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Why Would You Want to Use Cookies or Session IDs to Control Search Engine Access?

There are numerous potential tactics to leverage cookies and session IDs for search engine control. Here are many of the major strategies you can implement with these tools, but there are certainly limitless other possibilities:

1. Showing multiple navigation paths while controlling the flow of link authority :

Visitors to a website often have multiple ways in which they’d like to view or access content. Your site may benefit from offering many paths to reaching content (by date, topic, tag, relationship, ratings, etc.), but expends PageRank or link authority that would be better optimized by focusing on a single, search-engine-friendly navigational structure. This is important because these varied sort orders may be seen as duplicate content.

You can require a cookie for users to access the alternative sort order versions of a page, and prevent the search engine from indexing multiple pages with the same content. One alternative (but not foolproof) solution to this is to use the canonical tag to tell the search engine that these alternative sort orders are really just the same content as the original page (we will discuss the canonical tag in “Content Delivery and Search Spider Control”).

2. Keep limited pieces of a page’s content out of the engines’ indexes :

Many pages may contain content that you’d like to show to search engines and pieces you’d prefer appear only for human visitors. These could include ads, login-restricted information, links, or even rich media. Once again, showing non-cookied users the plain version and cookie-accepting visitors the extended information can be invaluable. Note that this is often used in conjunction with a login, so only registered users can access the full content (such as on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn).

3. Grant access to pages requiring a login :

As with snippets of content, there are often entire pages or sections of a site on which you’d like to restrict search engine access. This can be easy to accomplish with cookies/sessions, and it can even help to bring in search traffic that may convert to “registered-user” status. For example, if you had desirable content that you wished to restrict, you could create a page with a short snippet and an offer to continue reading upon registration, which would then allow access to that work at the same URL. We will discuss this more in “Content Delivery and Search Spider Control”.

4. Avoid duplicate content issues :

One of the most promising areas for cookie/session use is to prohibit spiders from reaching multiple versions of the same content, while allowing visitors to get the version they prefer. As an example, at Moz, logged-in users can see full blog entries on the blog home page, but search engines and nonregistered users will see only the excerpts. This prevents the content from being listed on multiple pages (the blog home page and the specific post pages), and provides a rider user experience for members.

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