How Not to Track Holiday Shoppers

Website traffic. You may be experiencing an influx of it now that we’re entering into the holiday shopping season. And you, like many other site owners and webmasters, may also be analyzing that traffic to help serve as the basis for website improvements during the coming year.

Online ads, email marketing campaigns, direct visits, and of course, search engines. Site traffic is coming from all angles during this peak season, and you’re taking full advantage of the increased number of hits by tracking online activity.

Are users finding what they’re looking for? How are they finding it? Are they converting? All questions which are looking to be answered. Depending on the granularity of the data which is being obtained, however, tracking user activity could be problematic from a search engine standpoint.

Most sites have some type of tracking in place. Some simply track the number of hits and corresponding referrers, others track bounce rates, and a number of sites take it a step further to track on-site click-through rates and activity. Commonly, this type of click-through tracking is done using URL parameters.

Here’s an example:

An online retailer has two forms of site navigation. One form is the drop down navigation running along the top of all site pages. The other form is product images, which direct users and engines to the same pages included within the drop down menu.

To track the number of users utilizing the top navigation, the webmaster has added the following parameter to the ends of all URLs in the drop down menu: ?source=drop_down. Similarly, the following parameter has been added to all image links: ?source=image.

What’s the problem?

By appending different parameters to the ends of identical URLs, you’re essentially telling search engines that you have multiple versions of the same page, thus diluting your internal link popularity.

Here is some user tracking advice directly from Google:

Allow search bots to crawl your sites without session IDs or arguments that track their path through the site. These techniques are useful for tracking individual user behavior, but the access pattern of bots is entirely different. Using these techniques may result in incomplete indexing of your site, as bots may not be able to eliminate URLs that look different but actually point to the same page.

Using URL tracking parameters on a site can bring about detrimental duplicate content issues. If you want to determine how users are locating conversion points on your site, there are other, more ideal ways to track this type of activity.

This holiday season, make sure you’re tracking your site visitors in a search engine friendly manner. Doing so will help to ensure you mitigate search engine confusion and prevent the possibility of diminishing your presence throughout their indices.