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Will changing links to remove query string parameters that are no longer used have any negative impact on search engine rankings?

Say I have a page about.php on my site, and all of my links to this page are of the form

http://www.example.com/about.php?foo=bar

and I've made some changes to the script such that the parameter foo is no longer used.

I would like to remove the unused parameter from the links so the URL will look cleaner, but I am concerned that this could cause problems with SEO.

Is it safe to remove ?foo=bar from my links?

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Don't forget to approve an answer. –  JVerstry Aug 25 at 17:18

3 Answers 3

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On the long term, no, but on the short term there might be some fluctuation.

There are two possibilities to mitigate this issue: - In Google Webmaster Tools, in Crawl > URL Parameters, you can tell Google which parameters to ignore. - Set a canonical without the old parameter on url pages still having the old parameter.

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What is the "short term" here? Will the fluctuation last a few hours or a few weeks? –  trm Aug 20 at 20:49
    
If google has indexed many url with parameters, not setting proper configuration in GWT or not setting proper canonicals might trigger some fluctuations from days to weeks, depending on the size of your site and how often it is revisited by crawlers. –  JVerstry Aug 20 at 20:51

You have to decide if the parameter values and indeed the parameter name itself have keyword value for your URL/URI and if removing them would alter search performance. Here is what I mean.

You will want to revisit any keyword research you have done. If it has been a while (a year or more), then you may want to briefly analyze your keyword usage again but do not stress yourself with this too much. You just want a solid baseline to work from.

When a search engine examines a URL/URI, they break the string by word boundaries and strip away the non-alpha-numeric characters. What is left is weighted first from left to right, then by keyword phrases and search history. What is left is a ranking of importance for the keyword terms in order. You will want to look at your URL/URI the same way and see what is important and what is not. Include any possible parameter values (within reason). Treat it like a header tag if you will. Ask yourself if what is left can be somewhat conversational (sentence like) without stop words (such as the, as, a, and so on).

While the URL/URI is important, what is more important is the title tag, your one and only h1 tag, any other header tags, your content, and any backlinks. With semantic search, this has more value. The importance of a URL/URI has dropped somewhat preferring actual content for weight along with user votes and clues which is what a link tends to be.

A very lean URL/URI can focus how your site is found.

You may find that the parameters that you want to delete are not competitive or very competitive. You may find that removing the parameters would lean-out your URL/URI and focus how your site is found. Any URL/URI should reflect your most 2-3 important keywords per page. It should support your title tag and h1 tag as much as it can. Check to see if your parameters and values have weight. If you find that the parameters and values have weight, then I would think twice about deleting them.

I went through the same exercise last year and removed all parameters except one that is actually an alias which can represent several parameters. This allowed me some flexibility in how to keyword weigh any page without having to disrupt search too much. In my case, the parameter is purely conversational.

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No, it is not safe. A URL, including the querystring, is the unique identifier for that content. By removing the querystring you are in essence creating a new page. This means for SEO you will be starting from scratch. All links, etc, for that URL will be lost for the new URL.

If you decide to remove the querysting, and change the URL, you need to do a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new URL. That will tell users and search engines that the page has moved, and for search engines, to consider the new page the same as the old page and transfer all incoming links, PR, etc to the new page and show that page in the search results.

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I have removed parameters before where the effect would be the same or nearly the same. This would be fine if your software ignores the parameter like mine does and continues to honor the link anyway. It worked seamlessly for me. I recently opted for a single parameter that is an alias for as many parameters as I would like. I continue to ignore additional parameters that no longer apply and all is well. But your point is perfectly valid and a good one! If the OP's software can ignore the parameter, then perhaps he will have the same success I did. –  closetnoc Aug 20 at 21:48

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