This week’s Ask an SEO question comes from Jeff in Houston, who wrote:
“We have a very reliable site that links to our website. We set them up with UTM parameters to track the traffic and sales they make.
This is what it looks like:
We have the title of this page pointing to the home page without the parameters.
Do UTM parameters still pass the same link value if they don’t have a UTM parameter? (I think if the link has a UTM parameter, it wouldn’t be considered a “natural link”, so why would they put parameters in it if it’s organic?)
Should we redirect 301 UTM parameter pages to the main page instead of just the primary page?
If we forward the UTM parameter 301, will we still be able to track it within the parameters array?
This is a site-wide footer link, which I would not suggest over a regular site, but this site is a non-profit and one of the most trusted sites in the health field.”
Great questions Jeff!
I agree with you that the link wouldn’t count as a “natural link”, but redirecting won’t help you.
And yes, you can still track sales.
Let’s dive in!
Quick background for others reading this (not aimed at you, Jeff, this is in general):
The first thing to remember here is that this is not a backlink or SEO link.
When you provide UTM sources to a partner or publisher with whom you have some kind of paid relationship, the link is now a paid media link and should be treated as such with the ‘nofollow’ or ‘sponsored’ tag attached.
The website must also disclose the relationship to follow the FTC and UK/EU Advertising Guidelines if any payments are made, including to journalist, affiliate commissions, advertising fees, product to review, etc.
The FTC has a PDF file Here on how to do that.
In your case, you have a footer link across the site, so you’ll want your general counsel to be aware of the sponsorship and disclosure laws if you pay or sponsor the organization for the link.
Most major media sites already have disclosures at the top of the pages because they monetize through ads and affiliate marketing.
Even if your link is not an advertising or affiliate link, the on-page detection may indicate to the search engine spider that the parameters are for tracking and that your link is not “normal”.
Once the search engines see the parameters, they will likely consider your backlink as a paid link.
Even if you do not pay any money or compensate the site, these parameters do not occur normally.
The only time a backlink will carry UTM parameters is if a journalist or blogger clicks an affiliate/paid media link to your website, and your domain doesn’t force a redirect to a copy of the page without the parameters.
In these cases, the parameters will match the original article and will not be 100% unique to that page and site.
Because the above parameters are unique to the page and the site, your parameters show search engines that your link is not a natural link, and the link must not pass link ownership rights.
Once you find your backlink, one of two things is likely to happen:
- Search engines will ignore the link And suppose your linked website forgot to add the ‘supported’ attribute. This is out of your control and you are not likely to get any benefit or penalty.
- Your website gets an unnatural link devaluation or worse, a penalty Because you leave a traceable footprint of paid backlinks for them to find. This will depend on how many sites link back to you with parameters or are abnormal. This can also include link farms, PBNs (Bloggers Private Networks), etc.
There’s another exception though – you have a site-wide footer link, so the search engine spider might assume you have a business relationship with the organization. This can add some value.
Amazon does the same thing with its footer properties, for example.
In order to give you a more specific answer, I would need to know your website and the organization you have the links from.
For 301 redirect questions, probably not.
If your company mention is about a product or category, redirecting to your homepage will create a poor user experience and reduce your conversions.
I’m also not sure why you would care about a canonical link, since there is no canonical link for a backlink or footer link.
Primary links are inof the page, not in the footer link.
If you force a redirect, keep the person on the landing page of the article.
And yes, you can still track sales, including from footer links.
Ways to track sales from referrer URL without UTM parameters
There are many ways to track without parameters.
Here are two simple ones to get you started.
1. Google Analytics
Google Analytics allows you to see sales through referral URL. You can go to the specified page from this URL.
Set your date range to include the date the article was published and you can find sales, unique visitors, email subscriptions, and more from that page.
Bonus tip: By knowing which specific pages are generating more newsletter signups, conversions, etc., you can ask your nonprofit (or publisher) how to get more and better features on that page in hopes of increasing your volume.
And if you know how to research traffic sources for these pages, you can find other similar sources and get great big revenue for your business.
2. Affiliate network
A reputable affiliate network will also work but you should look at how the billing is before moving forward.
A good affiliate network will charge you based on how much the affiliate earns per sale.
A bad affiliate network will charge you the total amount of the sale.
The accepted person (which you do not wish to do) will charge you for the total transactions processed.
Here’s how to find this.
We will assume:
- There is a sale for $100.
- You pay 10% commission to affiliates from the top funnel.
- And you pay 1% to low/bottom net worth partners.
Also suppose the network has a 25% overrun (what they charge for fees).
A good network will show you in this case:
- $10 commission per partner.
- 2.50 cents for the best funnel partner.
- $1 commission for low value partner.
- $0.25 per network.
Network fees change because they are billed for what the affiliate does, regardless of whether or not the affiliate adds value to your company.
A bad network will show you $10 commission to the affiliate and $2.5 network fee to them no matter what the affiliate makes.
This is because the network charges you the sale amount, not the affiliate commission.
This is something to look at, especially if you have coupon sites and cashback browser extensions in your program.
If you do that and they take the last click (the person at checkout and they type your brand + coupons into Google), you probably won’t see sales from your link because the non-top funnel partner skips your tracking.
To answer your question, using the parameters on the backlink will make it “abnormal”. It is not likely to help your SEO and can hurt you.
Instead, use your own analytics package or a tracking platform like the one offered through an affiliate network (just remember that you won’t get any engagement from affiliate links, either).
Hope this helps answer your question and thanks for reading!
- UTM Parameters Explained: A Complete Guide to Tracking Your URLs and Traffic
- Top 14 ways to use UTM parameters for conversion tracking
- Link Building Guide: How to get and gain links that boost your SEO
Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, hand-selected by Search Engine Magazine. Do you have a question about search engine optimization? Fill out our form. You may see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!
Featured image: Sammby/Shutterstock