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Do Links With UTM Parameters Pass The Same Link Equity?

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Do Links With UTM Parameters Pass The Same Link Equity?

This week’s Ask An SEO question comes from Jeff in Houston, who writes:

“We have a very authoritative site linking to our website. We set them up with UTM parameters to track traffic and sales that they make.

This is what it looks like:
https://www.example.com/?utm_source=partner&utm_medium=banner&utm_campaign=example

We have the canonical of this page pointing to the homepage without the parameters.
<link rel=”canonical” href=https://www.example.com/”>

Questions:

  1. Do the UTM parameters still pass the same link equity if it didn’t have a UTM parameter? (I would think that if a link contains a UTM parameter, it would not be considered a “natural link,” as why would they put parameters in there if it’s organic?)

  2. Should we 301 redirect the UTM parameter page to the homepage instead of just the canonical?

  3. If we 301 redirect the UTM parameter, will we still be able to track it under the parameters set?

  4. This is a sitewide footer link, which I would not suggest on a normal site, but this site is a nonprofit AND one of the most authoritative sites in the health niche.”

Great questions Jeff!

I agree with you that the link will not be considered a “natural link,” but a redirect will not help you.

And yes, you can still track sales.

Let’s dive in!

A quick background for others reading this (not aimed at you Jeff, this is in general):

The first and foremost thing to remember here is that this is not a backlink or a link for SEO.

When you provide UTM sources to a publisher, the link is now a paid media link and should be treated as such with “nofollow” or “sponsored” markup attached.

The website must also disclose the relationship to follow FTC and U.K./E.U. advertising guidelines if any payment was made, including to the journalist, affiliate commissions, advertorial fees, product for review, etc.

The FTC has a great PDF doc here on how to do this.

In your case, you have a footer link across the site, so you’ll want to have your general counsel look over sponsorship and disclosure laws if you paid the organization or sponsored them to get the link.

Most major media sites already have disclosures at the top of pages because they are monetizing through advertorials and affiliate marketing.

Even if your link is not an advertorial or affiliate link, the disclosure on the page may signal to a search engine spider that the parameters are for tracking and that your link is not “natural.”

Once the search engines see the parameters, they will likely consider your backlink a paid link.

Even if you did not pay any money or compensate the site, those parameters are not naturally occurring.

The only time a backlink will carry UTM parameters is if the journalist or blogger clicked through an affiliate/paid media link to your website, and your domain does not force a redirect to a version of the page without the parameters.

In these instances, the parameters will match the original article and not be 100% unique to this page and site.

Because your parameters outlined above are unique to the page and site, your parameters show search engines that your link is not a natural one, and the link should not pass link equity.

Once the backlink is found, one of two things will likely happen:

  • Search engines will ignore the link and assume the website linking to you forgot to add the “sponsored” attribute. This is out of your control and you are not likely to get any benefit or a penalty.
  • Your website gets an unnatural link devaluation or worse, a penalty because you are leaving a trackable footprint of paid backlinks for them to find. This will depend on how many sites you have linking to you with parameters or that are unnatural.  This could also include link farms, PBNs (private blogger networks), etc.

There is one more outlier though – you have a sitewide footer link, so a search engine spider may assume you have a business relationship with the organization. This could add some value.

Amazon does the same with their properties in the footer, for example.

In order to give you a more definitive answer, I’d need to know what your website is and which organization you have the links from.

For the 301 redirect questions, probably no.

If the mention of your company is for a product or category, redirecting to your homepage will create a bad user experience and decrease your conversions.

I’m also not sure why you’re concerned with a canonical link, as there is no canonical link for a backlink or footer link.

Canonical links are in the <head> of a page, not on a footer link.

If you force a redirect, keep the person on the intended page from the article.

And yes, you can still track the sales, including from the footer links.

Ways To Track Sales From The Referring URL Without UTM Parameters

There are numerous ways to track without parameters.

Here are two simple ones to get you started.

1. Google Analytics

Google Analytics allows you to see sales by referring URL. You can drill down to the specific page from that URL.

Set your time range to include the date the article was published and you can find the sales, unique visitors, email sign-ups, and more from that page.

Bonus tip: By knowing which specific pages generate more newsletter signups, conversions, etc., you can ask the nonprofit (or publisher) how to get more and better features on that page to hopefully increase your volume.

And if you know how to research the traffic sources of these pages, you can find other similar sources and get a nice big revenue burst for your company.

2. Affiliate Network

A reputable affiliate network will also work but you must look at how they bill before moving forward.

A good affiliate network will charge you based on how much the affiliate earns per sale.

A not-so-good affiliate network will charge you on the total sale amount.

An okay one (and one you don’t want to do this with) will charge you on total transactions processed.

