Discussion: Could query strings in URLs be hurting conversions?


#1

This question isn’t really based on anything that I’ve tested or looked into. Just something I’ve been pondering recently. :slight_smile:

Usually when we talk about query strings, it’s in the context of technical SEO. However, I’m wondering if there’s potentially a sort of unconscious bias among people to be less likely to trust the source if the URL contains a bunch of query strings.

As someone with an understanding of how they’re used, I feel like I have a slight bias when viewing pages with a bunch of URL parameters (“ugh, they’re tracking me” or “ugh, this isn’t actually a local business, they’re just using dynamic keyword insertion”). I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t have that understanding.

That being said, I still wonder if there’s kind of a psychological aversion to a URL that doesn’t look like a normal URL. Would someone who isn’t aware of what query strings are still be potentially less trusting of URLs that use them (“there’s all of this weird junk at the end of the URL, this site might not be safe”)?

Or another way to look at it: do you think that converting query strings into “pretty URLs” might provide a better experience for visitors, simply for the fact that it’s easier to visualize where you are in relation to the site? Do most people even pay attention to the URL? Or do they just click a link and read the page?

TL;DR:

Do you think this URL:

www.example.com/fashion/women/shoes

might convert better than this URL?

www.example.com?cat=fashion&cat2=women&prod=shoes


Community Spotlight :point_right: Leah Thompson!
#2

Hey Leah!

I’ve wondered that myself. I’ve got no scientifically proven, peer reviewed answer for you, but my gut feeling is that yes, the url that looks readable and that one would expect converts better than the one that looks like robot barfed it up or that gives the feeling of being tracked.

In fact, we used to make it common practice to name all of our landing pages so that it read like a sentence (try.unbounce.com/for-your-ppc-campaigns, why.unbounce.com/is-great-for-marketing, etc.)

For me, the real question is “would the conversion rate increase that I think we’d get outweigh the tracking benefits/time savings/whatever other benefit there is to having a wonky URL”. Again, my gut feeling is no. Also, unless your target market is marketers (which ours happens to be), I also wonder how likely it is that the visitor would notice.


#3

Interesting question… I hardly EVER look at urls in my browser. I do notice them in ads etc. So, how are you sharing the urls? Most platforms: Adwords, facebook etc. hide the ugly URL and show a pretty display URL.

That’s all the URL I see in my browser window. I have a 27" monitor and a ton of chrome widgets. And no I don’t have a problem I use them all!

Your example speaks more to UX and tech. SEO than CRO, IMHO. And no, that isn’t too many acronyms in one sentence :wink:

I don’t have any documentation to prove my point. Just what I see/feel.


#4

@Joe_Savitch I think you have room for a few more widgets in there :wink:

Just a quick note from me on the subject… You also have to keep in mind that the average user won’t see the full URL in the first place.

Mobile browsers show only the top level domain and/or the name in the SSL certificate.

Desktop browsers also tend to default to a short URL (Safari) and I also believe Chrome/Firefox do it as well, although I’ve set those on my system to show the full URL so I can more easily debug.


#5

So I’ve always kinda wondered the same thing, but I’ll add some context.

If I’m looking at content on the web, such as a review, top 10 list or a recommendation on a product, it’s quite often that you’ll find a link to buy the item somewhere in the article. While this can be handy, it always throws me off when I click that link and find a long string of affiliate/commission parameters that will throw back some money to the blog author.

For me, this turns me off from buying the item completely as I then question the legitimacy of their positive review. Now, I’m quite familiar with the concept of blogger reviews and how companies will send bloggers free products in exchange for a favourable review… but I’ve also seen these affiliate/commission links on sites like CNET and Consumer Reports, which you would hope to trust over a random blogger with a big following.

https://www.consumerprotectionbc.ca/blog/item/381-can-you-spot-a-fake-online-review

Naturally, It’s a bit different for paid ads… as it’s a completely different type of content. The times I have clicked paid ads on Facebook and noticed the parameters, it seemed totally normal for me as I understand that these companies need to measure their attribution and campaign performance. If I was a standard consumer with very little knowledge of digital marketing, that long URL might scare me off… it’s hard to say, but I’d love to see data on something like this.

Potential Workarounds

This same thing has been discussed in the Community over the last couple years, and to be totally transparent, we often see quite a bit of traffic to these posts which tells me that a lot of other marketers are wondering the same thing.

