I link to a lot of websites in my writing, including on reality blurred. And I share a lot of links with friends and colleagues via text, Slack, and e-mail.
When I copy and paste a URL to share it, I always delete one part of the URL first. I’d suggest you do the same!
Why? Good question! Let’s explore.
First, let’s break down the parts of a URL. This super-handy tool identifies a URLs parts for an URL you enter. Here’s an example for my website:
Here, you can see that my domain is realityblurred.com, while the top-level domain, or TLD, is .com; other sites might be .org or .nl, for example.
The pathname is the folder or filename on my web server. So https://www.realityblurred.com/realitytv/about/ takes you to the about page.
You’ve probably noticed that many URLs are much longer, and have a lot of indecipherable nonsense at the end. For example, if you clicked on my recap of The Traitors in my newsletter last week, this would have been the URL you saw in your browser:
What’s all the extra stuff? Back to the break-down tool:
After the pathname, we have a search and then a query. A what now? You didn’t search, you were just trying to read about The Traitors (which is a terrific show if you haven’t watched!).
These UTM thingies—it stands for “Urchin Tracking Module”—provide me with some useful information.
I can tell someone visited my website from my newsletter, and that they clicked the link in an e-mail message. The last one even tells me which newsletter that link was in.
Useful! Helpful! Pretty benign!
But the query—which is called a query string—can also be very long, and take up a ton of space, especially if you’re just copying and pasting it somewhere, like:
That’s ugly and messy and totally hard to tell where the URL is going to take someone.
Here’s the good part: None of the URL after the pathname is necessary to access the website.
In fact, it’s not even all that helpful. For example, if you click a link in my newsletter, and then send it to a friend—Which I appreciate! Please do that!—and they click that link, now it looks to me like they’re also coming from my newsletter, even though they’re not.
That’s why I delete it. Just highlight everything from the question mark on, and delete!
Of course, if you share a link with the full query string, it’s not a big deal. Well, except for the fact that those query strings can sometimes be used for potentially nefarious purposes!
Here, for example, is part of what you’d see if you clicked a link on my Facebook page for one of my blog posts here:
What’s in this query string? There’s some useful info, like that the link came from Facebook, and that the link was posted originally posted to Facebook by a service I use, dlvr.it.
But what’s that fbclid and all the characters after it? What’s that Facebook click ID used for? What’s it tracking? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Meta’s tracking is both mysterious and nefarious, but that particular piece of information seems to send information to the Facebook Pixel, which is one way Meta tracks us on the web and builds profiles of us.
The bottom line is: nothing after the question mark is important for visiting a website.
Some of it can be used for legitimate analytics, and or it can be used for tracking and building a profile of you.
The next time you share a URL with a query string, consider deleting that first.