Jul 22, 2011 113 reads by Navneet Kaushal

Google announced the  introduction of parameter handling to webmaster tools in 2009. Parameter handling, allowed webmasters to pick up to 15 parameters on their websites which were indispensable. And now, Google has improved this feature once more. It now enables webmasters and site owners to cite how certain parameters could modify the content on the page

Previously, there were some issues noted with parameters were causing with how search engines were crawling, indexing websites. Especially, with multiplication of the parameters. This lead to an increase in the duplication of pages. This lead to link coming into all the versions. Subsequently, this affects the PageRank and the canonical version of the page may not end up ranking high either. This also affects the crawling of the website which has implication on indexing as well.

The new options of offering information to Google about the parameters in your URLs
With this new options made available you can now let Google know if the parameter changes the content on your web page. If it does you are then in a fix! In case they do not change the content all you have to do is, let them know once. However this new update of the feature affects the crawling of the URL and how parameters are dealt with.

The feature by default is set to “Let Googlebot decide”. On selection of this option, “Google detects duplicate content, such as variations caused by URL parameters, we group the duplicate URLs into one cluster and select what we think is the "best" URL to represent the cluster in search results. We then consolidate properties of the URLs in the cluster, such as link popularity, to the representative URL. Consolidating properties from duplicates into one representative URL often provides users with more accurate search results.”

For enhancing this process, Google suggests the use of parameter handling tool to give them more information about how you want them to handle URLs which consist of specific parameters. Google promises, “We'll do our best to take this information into account; however, there may be  cases when the provided suggestions may do more harm than good for a site.

Nonetheless, Google suggests to gain control over the process Follow the below steps:

Does this parameter change page content seen by the user?
If you opt for No: Doesn't affect page content. Google explains:
Conversely if you pick Yes, Google Webmaster Tools suggest, the parameter that could change the content could include:
  • “ Sorts (for example, sort=price_ascending): Changes the order in which content is presented.
  • Narrows (for example, t-shirt_size=XS): Filters the content on the page.
  • Specifies (for example, store=women): Determines the set of content displayed on a page.
  • Translates (for example, lang=fr): Displays a translated version of the content.
  • Paginates (for example, page=2): Displays a specific page of a long listing or article.
  • Other: Changes content in ways other than those described above.”
Google further suggests that you op for the URL parameters tool to notify them reason for the parameter used in your site and how it ought to deal with URLs that contain those parameters. 

This might sound like a lot to take in. But to make things simpler Google has also launched a CSV file where you can download all parameter setting offline. 

To Conclude: 
The basic question is if you should use this feature? Google suggests “Only use this feature if you feel confident about how parameters work for your site. Telling Googlebot to exclude URLs with certain parameters could result in large numbers of your pages disappearing from our index.” 

What this suggests is, you should only use this feature is you and expert in URL parameters and canonicalization. Otherwise, it is advised to you stick to the default settings. They are good by themselves anyways especially with URLs making the use of standard key-value pairs! 

Navneet Kaushal

Navneet Kaushal

Navneet Kaushal is the founder and CEO of PageTraffic, an SEO Agency in India with offices in Chicago, Mumbai and London. A leading search strategist, Navneet helps clients maintain an edge in search engines and the online media. Navneet's expertise has established PageTraffic as one of the most awarded and successful search marketing agencies.
Navneet Kaushal
Navneet Kaushal
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