Here’s how to find this.

We’re going to assume:

  • There is a sale for $100.
  • You pay a 10% commission to top-funnel affiliates.
  • And you pay 1% to bottom-funnel/low-value partners.

Let’s also assume the network has a 25% override (what they charge for fees).

A good network, in this case, will show you:

  • $10 commission for the affiliate.
  • $2.50 cents for the top funnel partner.
  • $1 commission for the low-value partner.
  • $0.25 for the network.

The network fee changes because they are being billed on what the affiliate makes, regardless of whether the affiliate adds value to your company or not.

A bad network will show you a $10 commission for the affiliate and a $2.5 network fee for them regardless of what the affiliate makes.

This is because the network is charging you on sale amount, not what the affiliate made in commission.

This is essential to look at, especially if you have coupon sites and cash-back browser extensions in your program.

If you do and they are taking the last click (the person is at checkout and types your brand + coupons into Google), you likely won’t see the sales from your link as the non-top funnel partner is overriding your tracking.

In answer to your question, using parameters on a backlink will make it “not natural.” It is not likely to help your SEO and could potentially hurt you.

Instead, use your analytics package or a tracking platform such as that offered through an affiliate network (just remember you won’t get any link equity from affiliate links, either).

I hope this helps answer your question and thank you for reading!

More resources:


Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

Google removed the Covid-era structured data associated with the Home Activities rich results that allowed online events to be surfaced in search since August 2020, publishing a mention of the removal in the search documentation changelog.

Home Activities Rich Results

The structured data for the Home Activities rich results allowed providers of online livestreams, pre-recorded events and online events to be findable in Google Search.

The original documentation has been completely removed from the Google Search Central webpages and now redirects to a changelog notation that explains that the Home Activity rich results is no longer available for display.

The original purpose was to allow people to discover things to do from home while in quarantine, particularly online classes and events. Google’s rich results surfaced details of how to watch, description of the activities and registration information.

Providers of online events were required to use Event or Video structured data. Publishers and businesses who have this kind of structured data should be aware that this kind of rich result is no longer surfaced but it’s not necessary to remove the structured data if it’s a burden, it’s not going to hurt anything to publish structured data that isn’t used for rich results.

The changelog for Google’s official documentation explains:

“Removing home activity documentation
What: Removed documentation on home activity structured data.

Why: The home activity feature no longer appears in Google Search results.”

Read more about Google’s Home Activities rich results:

Google Announces Home Activities Rich Results

Read the Wayback Machine’s archive of Google’s original announcement from 2020:

Home activities

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Olga Strel

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Google’s Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

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Google's Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, revealed that the search engine takes a binary approach when assessing a website’s lastmod signal from sitemaps.

The revelation came as Illyes encouraged website owners to upgrade to WordPress 6.5, which now natively supports the lastmod element in sitemaps.

When Mark Williams-Cook asked if Google has a “reputation system” to gauge how much to trust a site’s reported lastmod dates, Illyes stated, “It’s binary: we either trust it or we don’t.”

No Shades Of Gray For Lastmod

The lastmod tag indicates the date of the most recent significant update to a webpage, helping search engines prioritize crawling and indexing.

Illyes’ response suggests Google doesn’t factor in a website’s history or gradually build trust in the lastmod values being reported.

Google either accepts the lastmod dates provided in a site’s sitemap as accurate, or it disregards them.

This binary approach reinforces the need to implement the lastmod tag correctly and only specify dates when making meaningful changes.

Illyes commends the WordPress developer community for their work on version 6.5, which automatically populates the lastmod field without extra configuration.

Accurate Lastmod Essential For Crawl Prioritization

While convenient for WordPress users, the native lastmod support is only beneficial if Google trusts you’re using it correctly.

Inaccurate lastmod tags could lead to Google ignoring the signal when scheduling crawls.

With Illyes confirming Google’s stance, it shows there’s no room for error when using this tag.

Why SEJ Cares

Understanding how Google acts on lastmod can help ensure Google displays new publish dates in search results when you update your content.

It’s an all-or-nothing situation – if the dates are deemed untrustworthy, the signal could be disregarded sitewide.

With the information revealed by Illyes, you can ensure your implementation follows best practices to the letter.


Featured Image: Danishch/Shutterstock

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

There’s one thing standing between you and several days of SEO, socializing, and Singaporean sunshine: your boss (and their Q4 budget 😅).

But don’t worry—we’ve got your back. Here are 5 arguments (and an example message) you can use to persuade your boss to send you to Ahrefs Evolve.

About Ahrefs Evolve

  • 2 days in sunny Singapore (Oct 24–25)
  • 500 digital marketing enthusiasts
  • 18 top speakers from around the world

Learn more and buy tickets.

