Is Canonical Issue Gulping All the Strength of Your Website?

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Are you sure that your content is not replicated? Your content writing team might have put their heart and soul in creating unique content to engage with your targeted audience and to inform them about the offerings of your business. However, if you have ignored canonical tagging while syndicating content to different URLs and domains, you might actually be making it difficult for search engines to reach and rank your pages.

What is Canonical in Website or SEO?

Lots of people think the canonical is an issue, but it’s a term which means the “preferred one”, when your website is generating the multiple URL addresses for same page and displaying the same content on the page then it would be counted as the canonical issue within the website. If the same page can be accessed or browsed with different URLs then it would called a canonical issue. If the same content on the website is accessible with different URLs then it is considered as bad for Search Engine Optimization because the links which need to be directed to the single page is get divided into the multiple URLs and hence it splits the popularity or votes in terms of links of the page into multiple URLs. Below are the few examples to understand the most common canonical issues:

Like we have a website www.example.com:

  • http://www.example.com/
  • http://example.com/
  • http://www.example.com/index.php (or .html)
  • http://example.com/index.php (or .html)

So, here you can see there are four versions of the same page are available on different URLs and the content on each URL is same. And in this way links would be pointed to different URLs instead of single homepage URL, which will result in giving links credit from Search Engines to individual pages, which will not be combined to one URL address only.

Now, we have a solution for this to overcome this canonical issue and pass all links credit or redirect the users/crawlers to the common page instead of opening the same page with different URLs (as shown above) and it will help you in performing Search Engine Optimization on the website to make it perfect and friendly. We have an option of 301 redirection (also know as Permanent Redirection) which is a server redirection, which can be done by directly editing the .htaccess file on your Apache Server.

Here is the most common code which can be used to redirect all the above URLs to the single URL address only (below code is applicable with Apache Server only):

Options +FollowSymlinks

RewriteEngine on
## Code to redirect the index.php or html to /
RewriteCond %{THE_REQUEST} ^[A-Z]{3,9}\ /index\.php
RewriteRule ^index\.php$ / [L,R=301] ## Code to redirect the index.php or html to /

## Code to redirect the non-www to www
rewritecond %{http_host} ^example.com [nc] rewriterule ^(.*)$ http://www.example.com/$1 [r=301,nc]

What Are Canonical Tags And Why Use Them?

Here is an example of canonical tag:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.example.com/bamboosheets”>

Now you will think why to use this tag and on which page? So, as I mentioned earlier that the canonical means “the preferred one” so in above tag we are telling Search Crawlers that “http://www.example.com/bamboosheets” this page is the canonical (preferred one) page. But this code needs to be added on to the duplicate pages or the generating URLs like

http://www.example.com/bamboosheets?id=7736&edge=hybrid (So, this is the duplicate page of http://www.example.com/bamboosheets) And you can add the above code on both the pages to hint crawlers that which one is the main and preferred page. This tag need to be added in the head section of the page.

Search engines detest the duplicate content, and if it exists on your website, search engine spiders will use a specific algorithm to identify duplicate website pages and pick only anyone out of them to represent the group in the search results, while others are just funneled down.

Canonical tags are used to highlight canonical URL. These tags are part of the HTML header on a web page and are similar as nofollow. The only difference is the use of “rel parameter”. These URLs tends to improve link and ranking signals for content either by the means of the URL structure or through syndication. These tags are utilized to help search engines to decide on your canonical URL. In other words, the Canonical tags tell search engines that the specific URL should be treated as copy of the other URL and the search engines should use the same link & content metrics for it as former URL

How to Set Canonical URLs?

Once you have decided to identify web pages of your site with Canonical URL, you need to find the best way for setting the Canonical URL for each web page. One must set the canonical tag to the simplest URL. As each URL takes web visitors to the same page, one needs to place Canonical tag inside the head tag of the web page.

“If you really want to be safe, you can make sure that the rel=canonical is the first or one of the first things in the HEAD section. Again, things should be fine either way, but if you want an easy rule of thumb: put the rel=canonical toward the top of the HEAD” as mentioned by the Matt Cutts.

One must also use redirects for redirection of site pages. Similarly, for paginated content, you should use rel=”next” and rel=”prev” tags.

For example, on any website selling bamboo sheets sets, I can go to the bamboo sheets set page directly, or I can go from different navigation from the homepage:

I can go to Homepage >>Bedding >> Bamboo Sheet Sets. The following URL is generated:

http://www.example.com/bedding/bamboosheets?id=7736&edge=hybrid

Or I can go to Homepage >> Bed & Bath >> Bedding >> Bamboo Sheets Set. The following URL is generated:

http://www.example.com/bedding/bamboosheets?id=75873&edge=hybrid

And the main (preferred) page is: http://www.example.com/bedding/bamboosheets

Thus, all three URLs will lead to the same content and a canonical URL will be specified for each of them. Canonical URL is the purest version of all the URLs in the group.

What Google Suggest for Canonical Issues?

Google suggests number of ways to define a canonical URL for content (or equivalent content) available through multiple URLs:

  • Set your preferred domain
  • Indicate the preferred URL with the rel=”canonical” link element
  • Use a sitemap to set preferred URLs for the same content
  • Use 301 redirects for URLs that are not canonical
  • Indicate how to handle dynamic parameters
  • Specify a canonical link in your HTTP header
  • Prefer HTTPS over HTTP for canonical links

A Word of Caution

Canonical tags are great ways of avoiding penalties for duplicate content. However, you need to be cautious while using them. Sometimes URLs might be showing the same page in different way. In such a case, you should use single & unique URL in your canonical tag for all URLs. If the text on the page is rearranged, it doesn’t mean you need to use different canonical tags for each URL.

Search engines look upon websites with multiple URLs pointing to the same content to be deceptive. It will create an impression that you are having so many pages with duplicate content to be found in the top search results and it will straight away lead to penalization.

It is highly recommended to make sure that your website URLs are organised and redirected appropriately. You must choose one canonical URL that all other URLs will be redirected to (either by 301 or rel=canonical tag). And also, make sure to set the canonical tag before the search engines decide that your website is created to deceive them.

Alekh Verma

Alekh Verma

Alekh Verma is the Founder and CEO of eSearch Logix Technologies, a leading SEO Company in India based at Noida (Delhi/NCR). A leading Online Marketing expert and strategist, Alekh helps businesses to improve their Online presence by help of Search Engines and other Digital Sources like Paid Advertising and Affiliate Marketing.
Alekh Verma