Our good friend @digibomb over at Daychamp has a potential workaround that would work in Unbounce, minus a few caveats.

https://community.unbounce.com/t/javascript-to-hide-url-parameters-in-address-bar/1845/6?u=justin

Alternatively, you can look into this solution that Wistia developed. We can’t personally speak to effectiveness of this solution, but we do have the lovely @Margot_Mazur here in the Community who should be able to field some questions if they arise.


Again, I’d love to see some actual data around this but I’m not sure the best way to test. If anyone else has any thoughts or opinions on the subject, I’d love to hear them! :slight_smile:


#6

Great question! I think @Hristian brings up a great point. With so much traffic being directed to mobile devices these days, the full URL isn’t visible on mobile anyway, unless a user deliberately clicks on the URL bar. So from that perspective, I doubt it has a meaningful impact.

Where this comes into play most often is with URLs that are visible in ads, primarily Facebook ads for instance. We prefer to always use a short URL (using Bitly) if we’re going to have a URL present in our ad copy. It helps keep the user focused on our main message rather than looking at our URL parameters.


#7

#8

What a great topic and conversation!
A ton of great insights.

My 11 cents is that categorization query parameters are not something I’d care about (regardless of structure).

www.example.com/fashion/women/shoes
www.example.com?cat=fashion&cat2=women&prod=shoes

But when it’s clearly got my name in it
www.example.com?cat=fashion&cat2=women&prod=shoes&sucker=oli+gardner

I’d first, question why I was looking for women’s shoes, but would also know that any on-page name-based personalization is totally fake. Would it deter me from continuing? Most likely not, but it would make me think a little less of the experience.

I imagine that when it comes down to conversion, you’d need such a large sample size in a test to notice any increase/decrease that the effect would be negligible for anything other than a massively high traffic ecommerce site.

Some of the workarounds from Wistia and @digibomb look really interesting.

Great question @leah.ann


#9

To @Oli_Gardner point I rarely look or question URL strings, but yeah women’s shoes + my name = weird :slight_smile:

That being said we are all industry folk, so we look at that stuff. From my experience the average user does not. They click on ads, links in posts, etc and rarely pay attention to the URL they just pay attention to where they land.

From what I understand, from asking SEO people I know, the URL has barely any significance anymore on traffic integrity or conversions. And to @Hristian point as well, not visible anyways on mobile typically.

On a personal note, I like clean URLs, but I’m anal like that. When dealing with client projects, we never question it really. However, I believe everything should be tested. Could be cool to do some URL split testing to see if it makes a difference.

Not sure about anyone else, but I cannot find any good data online or case studies that specifically deal with this? This is interesting though https://www.quicksprout.com/2015/04/06/does-url-structure-even-matter-a-data-driven-answer/

On a side note, here is a page we built in Unbounce but iFramed into our static site using the above link that @Justin pinged me in http://daychamp.cc/were-hiring works well enough …


#10

I just remembered that just a few years back the top search term on Google was “Facebook”.

So if visitors can’t be bothered to use the URL bar to type out Facebook, I have a feeling most don’t even notice it.

What’s noticeble is the SSL certificate and that little green checkmark or company name.

Add to that the rise of voice assisted devices and apps (Alexa, Siri, etc.) and that URL becomes even less important.


#11

Thank you everyone so much for your thoughtful, insightful responses!

I hadn’t even considered the fact that mobile users will likely not even see the full URL, so it’s a bit of a moot point for that large chunk of traffic.

The consensus here seems to be that it doesn’t make a huge difference one way or the other, but I would also love to see some cold, hard data confirming this. I tried doing some digging before making this thread to see if anyone had done any kind of test for this, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to find much of anything even discussing this topic, let alone testing the theory.

It seems like there would need to be 3 parts to the test:

  1. Test URL as is, with all parameters visible (e.g. www.example.com?cat=womens&prod=shoes&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter)
  2. Test URL with just the main path, hiding all query strings (e.g. www.example.com)
  3. Test URL by hiding all tracking parameters and turning any query strings meant for dynamic insertion into pretty URL paths (e.g. www.example.com/womens/shoes)

It gets kind of tricky when you think about the most effective way to actually conduct this, though. I’m thinking it would probably be easiest to just create three separate, identical pages (one for each URL state) and send traffic evenly between them.

I’m a little leery to rely on iframes and mod_rewrite seems a bit too convoluted for testing purposes, but from a response in the thread that @Justin linked, it appears that HTML5 introduced the history.pushState() method, which looks like it could work for something like this? More on that from MDN.