A Query on Using Query Strings/Parameters

a query on using query parameters title graphic

A website isn’t a static brochure — or at least it shouldn’t be. Your site should provide a dynamic, user-friendly, personalized experience for your visitors. Of course, you need to store and leverage data to do that.  

And you’ll need query strings to access that data to provide a specific result or experience for a user. 

Query strings are generated through a search within a webpage, form submission, or typing a query into the browser’s address bar. 

You can also create your own query strings to support your digital marketing efforts. 

We’re going to define query strings further and share specific ways you can leverage them.

What is a Query String?

A query string is a set of characters tacked onto the end of a URL. 

The query string begins after the question mark (?) and can include one or more parameters. Each parameter is represented by a unique key-value pair or a set of two linked data items. An equals sign (=) separates each key and value. An ampersand (&) separates multiple parameters. 

Here’s an example of a URL with a query string including three parameters.

https://www.tech.com/search?query=database+tools&star_rating=4&order=alphabetical

Why Are Query Strings Important?

Query strings are essential for a few reasons. 

They pass information to the web server, telling it what content to deliver or action to take. 

They also pass information to other applications, improving the user experience (UX) and satisfying other business objectives. 

They are important from a marketing perspective, too — tracking website traffic, monitoring the search terms on your website, personalizing marketing campaigns, and more. 

What is the Difference Between Query and Path Parameters?

Yep, there may be query and path parameters within the URL. Each holds a different position and performs separate functions. 

Path Parameters

  • Positioned to the left of the question mark (?)
  • Can’t be omitted as it would change the URL path
  • Used to identify a specific resource or page

This URL has two different path parameters. 

https://www.shoes.com/men-shoes/sneakers/?cgid=men-shoes-sneakers&prefn1=refinementColor&prefv1=White

Query Parameters

  • Positioned to the right of the question mark (?)
  • Can be omitted since they aren’t part of the URL
  • Used to sort and filter resources

The same URL has three different query parameters. 

https://www.shoes.com/men-shoes/sneakers/?cgid=men-shoes-sneakers&prefn1=refinementColor&prefv1=White

9 Real-World Applications for Query Strings

The information within a query string is passed to your website and stored in the server log files where it can be saved as embedded data and used for a variety of applications. 

So what does that mean from a practical standpoint?

Well, here are nine things that are possible when query strings operating “behind the scenes.”  

1. Web Page Navigation

Query strings help personalize the user experience by modifying page content according to what the user’s searching for and how they want to view it. 

Here are some the navigation capabilities they provide with examples of parameters. 

  • Filtering: prefn1=brand&prefv1=adidas, pmin=20.00&pmax=50.00,   prefn1=size&prefv1=7  
  • Reordering: srule=priceLow-High, srule=best-sellers, srule=newest
  • Paginating: pageSize=30, page=3, pp=120, pageNumber=8, pageView=grid
  • Searching: ?q=baby+shoes, ?q=aviator+sunglasses,?q=data+integrity+solutions  
  • Identifying ?product=small-gas-firepit, categoryid=42, itemid=162
  • Translating: lang=en_US, lang=fr, lang=spanish

2. Landing Page Personalization 

Query parameters allow you to modify your website to deliver different experiences to your visitors. 

For example, say you’re running three PPC ads promoting your services — one for SEO auditing, another for A/B testing, and another for content creation. By applying query parameters to each ad, you can dynamically populate content to create variations of your landing page. This ensures your product offers, messaging, CTAs, etc., are relevant to your visitors’ search queries.  

3. Cross-Domain Tracking

It’s challenging to get a clear picture of how visitors are interacting with your brand if you have multiple related domains. 

By using query strings for cross-domain tracking, Google Analytics will recognize users’ sessions on related sites as a single session, providing you with a more accurate representation of your customer’s conversion path.  

4. Campaign Tracking 

To understand your return on marketing investment, you need to be able to track your campaigns. 

By tagging your URLs with UTM parameters, you can track numerous attributes of your traffic within Google Analytics.

These are the UTM parameters you’ll need to populate.  

  • utm_source: Search engine, social platform, your email newsletter, etc.
  • utm_medium: Cost-per-click (CPC), affiliate, influencer, QR code, etc. 
  • utm_name: Campaign or promotion, ie. Black Friday 
  • utm_term: Keywords for the ad
  • utm_content: Different ads or links that point to the campaign URL 

Together, this information helps you determine which creatives and channels were the most effective so you can create more impactful campaigns and decide how to allocate dollars in the future.  

5. Forms Population

Personalization and automation are paramount in the ecommerce industry — think about how easy it is to complete a purchase from your favorite retailer. 

That’s by design, of course. After all, there’s little time to rethink your purchase or abandon your cart when there’s a frictionless, hassle-free checkout process. 

Query strings enable ecommerce sites to prepopulate billing fields and other information automatically, which improves the customers’ experience and boosts conversions. 

6. Email Marketing

The personalization factor is part of what makes email marketing so effective — users are more likely to engage when they’re greeted by their first name instead of “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madame.” 

You can take that personalization a step further by passing variables dynamically through query string to provide customized links for your subscribers. They can be set up to display a personalized message on your website to boost engagement or autofill contact forms to streamline communication or speed up the checkout process. 

7. Affiliate and Referral Program Support

Affiliate relationships and referral programs are effective ways to advertise your company and boost your sales. 

You can use query strings to create custom links for your partners and customers to distribute to their audiences and friends. 

For example, you can generate a custom link to a sign-up page for each partner. 

www.example.com/signuppage.html?affiliate=johnsmith2

Of course, setting the partner’s user name as a query string parameter will allow you to track, identify, and reward those who refer your products and services. 

8. Discount Codes

You can attract customers and drive sales by using query strings to add discount codes and special offers to your email marketing, Google Ads, and social media campaigns.   

By tagging the campaign URL, you can automatically apply a discount to a customer’s shopping cart. Here’s what that query string may look like: ?addcpn=freeship, ?addcpm=20%off, etc. 

9. Lead Qualification

Your inbound marketing activities may generate a lot of website traffic. But not every visitor represents a lead worth pursuing. Query strings can help assess the quality of leads so you can leverage your sales and marketing resources appropriately. 

Did a visitor check out the pricing page? The customer knowledge base? Tech specs? The “we’re hiring” page? Query strings track these movements and pass this information to other applications such as lead scoring systems or your CRM.   

Query Strings: Useful Gobbledygook

Well, there you have it — all the gobbledygook at the end of a URL does serve a purpose. 

Query strings have a significant impact on the user experience, provide businesses with valuable insights, drive traffic, and boost revenue. 

Have you used them creatively in your applications?

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