URL Tagging and SEO

url-tagging-seo

URL tagging is used by marketing professionals and analysts to track the performance of online (and in some cases offline) campaigns. Any URL that you control and which sends visitors back to the site you manage, should be be tagged for tracking and analysis. However, tagging comes with a several SEO concerns:

  1. duplicate content – search engines might index tagged URLs
  2. campaign tracking can be misleading
  3. PageRank leakage
  4. 404 errors – landing people on a non existing URL after the campaign ended

Tagging means adding certain parameters to URLs so once can track the source, medium, campaign name, keywords and other metrics. For example you sent an email blast and you want to track the campaign’s performance –  you will tag all the links in the email so you will know when someone visited the site from that campaign.

But Google tries follows URLs in .pdfs, emails (gmail) and will index pages with potential duplicate content. Let’s see how spread this indexing issue is:

- there are 50,800,000 Google Analytics tagged URLs in Google

tagged-urls-indexed

That’s a lot of URLs with possible dupe content issues

- there are 2.000.000 Google AdWords’ gclid URLs indexed in Google

Even URLs with AdWords tracking parameters are indexed

Even URLs with AdWords tracking parameters are indexed

If you want to dig deeper you can do a inurl:{parameter ID} for other PPC engines, web analytics tool or email trackers. For those Here’s a list of parameters used by some major companies:

yahoo search marketing tags – ovraw, ovkey, ovmtc, ovadid, ovkwid

yahoo clickID – YSMWA

MSN clickIDmsclkid

IndexTools – _s_ref

Omniture – a_aid, a_cid, a_did, s_kwcid

CoreMetrics – cm_ven, cm_cat, cm_pla, cm_ite

Webtrends – WT.cg_n, WT.cg_s, WT.mc_n, WT.mc_t, WT.mc_r, WT.ad, WT.ac

SalesForce parameters  - _kk _kt

Let’s talk about several SEO issues that can arise from tracking parameters.

Duplicate content

A tagged home page URL could look like this:

sample-tagged-URL

A Tagged URL

Technically, http://www.pitstopmedia.com/sem/tagging-SEO and the URL above are 2 different documents, but the content on their content is 100% duplicate (given the tracking parameters don’t change the content on the page). If  search engines are somehow able to find and crawl the tagged URL, they may index it as well and here you go, duplicate content.

Misleading campaign tracking

If your tagged URLs are picked up by search engines and ranked for particular terms, tracking the traffic coming from those keywords may become a mess. Your tracking parameters may override the search engines ones, and your analytics data will be corrupted.

PageRank leakage

With your link building you should be consistent: always link to the same URLs for a page. Linking to pistopmedia.com and www.pitstopmedia.com is dividing you linking efforts.

Chances are low, but if someone is linking to your site using a tagged URL (copy an paste email from an email for example) your page rank will have to lose.

404 Errors

Many times after a campaign ended, the URL become inactive. Therefore the risk of people bookmarking your tagged URLs then using them to come back on your site is quite eminent, at least for large sites.

As you can see these are only a few of the problems I could think of regarding tagged URL.

What we do for ourselves  is:

- to avoid duplicate content we use the rel=”canonical” tag on the tagged URL as well as noindex, nocache, nofollow directive with the robots meta tag

- the above will also keep us out of trouble for misleading campaign tracking from organic search results, since you are keeping those URL out of search engine index. If somehow some tagged URLs are getting indexed, you can request an URL removal within Google/Yahoo/Bing webmaster accounts

- we did 301 redirects from pitstopmedia.com of the site to www.pitstopmedia.com, as well as from www.pitstopmedia.com/index.php to www.pitstopmedia.com; basically you want to have a single URL for the same page

- to avoid the 404 errors, once a campaign becomes inactive, that URL is 301′d to www.pitstopmedia.com

One strategy we’ve seen is to do a 301 redirect of the tagged URLs to the root of the website even before the campaigns are done. 301 redirects are supposed to pass the header information, but that’s not 100% accurate and sometimes the referral data gets lost. This strategy has the advantage of displaying a clean nice URL so people will bookmark the SEO friendly URLs, but the trade off is with possible referral data.

What are your thoughts?

Pitstop Media offers ROI focused SEO services. If you need a SEO company to help you rank #1 please contact us for a free, no obligation quote. We’ve helped companies rank first on Google in short periods of time, for highly competitive terms.

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About 

Traian is Founder and Director of Search Marketing at Pitstop Media Inc. He has more than 11 years experience in helping small and medium businesses generate and convert organic traffic from search engines. Connect with Traian on Google+

 

3 Responses to “URL Tagging and SEO”

  1. Arvind said:

    Oct 05, 12 at 10:29 am

    Hi,

    I really enjoyed learning about URL tagging. What are your solutions to duplicate content ? Looking forward to your answer.

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  2. Traian Neacsu said:

    Oct 05, 12 at 10:50 am

    It really depends on your situation. It can be 301, rel canonical, parameter control in GWT depending on your situation.

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  3. [removed anchor text] said:

    Oct 11, 12 at 6:24 am

    URL tagging is great but as you mentioned, there are quite a few problems with it. I would specifically like to know more about page rank leakage because I have experienced this problem myself while running SEO campaigns for my clients.

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