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Google’s John Mueller On 404ing or Using Rel Canonical On URL Parameters

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Google Search Testing Double Site Name & URL In Snippets

There is an interesting response from John Mueller of Google on what to do with URLs that may appear duplicated because of URL parameters, like UTMs, at the end of the URLs. John said definitely don’t 404 those URLs, which I think no one would argue with. But he also said you can use the rel=canonical because that was what it was made for. The kicker is he said it probably doesn’t matter either way for SEO.

Now, I had to read John’s response a couple of times on Reddit and maybe I am interpreting the last part incorrectly, so help me out here.

Here is the question:

Hello! New to the community but have been in SEO for ~5 years. Started a new job as the sole SEO manager and am thinking about crawl budget. There are ~20k crawled not indexed URLs compared to the 2k that are crawled and indexed – this is not due to error, but due to the high number of UTM/campaign specific URLs and (intentionally) 404’d pages.

I was hoping to balance out this crawl budget a bit and removing the UTM/campaign URLs from being crawled via robots.txt and by turning some of the 404s into 410s (would also help with overall site health).

Can someone help me figure out if this could be a good idea/could potentially cause harm?

John’s 404 response:

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Pages that don’t exist should return 404. You don’t gain anything SEO-wise for making them 410. The only reason I’ve heard that I can follow is that it makes it easier to recognize accidental 404s vs known removed pages as 410s. (IMO if your important pages accidentally become 404s, you’d probably notice that quickly regardless of the result code)

John’s canonical response:

For UTM parameters I’d just set the rel-canonical and leave them alone. The rel canonical won’t make them all disappear (nor would robots.txt), but it’s the cleaner approach than blocking (it’s what the rel canonical was made for, essentially).

Okay, so far, do not use 404s in this situation but do use rel=canonical – got it.

John then explained SEO wise, it probably doesn’t matter?

For both of these, I suspect you wouldn’t see any visible change on your site in search (sorry, tech-SEO aficionados). The rel-canonical on UTM URLs is certainly a cleaner solution than letting them accumulate & bubble out on their own. Fixing that early means you won’t get 10 generations of SEOs who inform you of the “duplicate content problem” (which isn’t an issue there anyway if they’re not getting indexed; and when they do get indexed, they get dropped as duplicates anyway), so I guess it’s a good investment in your future use of time 🙂

So Google will likely handle the duplicate URLs, the UTM parameters anyway, even if they do index them. But to make SEO consultants happy, use the rel=canonical? Is that what he is saying here? I do like that response, if that is his message – but maybe I got it wrong?

Forum discussion at Reddit.

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Google Writes In Court Document That Search Quality Continues To Improve

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Everything Is Fine Google

Google has posted its post-trial debrief document for the DOJ trial that talks about many different things, including stating that its search quality continues to improve. We covered its statement that Microsoft Bing Search had search quality issues earlier.

Greg Sterling posted about this on X, writing, “Google boldly claims in its “default search” antitrust post-trial brief that search quality has improved, not degraded.”

It is written throughout the document, but here are some clauses:

The undisputed evidence contradicts any assertion that Google has wielded monopoly power by degrading search quality or search ads quality below competitive levels. As Plaintiffs acknowledge, Google is the highest quality general search engine in the U.S. and has been since before Plaintiffs claim it began violating Section 2. FOF ¶ 1081. Google’s search quality has continuously improved over its twenty-five years as a search engine as Google has continuously innovated. FOF ¶¶ 79-106, 112-241, 695-760. And Google unceasingly strives to better its search quality, annually setting goals to improve its search quality as measured by IS score.

Google Court Doc Search Quality

In the introduction paragraphs, Google wrote:

These innovations have greatly improved search quality and powered extraordinary increases in search output—all at no cost to consumers.

The evidence conclusively established that Google is the highest quality, most popular search engine in the United States, with the highest general search engine advertising monetization.

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Google added:

Google’s decision to preserve features that have a positive impact on search quality while offering customizable settings to suit users’ privacy preferences is a reasoned business judgment consistent with a competitive marketplace, not a degradation of product quality that evidences monopoly power.

Google also wrote in this document that the “Barriers to Entry Are Not Significant and Are Falling Rapidly.”

This is worth a read if you have time over the weekend, you can download it over here.

People are asking me what this “IS score” is, well, Danny Goodwin mentioned it over here and it refers to Google’s own internal “information satisfaction” score.

Forum discussion at X.

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Daily Search Forum Recap: March 1, 2024

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Here is a recap of what happened in the search forums today, through the eyes of the Search Engine Roundtable and other search forums on the web.


Google has new structured data carousel beta details for rich results. Google now lets you opt out of place entities in page insights. Google Business Profiles customer interactions updates every few days. Google wrote in a court document that its search quality has improved. Google AdSense has offerwall messages. I posted the weekly SEO video recap as well.

Search Engine Roundtable Stories:

Other Great Search Threads:

Search Engine Land Stories:

Other Great Search Stories:

Industry & Business

Links & Content Marketing

Local & Maps

Mobile & Voice

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SEO

PPC

Search Features

Other Search

Feedback:


Have feedback on this daily recap; let me know on Twitter @rustybrick or @seroundtable, on Threads, Mastodon and Bluesky and you can follow us on Facebook and on Google News and make sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or just contact us the old fashion way.

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Google Ranking Volatility, Tons Of Google Bugs, Most Read Articles, Bing Deep Search & Quality & SEOs Not Loving Google

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Google Ranking Volatility, Tons Of Google Bugs, Most Read Articles, Bing Deep Search & Quality & SEOs Not Loving Google

We had two periods of Google Search ranking volatility this week, one last weekend and one on Thursday or so. Google court documents say search quality has improved and not degraded. Google dropped the see more results in the local panel this week for a period of time until it fixed that bug. Google also removed the news tab but that seemed like a bug also and was fixed. Google has a bug with the European hotel/travel results being hijacked. Google also broke the filetype search operator for a while. Google Analytics is seeing a lot of referral spam from Poland. There is new structured data carousel beta details. Google is testing a most-read articles carousel in the search results. Google is also testing popular opinions carousels. Google local panels is testing expandable menus. Google has this reviews disclaimer for “people like.” Google Analytics added new default Google Ads reports. Google Ads Performance Max placement reports to show the search partner network. Google Ads is testing limited by budget status color coding. Google Ads support reps may use Google Translate to chat with advertisers. Microsoft said it will bring back testing of Bing Deep Search. Google said that Microsoft tried selling Bing to Apple but Apple didn’t want it due to quality issues. A survey shows SEOs dislike Google more now than ever. And if you want to help sponsor those vlogs, go to patreon.com/barryschwartz. That was the search news this week at the Search Engine Roundtable.

Sponsored by BruceClay, who has been doing search marketing optimization since 1996 and also has an amazing SEO training platform.

Make sure to subscribe to our video feed or subscribe directly on iTunes, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your favorite podcast player to be notified of these updates and download the video in the background. Here is the YouTube version of the feed. For the original iTunes version, click here

Search Topics of Discussion:

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