How to Avoid SEO Issues with URL Parameters

Search Engine

Even though parameters are a good thing, they can cause a number of issues for websites, such as duplicate content and keyword issues. But we cannot just wish URL parameters away because they play a vital role in the user’s web experience. The solution is to understand how to handle them in a way that prevents SEO problems.

What are URL parameters?

URL parameters are that part of the website address that come after a question mark. They are also referred to as query string parameters or query strings.

Look at the following example URL about a content for a collection of sectional sofas:

  • http://www.example.com/category/home-furniture/home-furnishings/sectionals
  • http://www.example.com/category/home-furniture/home-furnishings/sectionals?colour=white
  • http://www.example.com/home-furniture/home-furnishings/sectionals?colour=white&style=pattern

The three URLs above point to the same content and is usually found in e-commerce websites so that users can browse products using certain filters.

But this kind of system can result in multiple URLs for the same content, and while it can be useful to users, it will confuse search engines and affect your SEO.

SEO problems caused by URL parameters

As already established, URL parameters can cause a number of problems for your website. Some of the most common SEO issues associated with URL parameters are:

  • Duplicate content
  • Keyword cannibalization
  • Poor search crawl effectiveness
  • Split page ranking signals
  • Unattractive URL that don’t enjoy clicks

Detecting SEO problems caused by URL parameters

The answer to the two questions below will help you determine if URL parameters is causing SEO problems for your website.

  1. Does the URL change but the content remain the same as the content on the original URL when you use search filters on your website?
  2. Does the URL change but the page title and meta-data remain the same or contain similar meta-data when you use search filters on your website?

If the answer to both or either of the questions is yes, then URL parameters could be causing problems for your website. However, if the content on your website changes when you choose a different filter, then you don’t have a problem with URL parameters.

Avoiding SEO problems caused by URL parameters

There are a number of methods you can adopt to ensure that URL parameters do not cause SEO problems for your website. But here are the three most common solutions:

Using canonical tags –

This is the most preferred method and involves using canonical tags to tell search engines which pages are duplicate of a certain URL, and that any rankings should be credited to the original URL.

Consider the following example URLs:

  • http://www.example.com/category/home-furniture/home-furnishings/sectionals?colour=white
  • http://www.example.com/home-furniture/home-furnishings/sectionals?colour=white&style=pattern

Both should have a canonical tag pointing to the original or canonical URL at

http://www.example.com/category/home-furniture/home-furnishings/sectionals

You will find tutorials online that teach how to implement rel=”canonical” tags.

Using URL parameter tools –

If you look in Google search console, you will find a feature that allows webmasters provide Google with information on how to handle parameter URLs. However, note that you have to be very careful when making changes as you can easily exclude important pages from Google index which will result in significant loss of traffic to those pages.

Bing Webmaster Central also contain a feature that tell Bing to ignore URL parameters.

Disallow query strings using robots.txt –

Adding Disallow: /*?* to the Robot.txt in your website can discourage search engines from crawling parameter URLS, but this will not stop them from indexing the pages. However, in order not to get a result you don’t want, you have no make sure that no other page on your website carries a question mark in its URL otherwise it will be blocked also.

Final words

Using faceted navigation which results in URL parameters can be a good thing for your users, but it can also be a bad thing for your website. Thankfully, with the suggestions provided in this article, you will be able to successfully avoid any potential URL parameters problems.

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