URL Parameters and SEO
URL parameters can have both positive and negative implications for SEO. Let’s explore some of the key considerations:
Indexing, Crawling and Duplicate Content
Search engines like Google have limited resources allocated for crawling and indexing websites. When a search engine encounters URLs with parameters, it needs to decide whether to crawl and index them as separate pages or treat them as variations of the main URL. If not handled properly, this can lead to duplicate content issues, dilution of page authority, and confusion for search engines. It can also take longer for Google to crawl a URL with a long parameter, eating into the time Google will spend on your site and thus how many pages it will crawl.
Google has been known to demote websites with significant duplicate content issues, so this should not be taken lightly.
To guide search engines, website owners can use directives like canonical tags or URL parameter settings in tools like Google Search Console. These directives indicate the preferred version of the URL and help consolidate ranking signals to a single page, preventing duplicate content problems. Site owners can also use robots.txt to block search bots from the parameter versions of URLs, ensuring that bots only crawl the non parameter version. For instance, using the earlier example, if these two web pages exist:
The parameter version (/search?q=keyword) is likely an exact, or near exact, duplicate of the non parameter version (/horses/).
It may well be worth using robots.txt to disallow Google from the parameter version, so that it can only crawl the clean version. You may also wish to consider using canonical tags.
URL parameters can impact the user experience of a website. Lengthy and complex URLs with multiple parameters can appear confusing and untrustworthy to users, potentially affecting click-through rates and conversion rates. Additionally, parameters that change the displayed content significantly without a clear indication in the URL can hinder user navigation and make it difficult for visitors to share specific pages.
To enhance user experience, Google recommends creating clean, readable URLs that provide a clear idea of the content and structure of a page. Using descriptive words instead of cryptic parameters can help users and search engines understand the purpose of a page.
URL Structure and Keywords
Well-optimised URLs play a role in conveying the relevance and context of a page to search engines. Keywords in URLs is a ranking factor, so we recommend, where appropriate (and talk to your SEO agency about this) that you include relevant keywords in URLs.
When using URL parameters, it’s important to consider their impact on the overall URL structure. If parameters result in lengthy, complex and convoluted URLs, or URLs that don’t seem to contain many words that are understandable to humans, it may dilute the keyword relevance and hinder your SEO efforts.