How will Google interpret links to URLs ending with a campaign tag?



Campaign tags, also known as URL parameters, are a way of telling apart different variables, such as a visitor's source, or affiliate id, or something similar. Hence, they are used for tracking purposes. These tags or parameters change the URL, even if they might point to the same content. For example www.example.com and www.example.com?ref=1234, both might point to the same webpage. So the important question is, how does Google treat such URLs? It is logical to think about them as two different URLs, since there's an added key-value pair. And some parameters even change the content on a webpage. So how does Google interpret such links that have a campaign tag? Does it consider them as the same page or not? And what are the SEO effects of inbound links?

First of all, it is important to know about different types of URL parameters. There are basically two types of URL parameters; the ones that change content, and the ones that don't. Content changing URL Parameters are typically used for searching, sorting, narrowing down results etc. And since they change content, they should be treated as different URLs.
URL parameters that do not change content, such as campaign tags, affiliate ids, referral sources etc are just used for tracking purposes. And since such parameters point to the same content, it is these that we need to be worried about.
 

 
Firstly, Google's crawl team does a good job of detecting such issues. If there are multiple URLs that point to the same content, they can canonicalize them, meaning they can group such URLs together, and pick one best URL from among them. So if you have standard URL parameters, most of the time Google will be able to tell which parameters point to the same content, and it will then canonicalize them.
 
However, if you have non-standard URL endings, or maybe are in a doubt that search engines won't be able to recognize similar URLs, then there are a few things you can do to help the process.

Keep it simple

Always try to follow the KISS rule, i.e. Keep It Simple, Stupid! Make it as easy for your users as possible, and also for search engines. But if you don't trust a search engine to get it right, you can set a rel="canonical" tag for your page. A canonical page is a preferred version (or original version) of a set of pages with the same content. So Google will know straight away that this URL has multiple versions.
 
You can also use a 301 redirect. If you want the URL tag(s) version(s) of a page to not be in Google's index, you can use a 301 redirect to direct traffic to the original page, while still registering a hit at that page on your server.

Configure URL parameters

You can also use Google Webmaster Tools to configure URL Parameters, and tell Google which parameters change content, and which don't. You can tell Google what URL to consider, and which to regard as repeated versions. Please read the following two posts to understand about URL parameter configuration.
That's all there is to URL parameters. If you have questions, ask them here. We'd be glad to help :)

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