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How search engines treat question marks in URLs

Dynamic websites have positives and negatives from a SEO perspective

Dynamic websites often display question marks and equals signs in the URLs for things like tracking site visitors or showing variations of a product. This can make it easy to add pages/products to your site but can also have a negative impact from a SEO perspective, so it’s important to understand how Google and other search engines handle dynamic sites and ‘query strings’ in URLs.

Firstly, let’s get past the jargon. A dynamic website or web page is different to a static site or page in that it displays different content to individual site visitors (for a number of reasons).

A ‘query string’ is the part of the URL that comes after the question mark. The query string is usually used by dynamic sites to pass extra information to a page such as the category or product to display. This allows the same page to display different content depending on the query string passed into the page.

As a page with different query strings can show different content, search engines generally treat them as distinct pages – even if the part before the question mark is identical each time. This can result in both benefits and problems for you search engine optimisation (SEO) campaign.

How do dynamic sites help or hinder your SEO campaign?

The benefit of dynamic pages is that you won’t need to do much extra work to allow search engines such as Google to index new product pages. However there are limitations in this and where possible, it is still recommended to use a more user-friendly and SEO-friendly URL for each dynamic page, such as the name of the product, sorted by category.

There are often situations when a page displays similar or identical information for different query strings. For example, many sites keep track of users with an ID in the query string. Every time a search engine crawls the site, a new ID is generated, so pages that are previously indexed look like new pages to the search engine.

This can lead search engines to conclude your site has duplicate content and adversely impact your SEO campaign. This doesn’t result in penalties per se but you certainly won’t progress in rankings with duplicate content, whereas if you create fresh content for individual product pages, you are more likely to rank for search terms relevant to the product or service.

If you have a dynamic site and are looking to avoid the duplicate problem (for Google at least) , log into your Google Webmaster Tools account (you will need to have your site added and verified by Google before this can take effect).

Under Site configuration in the sidebar > Settings > Parameter Handling and enter the parameters that produce duplicate content and tell Google to ignore them.

Outsourcing your SEO to ROI’s Search Engine Optimisation program they can diagnose and provide tailored strategies to help your business. Discover the benefits and contact roi.com.au on 1300 650 274 today.

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