Using UTM parameters on your links can be a great way to better understand how users find your site, but leaving those parameters on internal links can cause some problems for Google.
You can read more about this on this post from Search Engine Roundtable.
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UTM parameters are great. Even if you don’t know what they are, you’ve probably seen them before; they’re extra text that appears at the end of website address that says something like “utm_source=facebook” and other things.
When you share a link to many places and want to closely watch the results, these parameters can feed back into Google Analytics and give you deeper insight into what’s working, and what’t not.
However, some developers can get lazy and leave those parameters on internal links of their site. What happens then? Well, Google can get confused.
Google’s John Mueller talked about this issue for a while during a webmaster hangout last week, but his general thought was that this kind of behavior can be confusing to Google.
With any page on your site, you can set the canonical address and tell Google “this is how that URL should look”. Most SEO plugins do this for you automatically.
So if you have a canonical URL for the normal version of a page, but then other internal links that point to the page with UTM parameters on, which does Google trust more? Here’s a snippet of John’s response:
“So what our systems end up doing there is they try to weigh the the different types of URLs that we find for this content. We can probably recognize that these URLs lead to the same content. So we can kind of put them in the same group and then it’s a matter of picking which one to actually use for indexing. And on the one hand we have the internal links pointing to the UTM versions. On the other hand we have the rel canonical pointing to kind of the cleaner version. The cleaner version is probably also a shorter URL and nicer looking URL, that kind of plays in inline with us as well. But it’s still not guaranteed from our point of view, that we would always use the shorter URL. So rel canonical is obviously a strong sign, internal linking is also kind of a stronger signal, in that that’s something that’s under your control. So if you explicitly linked to those URLs and we think maybe you want them indexed like that.”
“So in practice what what would probably happen here is we would index a mix of URLs. Some of them we would index the shorter version because maybe we find other signals pointing at the shorter version as well. Some of them we probably index with the UTM version and we would try to rank them normally as the UTM version.”
At the end of the day, being super clear with Google about your content is vitally important. While this specific situation is likely rather rare, it’s something to be aware of if you encounter any weird indexing issues at some point.