URL parameters are the components added to the URLs that help filter and organize the content or track information on your website.

But URL parameters also create SEO issues such as content duplication, crawl budget issues, etc. In this guide, we are sharing everything about parameterized URLs and how to tackle them.

Before we learn about URL parameters, let’s understand what a URL is.

A URL is an acronym for Uniform Resource Locator that serves as the address of a webpage. Enter the URL in any search engine’s search or address bar, and it takes you to your desired website or webpage.

The structure of the URL has five parts.

https://www.yoursite.com/blog/url-parameters

In the above example, the parts of the URL would be:

#1. Protocol

The ‘http://’or ‘https://’ is a set of rules followed to transfer files across the World Wide Web.

#2. Domain

A domain is the name of your website. The name represents the organization or an individual who runs the website. From the above example, ‘yoursite’ is the domain name.

#3. Subdomain

Subdomains are meant to provide structure to your site. A commonly created subdomain is ‘www.’ You can create multiple subdomains if you wish to share different content or information on the same website.

Companies create multiple subdomains like “store.domain.com” and “shop.domain.com.”

#4. TLD

Top-Level Domain (TDL) is the section followed by your domain. ‘.com,’ ‘.org, ‘.gov,’ ‘.biz’ are some common TLDs.

#5. Path

A path refers to the exact location of the information or content you are looking for. The path for the above example would be ‘blog/url_parameters.

So this structure explains how each factor adds value to information retrieval.

But do you know that a URL can also help you pass information to and from the website?

Yes!

It is where the URL parameter comes into the picture.

What is a URL parameter?

Have you ever noticed special characters in the URL, like a question mark (?), Equals to (=), or Ampersand (&)?

Let’s say you are looking for the term’ marketing.’ The URL would look like this.

www.yoursite.com/search?q=marketing

The string followed after the question mark in the URL is called “URL Parameter,” or Query String. The question mark dissects the URL to identify your query string.

URL parameters are commonly used in websites with a large amount of data or on websites where you sort or filter the products at your convenience—for example, shopping websites, e-commerce, etc.

URL parameters contain key and value pairs separated by a ‘=’ sign, and multiple pairs are separated by a ‘&’ sign.

The value represents the actual data you are passing, and the key represents the data type.

Suppose you are browsing a product on an e-commerce website.

The URL for the same is:

https://www.yoursite.com/shoes

Now you think of filtering it based on color so that the URL parameter addition will be

https://www.yoursite.com/shoes?color=black

(here, color is key, and value is black)

If you want to filter for fresh arrivals, then the URL parameter addition will be

https://www.yoursite.com/shoes?color=black&sort=newest

URL parameters are valuable for SEO, but they confuse search engines by capturing different variations of the same page, causing duplication and thus affecting your chances of ranking in Google SERPs.

Let’s learn how to use URL parameters correctly to avoid potential SEO issues.

How to use URL Parameters?

URL parameters are used to evaluate your page and track user preferences.

Here is a list of 11 URL parameters:

#1. Tracking

UTM codes are used to track traffic from paid campaigns and advertisements.

Example: ?utm_medium=video15 or ?sessionid=173

#2. Reordering

Putting items in order according to the parameters

Example:- ?sort=reviews_highest or ?sort=lowest-price

#3. Translating

The URL string should end with the name of the selected language.

Example:-?lang=en or ?language=de

#4. Searching

To find a result on the website,

Example:- ?q=search-term or ? search=drop-down-option

#5. Filtering

To filter based on distinct fields like type, event, territory, etc.

Example:- ?type=shirt, colour=black or ?price-range = 10-20

#6. Paginating

To segment content on pages for online stores

Example:?page=3 or ?pageindex=3

#7. Identifying

Organizing gallery pages by size, category, etc.

