At SMX East earlier this week, Maile Ohye of Google showed new parameter handling features in Google Webmaster Tools. Today, those features are available to everyone. Google first introduced parameter handling about a year ago. When I wrote about the launch, I described how optional parameters in URLs could cause canonicalization problems and gave a rundown of some of those issues, as well as the available solutions. Now the list of solutions has gotten even better.
How has parameter handling changed?
In the earlier version, you could specify if a parameter should be ignored during the crawling and indexing process. This ability was helpful in cases when the parameter was completely optional and didn’t change the content of the associated page. For instance, http://www.example.com/glee-is-awesome/reviews and http://www.example.com/glee-is-awesome/reviews?ssessionid=1234 both load the same content. The sessionid parameter can be ignored entirely.
This latest version solves a similar, but slightly different use case. For example, http://www.example.com/glee-is-awesome/episodes?sort=newest and http://www.example.com/glee-is-awesome/episodes?sort=oldest both load the same content in different sort orders, but the sort parameter can’t be ignored. Without it (http://www.example.com/glee-is-awesome/episodes), the content won’t load at all. In this case, Googlebot needs the parameter, but only needs to know one preferred value of it. You can specify, for instance, “newest” as the specific value for the “sort” parameter and Google will use that version of the URL as canonical. This means that Google will index that version and will consolidate links to all other versions to the canonical one. Google will use this value anytime it encounters the parameter across the site. Note that you have to choose a listed value — you can’t manually type in a value that Google hasn’t yet crawled.
Yahoo Site Explorer has a similar feature called Dynamic URL Rewriting, although it’s unclear if that data is still being used, since Microsoft Bing now powers Yahoo search.
Parameter handling is now located in its own tab under Settings.
New search queries data
With this release, Google Webmaster Tools also now provides more detailed query data, including the percentage change from the previous month of impressions, clicks, and click through rate. You can also see a chart that shows impression and click volumes for a specific query. The data is still available for only the most recent 30 days however. (In a much earlier version of this data, it was available for a six month period.)