Do Google Analytics Tracking Codes Hurt Your Google Rankings?

Since posts about analytics seem to be all the rage in the higher ed blogosphere, let me add yet another.

I was interested in this post by Ted Rheingold, founder and CEO of Dogster, saying that the campaign and keyword codes that we all add to our links to specifically track them in Google Analytics may be hurting our search rankings.

He says:

…for each custom UTM code you make for a page a search engine thinks you have that many pages. It’s been assumed Google was smart enough to not track URLs with UTM codes as different then the actual URL of the page. (ie. www.dogster.com is the same as www.dogster.com?utm=campagin1) though it wasn’t well known is Yahoo or Bing knew to ignore the UTM codes. But then it was suggested that Google wasn’t treating the links as pointing to the same page. We recently removed them from our emails and other external placements. I noticed twitter did too.

While I’m not ready to take all those links off our email campaigns and web pages, there are a few things you can do to ensure that Google doesn’t potentially penalize you for having what it sees as duplicate content.

The easiest may be to make sure your site has a canonical URL meta tag.

Google likes these tags. They say:

It’s a hint that we honor strongly. We’ll take your preference into account, in conjunction with other signals, when calculating the most relevant page to display in search results.

This is trivial to add in many CMS templates – you just echo out the main, correct URL for the page in the <head> area of your site. Your canonical URL should look like this:

<link
rel="canonical" href="http://highedwebtech.com/2010/08/10/do-google-analytics-tracking-codes-hurt-your-google-rankings/" />

That’s the easy thing to do to make sure Google knows what content is the right one.

The other is to set up a series of 301 redirects in mod_rewrite, effectively recording the analytics hit then redirecting the user to the correct page. I don’t know about, but mod_rewrite gives me a serious headache.

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^domain.com
RewriteRule (.*) http://www.domain.com/$1 [R=301,L]

You can read more about 301 redirects in this blog post by Kyle James at Doteduguru.

I’m not sure if Google really does penalize you or think you have double content. It’s just good practice, however, to have canonical URLs and they may reduce the chance that Google downgrades you for duplicate content.

3 comments

  1. @Mike – thanks for the shoutout! As I was reading the beginning of this article I was thinking… yes you can fix that and then you jump right into how. 🙂

    The canonical reference as you mentioned is ABSOLUTELY the right way to resolve this.

  2. The mod_rewrite 301 way isn’t really a good solution because it’s not going to record the campaign parameters. You’re sending a 301 header before anything is loaded, and on the resulting URL there are no campaign parameters, so it’s not going to work.

    Too bad Google isn’t smart enough to ignore those! I always just assumed they would be.

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