Example:- ?product=white-shirt , ?category = formal, ? productid=123

#8. Affiliate IDs

Unique identifiers that are used to track Affiliate links

Example:- ?id=12345

#9. Advertising Tags

Track your Advertisement campaign performance

Example:- ?utm_source=emailcampaign

#10. Session IDs

To track user behavior within the website. Commonly used by E-commerce websites to check buyers’ journeys.

?sessionid=4321

#11. Video timestamps

To jump to a specific timestamp in a video

?t=60

Now, let’s look at issues caused by parameterized URL

Major SEO issues caused by URL parameters

A properly structured URL is beneficial for users to understand the hierarchy of your site. But when too many parameters are used, they can also create SEO issues.

Let’s examine the most common problems caused by URL parameters.

Crawl Budget Wastage

When your website has multiple parameter-based URLs, Google crawls different versions of the same page. Eventually, crawlers either end up using more bandwidth or stop altogether, signaling it as low-quality content.

Content Duplication

Parameters make search engine bots crawl different versions of the same webpage, which results in indexing multiple URLs with different parameters, resulting in content duplication.

However, if your website offers users the option to sort content by price or feature, these options will only narrow the results rather than changing the page’s content.

Let’s understand this with an example.

http://www.yoursite.com/footwear/shoes

http://www.abc.com/footwear/shoes?category=sneakers&color=white

http://www.abc.com/footwear/shoes?category=sneakers&type=men&color=white

Here, all three URLs are different versions of the same web page, which will be considered separate URLs by search engine bots. They will crawl and index all the versions of the web page, causing content duplication issues.

Keyword Cannibalization

When multiple pages target the same keywords, the process is known as “keyword cannibalization.” Pushing your website pages to compete with one another will harm your SEO.

Keyword Cannibalization results in lower CTR, less authority, and lower conversion rates than a single consolidated page.

In this scenario, search engines may struggle to determine which page to rank for a search query. It could result in the “wrong” or “undesired” page ranking for that term, eventually ranking low based on user signals.

Lower Clickability

URLs with parameters sometimes look ugly. Reading them is difficult. Less transparent URLs are not found trustworthy. They are, therefore, less likely to be clicked on.

For example:

URL 1: http://www.yoursite.com/footwear/shoes

URL 2: http://www.yoursite.com/footwear/shoes?catID=1256&type=white

Here, URL 2 looks spammy and less reliable compared to URL 1. Users are less likely to click this URL and thus decrease the CTR, affects ranking, and further lowers domain authority.

SEO Best Practices for URL Parameter Handling

Now that we have established how URL Parameters can harm your SEO. Let’s see how you can avoid them by making minor changes while creating URL parameters.

Prefer a Static URL path over a Dynamic path

Static and dynamic are both different URL types that have their function for the webpage. Dynamic URLs are not considered an ideal option for SEO as it is hard for search engines to index dynamic URLs compared to static URLs.

It is recommended to convert the parameter URLs into subfolder URLs using server-side rendering. However, that’s also not an ideal situation for all the dynamic URLs, as URLs generated for price filters might not add any SEO values. If indexed, they can result in thin content, so it is better to have dynamic URLs in such cases.

Dynamic URLs help tracking; sometimes, static URLs can’t be an ideal option to track all the parameters.

So, it is always advisable to use static URL paths when indexing any particular page and dynamic URLs when you don’t want a page to be indexed. URL parameters not required to be indexed can be used as a dynamic URL, such as tracking, reordering, filtering, and pagination, and others can be used as static.

Consistency in Parameterized URLs

Parameter URLs should be arranged properly to avoid SEO issues, such as empty values in parameter URLs, unnecessary parameters in the URL, and repeated keys.

URLs should be in a constant sequence to avoid issues such as crawl budget wastage and ranking signal split.

For example:

https://yoursite.com/product/facewash/rose?key2=value2&key1=value1

https://yoursite.com/product/facewash/rose?key1=value1&key2=value2

In the above sequence, the parameters are getting rearranged. Search engine bots will take these URLs are separate and crawl them twice.

