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Use Webmaster Tools to Clean Up Organic Search URLs

 

If a search engine is showing listings for your pages where the URL contains a campaign parameters such as WT.mc_id or even utm_campaign, you have a reporting accuracy problem.  Think about it.  Anybody who clicks on one of those organic listings will show up in your reporting as having come from the campaign AND having come from organic search, at the same time.  The latter is what you want, the former is going to inflate your campaign numbers because the visit isn’t a campaign visit at all.

Yes, Google, Bing, and Yahoo frequently do have, in their indexes, URLs with campaign parameters.  See our Canonical URLs post for a description of several ways those superfluous parameters sneak into the index.

To see if your own site has any, take a break right now and run a search on this phrase and scan all the results:

site:yoursitenamehere.com (yes, include “site:”)

If you found more campaign-identified links than you wanted to see, there are things you can do.

One is to use Canonical URLs in your page code.  However, be warned that only Google actively honors this – Yahoo and Bing still are not complying with the Canonical URL tag after two years!

So … forget the Canonical URL tag.  Use Google and Bing/Yahoo Webmaster Tools to keep superfluous URL parameters out of the indexes.

(These instructions assume you already have Webmaster Tools accounts on both Google and Bing.  If not, get that to happen!)

Below are the steps we use.

  1. Go first to Google Webmaster Tools (GWT).  Do not go to Bing/Yahoo first.
  2. In Google Webmaster Tools, go to Site Configurations >> Settings >>Parameter Handling tab
  3. GWT will show you a list of parameters that it has found during its crawls.
  4. For those parameters you want Google to omit from the URLs in its index, change the Action to “Ignore.”
  5. Print the list to paper – you’ll need it for the next step.
  6. Save and close GWT
  7. Go to Bing Webmaster Tools
  8. In Bing Webmaster Tools, go to Crawl >> Crawl Settings
  9. Using the list you printed, enter all the parameters you want suppressed

The tip embedded in the above is to use Google Webmaster Tools to get a pretty complete list of all possible parameters. In fact, you’ll probably see parameters you aren’t aware of or have forgotten about.  Then, with your sure-to-be-complete list of parameters, it’s easy to fill up the Bing/Yahoo list, which is a blank slate with no starter list like Google has.

What if the Google list shows parameters that you don’t understand or are not familiar with?

Here’s a second tip that we discovered by accident.  You can coax information from the Google Webmaster Tools parameter list that will help you figure out what some of the parameters are all about.  It won’t be a complete answer, but it will help.

You have to be using Internet Explorer or Chrome, probably Firefox.  Opera, our favorite ultra-fast browser for home use, doesn’t work for this.

The GWT list of parameters looks something like this:

GWTparams

In the screen shot, note that the second column, Action, is all drop-down lists.  If any of your rows are NOT dropdown lists on your screen, click on the “Edit” or “Reset” link at the far right.  The second column item should turn into a dropdown list.

With your mouse, click on the heading or the first parameter, drag, and copy it to the clipboard.

GWTparams3

Paste it into Word.  Not Paste Special, but Paste.  It should paste as messy HTML, with extra stuff, like this:

GWTparams4

Note the red arrow above.  The MS Word pasted copy shows TWO dropdown menus per row, not one!  The second dropdown is live.  Click on it and you’ll see the known values of the parameter, as below:

GWTparams5

This second dropdown has been there all along, but was coded to not display in a browser window.  Copying and pasting it to Word just happens to make it visible.  Cool eh?  You can also use a debugger such as Fiddler to break the invisibility in the browser window, but using Word is much faster.

Now you have more information on what the mystery parameters are all about.  Some will have only one value and might be typos in the code.  Others, like “denomination” above, is revealed to have values of 10, 20, 50, 100 and so on … which we immediately recognized as denominations for gift card purchases.  Not a necessary parameter.

So, with the new information, you can set even more parameters to “ignore” and clean up your organic listings further.

While you’re in Webmaster Tools, especially the Google one, look around.  There is some very useful stuff in there.

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