earlier: 1) Look for any results with unexpected parameters; 2) Look for parameterized results that don't match your site's content (for example, if your site is about dogs and cats but you see only cars in the SERPs); 3) Compare your page URLs with those on other websites in your industry. If their structure looks cleaner than yours, this could be another indicator to make some changes.

How do I Implement a Parameter Change?

The best way to change your parameter-based URL structure is to put together an editorial calendar and solicit feedback from everyone on your team. You will want to make sure that you have the right combination of brand awareness, ad spend, keyword research, content marketing, etc., to support any changes you implement. Set a date for your big launch and then get started. By consolidating all of your parameters into a single structure or removing them entirely from URLs where possible, you can limit negative SEO concerns while also improving the user experience for visitors coming from search engines.

SEO Quick Win: Limit Parameter-Based URLs A simple review of how and why parameters are generated can provide an SEO quick win. You will often find ways to reduce the number of parameter URLs and so minimize the negative SEO impact. There are four common issues to begin your review.

 

1) Tracking Codes - Software with tracking codes will use the ref= parameter to identify where it is sending you;

2) Personalization - Most eCommerce sites use some form of personalization with their product pages using parameters like color / size / etc.;

3) Ads - Many online ads use parameters to track effectiveness;

4) Content / Media - Sites using slideshows, galleries, or even auto-play media will often append URL parameters.

How Can I Check for Parameter URLs?

There are a number of different tools available to help you check for parameter-based URLs on your site.

· Google Website Optimizer - This is a solid option if you want to find out how many results are being generated from each of your parameters and how they correlate with one another.

· Tag Assistant - A browser extension available both on the Chrome Web Store as well as Safari, Firefox, and Opera. Like Website Optimizer, this tool will let you see all of your URLs in action across different browsers and devices as well as identify any that might be problematic based on length or other factors unique to the webpage itself.

· Screaming Frog - This free SEO software includes a great crawler that allows you to not only check for parameter-based variables but also generate an Excel spreadsheet with all of the parameters that you can use for further analysis (see example below).

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