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:
We have the canonical of this page pointing to the homepage without the parameters.
<link rel=”canonical” href=https://www.example.com/”>
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?)
Should we 301 redirect the UTM parameter page to the homepage instead of just the canonical?
If we 301 redirect the UTM parameter, will we still be able to track it under the parameters set?
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 partner or publisher with whom you have some sort of paid relationship, 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!
- UTM Parameters Explained: A Complete Guide for Tracking Your URLs & Traffic
- The 14 Best Ways to Use UTM Parameters for Conversion Tracking
- Link Building Guide: How to Acquire & Earn Links That Boost Your SEO
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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