One of the largest SEO problems that we see with sites that use dynamic query strings in their URLs is duplicate content. It is common for Google to automatically index all of the different variations of URLs and with several different query parameter combinations working together those pages can really add up with very little variance between them. Therefore Google can potentially chalk these pages up as a lot of duplicate content which reflects poorly on the site. Google Webmaster tools offers a way to communicate the functions of these URL parameters so that they can better learn how to index your site without wasting precious bot time going through the entire site.
Google Webmaster tools has offered this feature for some time but they have recently improved it by giving site owners more options. According to Google, “in addition to assigning a crawl action to an individual parameter, you can now also describe the behavior of the parameter.” The process starts with telling Google whether or not the parameter affects the page’s content or not. If it doesn’t change anything on the page then your work is done – the Googlebot will simply choose a representative page utilizing that parameter value and assign equal value to the group. However, if the parameter does change the content of the page then you need to let Google know how they should handle URLs with these parameters. Here are the four choices:
- Let Googlebot decide
- Every URL
- Only crawl URLs with value=x
- No URLs
One of the greatest new features is the ability to specify your own value for the “Only crawl URLs with value=x” option which previously only allowed you to select from a list of values provided by Google. In addition, you can even tell Google what the parameter does to the page which allows them to better understand why you’re calling the specific parameters out. With some of these new features Google is really making it easier to explain how your site works, allowing them to better understand and index the right pages.
Log in to your Google Webmaster tools today and look at the “Configuration > URL Parameters” section to see if there’s an opportunity for you to better communicate your site’s functionality to Google. Use these with caution though because they really do work and if you tell Google the wrong thing accidentally you might see those pages go bye-bye.