When in a consistent order:

https://yoursite.com/product/facewash/rose?key1=value1&key2=value2

https://yoursite.com/product/facewash/rose?key1=value1&key2=value2

The developer should be given proper instructions on arranging the parameter URLs in a constant sequence to avoid any SEO issues.

Implement Canonical tags

Canonical tags can be implemented to avoid duplication. Canonical tags from the parameters page should point to the main page you want to get indexed. Adding canonical tags to the parameterized URLs projects the main page as canonical. Thus, crawlers will only index your preferred page.

Use Robot.txt Disallow

With Robot.txt, you can control crawlers. It helps you inform search engines which pages you want them to crawl and which you want to ignore.

By using ‘Disallow: /*?*‘ in your robot.txt file, block the pages with URL parameters causing duplication. Make sure that you properly canonicalize the query string to the primary page.

Consistent with Internal Linking

Assume that your website has a lot of parameter-based URLs. Some pages are indexed with dofollow, and some pages aren’t. So by interlinking with the non-parameterized URLs. By consistently following this method, you can signal crawlers which pages to index and which pages to not.

Internal linking also benefits SEO, content, and traffic.

Pagination

If you have an e-commerce website with multiple categories of products and content, pagination can help you break them down into multiple-page lists. Paginating your website URLs can boost the user experience on your website. Create a view-all page and place all your paginated URLs on this page

Place the tag rel=canonical” in the head section of each paginated page referring to the view-all page to avoid duplication. Crawlers will treat these pages as a paginated series.

You can always opt not to add your paginated URLs to the sitemap if you wish not to rank them. Your crawls will index them from your view-all page, no matter what. It can reduce your crawl budget as well.

Tools to Crawl and Monitor Parameterized URLs

Below are the tools that help you monitor URL parameters and enhance your website’s SEO.

The Google Search Console

With the Google Search Console tool, you can segregate your website URLs. You can view all the URLs currently getting impressions in the search results tab. In the tab, applying the page URL filter will give the list of pages.

From there, you put a filter to find out the URLs with parameters.

Google Analytics

Google treats URLs with different parameters as separate pages, and Google Analytics shows pageviews of every URL parameter separately.

If that’s not what you meant, you may use Admin > View Settings > Exclude URL Query Parameters to remove the parameters from your reports and combine pageviews into the figures for the primary URL.

Bing Webmaster Tool

You can exclude URL parameters by adding parameter names in Configure My Site > Ignore URL Parameters. However, Bing Webmaster does not provide advanced options to check whether parameters can change content or not.

Screaming Frog SEO Spider crawl tool

Up to 500 URLs can be crawled to monitor your parameters for free. The paid version allows you to monitor unlimited URL parameters.

Screaming Frog’s ‘Remove Parameters’ feature lets you strip parameters from the URL.

Ahrefs Site Audit tool

The Ahrefs tool also has a ‘Remove URL Parameters’ to ignore your parameters when crawling your site. You can also enable to ignore parameters that have matching patterns.

But in the end, Ahrefs site audit tool only crawls the canonicalized version of your pages.

Deepcrawl

Powerful cloud crawl software suitable for huge eCommerce sites. By adding the parameters you wish to block in the ‘Remove Parameters’ field, they will be removed from URLs. Deepcrawl allows modifying and stripping parameters and URL rewriting.

Conclusion

URL parameters are often ignored when it comes to website SEO. By consistently maintaining parameterized URLs, you can monitor your SEO hygiene.

To resolve URL parameter issues, the SEO team will need to collaborate with the web development team and pass clear instructions to them on updating the parameters. Parameterized URLs should not be ignored as they can impact your ranking signals and create other SEO issues as well.

Now that you understand how URL parameters can level up your website SEO, Web crawlers will eventually understand how to use and value the pages on your website.

You may also look at how to make Javascript SEO-friendly.