It’s difficult enough to say, let alone understand - but getting your head around canonical tags in SEO is a must if you want your website to achieve the results you're looking for. Today we're going to take a look at what canonical tags are and why you should care about them.
So, what are Canonical Tags?
In SEO and website design terms, Canonicalization means you have more than one URL address on the same page. For instance:
All three of these URLs will be pointing to your homepage, but the search engines will view these as different pages, indexing each page and allowing them to compete against one another. What’s the issue you might say, well the problem is that this generates duplicate content in the Google search engine results (SERP’s), which Google heavily penalises. This, in turn, means that your pages will likely be pulled from the search engine results, or will be pushed back in the SERP’s, leaving your site out in the cold.
This is where the canonical tag becomes important. Canonical tags are a piece of code you add on certain pages of your website to tell search engines which page is the prefered content. So, in this circumstance, you should choose one of these URLs to add a rel=canonical tag and add appropriate 301 redirects to the other pages. We recommend using both of these methods.
Why is duplicate content bad for SEO?
Search engines aim to provide the most relevant content to a search query, so when they come across two pages which are exactly the same they are forced to choose one over the other, as displaying both would represent a flaw in their service. Google typically ignores the duplicate content to avoid the SERPs looking clutted with the same content on similar URLs. Sometimes choosing one is not realistic or possible and so a penalty is placed on the website or page in question. This is obviously an issue for SEO as duplicate content will inevitably lead to some of your pages disappearing from the index.
Make sure you define your canonical URL
The canonical tag (rel=canonical) allows you to dictate which URL the search engines should consider the ‘master copy’, the one you wish all SEO benefits to revert to. This canonical tag is placed in the HTML header text similar to the meta description and meta keywords tags:
<meta name="description" content="Site Description/>
<meta name="keywords" content="Site Keywords" />
<link rel="canonical" href="https://www.designer-websites.co.uk/" />
It is important to understand that this simply informs the search engine bots of your preference, but it does not actually redirect the content, thus a human will be able to see the content via the canonical URLs if you do not force a redirect. This can sometimes lead to links being developed to URLs that you do not want to be indexed.
What is a 301 redirect?
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect, allowing you to move one URL to another automatically. So, for example, if you try going to http://designer-websites.co.uk it will automatically redirect you to the proper url which is http://www.designer-websites.co.uk.
A 301 redirect should be done from the webserver and not in code. Setting up a redirect is relatively easy but often done incorrectly. It is imperative that the ‘status code’ sent to the search engine bots upon redirection is a 301, not a 302 or any other code.
Can I still just use a 301 redirect?
Yes, you can. In fact, the safest way to deal with the canonical issue is to have appropriate 301 redirects in place for your website.
However, the reason we recommend having both is because some search engine bots will actually look for the canonical tag, so having it there deals with the issue quickly and in the exact way the bots are looking for. If a search engine does not look for the canonical tag then at least you have the redirect to fall back on. Most importantly if you 301 redirect properly then no one will be able to see your content under any other URL than the one you choose.
It's important to understand that there are many search engines on the Internet and not all are as sophisticated as Google, so it is safe to assume that not all search engines are sophisticated enough to work with canonical tag, so by not 301 redirecting your URLs properly you run the risk of other search engines issuing duplicate content penalties and the like.
This and many other website optimisation factors are essential for successful websites. At Designer Websites, we will ensure your new website is properly 301 redirected and contains the appropriate canonical tags, as well as dealing with many other technical SEO factors. For examples of our work just click here.