The SEO Starter Guide to Google Search ConsoleChapter nine

Using URL Parameters in Webmaster Tools

You can configure URL parameters in Search Console to tell Google whether it should crawl or ignore specific parameters to prevent duplication.

What are URL Parameters?

URL Parameters are parameters with values that are set dynamically within a pages URL. This enables a single page to show an infinite number of different views.

Active parameters can change page content for users by transforming or sorting a page a certain way. The URLs below are examples of what active parameters could look like sorting a category page for dresses in different ways.

  • http://www.example.com/products/dresses/?sort=price_high
  • http://www.example.com/products/dresses/?sort=price_low
  • http://www.example.com/products/dresses/search?color=red&size=8

Passive parameters don’t have any affect on how content appears to users, but can track visits or referrals. The below URLs are examples of what passive parameters could look like:

  • http://www.example.com/products/dresses/?sessionid=12345
  • http://www.example.com/products/dresses?utm_source=google&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=param

In either case, most parameters don’t actually affect the actual content on the page, meaning that in a search engine’s eyes, all of the below pages are duplicates:

  • http://www.example.com/products/dresses/?sort=price_high
  • http://www.example.com/products/dresses/?sort=price_low
  • http://www.example.com/products/dresses/search?color=red&size=8
  • http://www.example.com/products/dresses/?sessionid=12345
  • http://www.example.com/products/dresses?utm_source=google&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=param

Click through to read a more in-depth post on common duplicate content issues, including parameterized URLs.

How to Configure URL Parameters

Search Console features a tool that will tell Google which parameters to ignore, which can prevent duplication from parameterized URLs.

This is the place where I tell you to use this tool with caution – if you make a mistake in this tool and incorrectly exclude URLs it could result in pages or your entire site disappearing from search. So don’t do that.

This tool is also not all-powerful. If you have parameters in your sitemaps or used in internal linking, this could confuse Google and cause them to index the parameterized URLs anyway.

Step 1: Log in to Search Console and click on Crawl, then URL Parameters

Step 2: Click Configure URL Parameters

Note: You can click on all screenshots below to view at a larger size.

configure url parameters webmaster tools

Step 3: Click the Add parameter button

add url parameter in gsc

Step 4: Enter your parameter

Step 5: Select whether or not the parameter changes how content is seen by the user

url parameter options in gsc

If you selected No: Doesn’t affect page content (ex. tracks usage), then you can click Save

The “No” option is for passive parameters – meaning that the page content stays the same with or without the parameter. Google will just pick the version of the URL it thinks is primary and index that version.

Step 6: If you selected Yes: Changes, reorders, or narrows page content, you must then select how the parameter affects content (sorts, narrows, specifies, translates, paginates, or other) and then tell Google which URLs with the parameter that Googlebot is allowed to crawl.

The “Yes” option is for active parameters – meaning that the page content is different with each parameter.You can then choose if Googlebot should decide which pages to crawl, if every URL should be crawled, if only URLs with specific values should be crawled, or if no URLs should be crawled.

parameter effects on content gsc

Changes using the URL Parameter tool may not be reflected in the SERPs for several months, so it’s good practice to regularly use a site:query search to check every few weeks to verify success.