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We have an old domain we are slowly turning off and are currently redirecting pages via 301 redirects to relevent urls on a totally different domain and site, the reason for this being that the brand changed so the name of the domain and everything had to be altered.

The rewrite rules I created include utm_source and other utm_ parameters so that we can gauge accurate results in google analytics.

However now we are starting to see some "split results" in google search... ie pages on our destination new domain that include the utm parameters in the search results. The same pages sometimes appear in google index without the utm parameters. Clearly this must be due to our 301 redirects where googlebot has returned to re-index the old domain.

What is the best way of avoiding this doubling of indexing?

I've read that you can control this to some degree in the "URL Parameters" page within the google webmaster tools. But is this enough? It's not completely clear to me if setting a parameter to "Representative URL"s means that it will be ignored completely or still appear in search results. You can see that I've manually changed this setting although still awaiting to see if google counts any change in indexing as a result of it.

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  • Googlebot usually ignores utm parameters when given the default "let googlebot decide" option. It knows that those are always tracking parameters on every site. I'm a bit surprised to hear you have cases of the utm parameters indexed. – Stephen Ostermiller Dec 4 '17 at 19:35
  • To be honest so was I. As these params are part of Google Analytics I thought google would definitely ignore them. Someone helping us with SEO flagged this up. I think they are using a tool to collate this data (not sure what) but it is true, I did a search on google using quotation marks around utm_source and found some results for our site with it in it. I assume "Representative URL" is the same then in this case, I'm just clarifying it should definitely be ignored? – AdamJones Dec 4 '17 at 21:02
  • Ok, I believe you that it can happen. I searched Google for inurl:utm_medim and found an example where the same page appears as one and two in the results, only with different utm parameters: i.imgur.com/clpV6GN.png – Stephen Ostermiller Dec 4 '17 at 21:11
  • So the thing is, these people helping us are "SEO Experts" in theory. They are saying this is devaluing the ranking making the use of parameters like this highly undesirable. I'm not sure how I can prove/disprove that, any ideas? – AdamJones Dec 4 '17 at 21:53
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This should never happen. The only way for a page to show up in search with tracking parameters is because campaign parameters have been used in internal links.

Campaign tagging is exclusively meant for external links that point back to your website. I could go into all of the reasons why campaign tracking can be incredibly valuable for marketers, but the bottom line is that utm_source parameters allow a website owner or marketer to change or reassign the source and medium data.

So let's say that you tagged an external link to look something like this: http://www.yourwebsite.com/100s-of-ways-to-trash-analytics-data/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=sample+campaign

A user see's this link and clicks it from a social media management tool such as hootsuite. Because the source was modified or "reassigned" to be facebook (utm_source=facebook.com), facebook will now appear as the source (vs. hootsuite). Furthemore, instead of the visit showing up as a referral, it will appear as social because that is how the medium was assigned (i.e. utm_medium=social).

So for whatever reason, some misguided marketers add campaign paramters to their internal banners, and even the navigation bar and/or within links in the footer of the site.

So let's say that someone reads you profile page on stackexchange.com, and clicks to your site, followed by clicking the banner that inadvertently, intentionally, or ignorantly has campaign paramters attached to it. Upon clicking the banner and landing the contact page, that visitor no longer shows up as coming from Stackexchange.com - Rather the end result is that the referral is from your own site. It has been overwritten.

Here is what you need to do:

Option A: If you a member of Moz, they have a decent Crawl Tool

Option B: If you aren't a MoxPro member, Try out Screaming Frog

  1. Visit ScreamingFrog and Download the software

  2. Enter your website's URL and initiate a crawl

  3. Once your crawl is complete, click the "internal" tab, and filter by "utm_" to see URL's which have been tagged with campaign parameters. You technically should not see any URL's upon executing this task.

  4. If you do happen to see URL's after filtering the results, then you have one or more pages on your website linking to pages tagged with campaign parameters.

  5. Find all of the pages which are linking to utm_ tagged pages. To do this, click on a URL in the top area, and chose the "links" tab towards the bottom area of the window. Notice the "from" column, as it should show all of your internal pages that linked to tagged URL(s).

  6. Take a look into Google Analytics. Make sure you don't have ANY URL's that aren't being tagged properly. If you have tagged appropriately, you will not find campaign parameters (i.e. utm_) showing up within ANY content reports.

Lastly, I always recommend following Google's Advice when it comes to all things online. Here you can find information about URL mapping, which includes how to update internal links (see section 2 under the subsection "Update all URL details."

I'm not sure how far along this process you are, but relying on analytics may not be the most trustworthy way to go - but without more information, there is just know way to advise you any further.

Best of luck!

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  • I've disocvered something Josh. It seems that the cases where the results are in google with the utm parameters, there is also one exra url parameter. This is a parameter for our search page, its the search string itself parsed to that page. Basically some of the 301 redirects we setup are to search results. So these pages wouldn't ever naturally appear in google search because they are only possible when you actively use our search system. So my hunch is that these pages are listed because they couldn't be indexed normally, hence there isn't a duplicate entry of most of them. – AdamJones Dec 5 '17 at 6:36
  • If I want to confirm this though is ScreamingFrog still useful ? Ideally I need a tool that can concisely show me pages listed multiple times in the google index. – AdamJones Dec 5 '17 at 6:38
  • Your site search pages should be blocked with robots.txt. Google doesn't want your site search results indexed in its search results. It considers that poor user experience. Google has even doled out penalties for sites that allow their search results to be indexed. See Matt Cutts: Search results in search results – Stephen Ostermiller Dec 5 '17 at 11:31
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Setting those parameters to "Representative URL" will mean that Google will index the version without the parameter in most cases. The only exception would be in a case when it doesn't find a link to the version without parameters. In that case it might still choose to index a URL with the parameters.

A better solution to your problem is to implement canonical link elements on all your pages in the <head> section. Set the canonical href to the version without the tracking parameters:

<link rel="canonical" href="https://example.com/my-page.html">

The canonical link tag is meant for situations like this. You can't redirect to remove the parameters without breaking tracking. The parameters don't change the contents of the page.

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  • This is true, however, canonicals are only a suggestion to search engines. They could be used or ignored. If one of his tagged pages has a majority of the traffic, and possibly even backlinks, the chances are slim that the canonicals would be used, however in most situations I would tend to agree with Stephen. – Josh Salganik Dec 5 '17 at 20:07

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