SEO is changing at a breakneck pace. Between AI Overviews, Google’s rolling update schedule, their huge API leak, and all the documents released during their antitrust trial, it’s hard to keep up. What works in SEO today?

You could watch a YouTube video or two, maybe even attend an hour-long webinar. Or, much more effective: you could spend two full days learning from a panel of 18 international SEO experts, discussing your takeaways live with other attendees.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve speakers from around the world.

Our world-class speakers are tackling the hardest problems and best opportunities in SEO today. The talk agenda covers topics like:

  • Responding to AI Overviews: Amanda King will teach you how to respond to AI Overviews, Google Gemini, and other AI search functions.
  • Surviving (and thriving) Google’s algo updates: Lily Ray will talk through Google’s recent updates, and share data-driven recommendations for what’s working in search today.
  • Planning for the future of SEO: Bernard Huang will talk through the failures of AI content and the path to better results.

(And attendees will get video recordings of each session, so you can share the knowledge with your teammates too.)

View the full talk agenda here.

There’s no substitute for meeting with influencers, peers, and partners in real life. 

Conferences create serendipity: chance encounters and conversations that can have a huge positive impact on you and your business. By way of example, these are some of the real benefits that have come my way from attending conferences:

  • Conversations that lead to new customers for our business,
  • Invitations to speak at events,
  • New business partnerships and co-marketing opportunities, and
  • Meeting people that we went on to hire.

There’s a “halo” effect that lingers long after the event is over: the people you meet will remember you for longer, think more highly of you, and be more likely to help you out, should you ask.

(And let’s not forget: there’s a lot of information, particularly in SEO, that only gets shared in person.)

The “international” part of Evolve matters too. Evolve is a different crowd to your local run-of-the-mill conference. It’s a chance to meet with people from markets you wouldn’t normally meet—from Australia to Indonesia and beyond.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve attendees by home country.

If you’re an Ahrefs customer (thank you!), you’ll learn tons of tips, tricks and workflow improvements from attending Evolve. You’ll have opportunities to:

  • Attend talks from the Ahrefs team, showcasing advanced features and strategies that you can use in your own business.
  • Pick our brains at the Ahrefs booth, where we’ll offer informal 1:1 coaching sessions and previews of up-coming releases (like our new content optimization tool 🤫).
  • Join dedicated Ahrefs training workshops, hosted by the Ahrefs team and Ahrefs power users (tickets for these workshops will sold separately).

As a manager myself, there are two questions I need answered when approving expenses:

  • Is this a reasonable cost?
  • Will we see a return on this investment?

To answer those questions: early bird tickets for Evolve start at $570. For context, “super early bird” tickets for MozCon (another popular SEO conference) this year were almost twice as much: $999.

There’s a lot included in the ticket price too:

  • World-class international speakers,
  • 5-star hotel venue,
  • 5-star hotel food (two tea breaks with snacks & lunch),
  • Networking afterparty, and
  • Full talk recordings to later share with your team.

SEO is a crucial growth channel for most businesses. If you can improve your company’s SEO performance after attending Evolve (and we think you will), you’ll very easily see a positive return on the investment.

Traveling to tropical Singapore (and eating tons of satay) is great for you, but it’s also great for your team. Attending Evolve is a chance to break with routine, reignite your passion for marketing, and come back to your job reinvigorated.

This would be true for any international conference, but it goes double for Singapore. It’s a truly unique place: an ultra-safe, high-tech city that brings together dozens of different cultures.

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Little India in Singapore

You’ll discover different beliefs, working practices, and ways of business—and if you’re anything like me, come back a richer, wiser person for the experience.

If you’re nervous about pitching your boss on attending Evolve, remember: the worst that can happen is a polite “not this time”, and you’ll find yourself in the same position you are now.

So here goes: take this message template, tweak it to your liking, and send it to your boss over email or Slack… and I’ll see you in Singapore 😉

Email template

Hi [your boss’ name],

Our SEO tool provider, Ahrefs, is holding an SEO and digital marketing conference in Singapore in October. I’d like to attend, and I think it’s in the company’s interest:

  • The talks will help us respond to all the changes happening in SEO today. I’m particularly interested in the talks about AI and recent Google updates. 
  • I can network with my peers. I can discover what’s working at other companies, and explore opportunities for partnerships and co-marketing.
  • I can learn how we can use Ahrefs better across the organization.
  • I’ll come back reinvigorated with new ideas and motivation, and I can share my top takeaways and talk recordings with my team after the event.

Early bird tickets are $570. Given how important SEO is to the growth of our business, I think we’ll easily see a return from the spend.

Can we set up time to chat in more detail? Thanks!

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