In today's competitive online landscape, optimizing your website's SEO is crucial for success. One essential aspect of SEO involves the use of canonical URLs and tags.
In this comprehensive guide designed for beginners, we'll dive deep into the world of canonical tags first introduced in 2009, their importance, implementation, and best practices.
SEO experts, marketers, and businesses looking to improve their understanding of canonical tags might also find this article useful. So, let’s get started, shall we?
Understanding Canonical URLs and Tags:
Let’s quickly understand what canonical URLs and tags are.
What is a Canonical URL?
A canonical URL is the preferred URL that you want search engines to consider as the primary version of a web page. It comes into the picture when there are multiple versions of the same piece of content accessible through different URLs. Here’s an example for you.
- Canonical URL: https://www.example.com/products/widget
- Non-Canonical URL: https://www.example.com/products/widget?source=affiliate
Google has a negative view towards duplicate pages due to its aversion to providing repetitive search results and allocating resources to pages that lack distinctive value.
Consequently, when Google detects duplicate or highly similar pages on a website, it designates a canonical URL to represent them all, giving priority to this specific page for indexing and ranking purposes. However, it's worth noting that Google's decision-making may not always align with your preferences.
What are Canonical Tags?
Canonical tags, also known as canonical links or rel="canonical" tags, are HTML tags. They help search engines like Google determine the preferred or canonical version of a webpage when multiple URLs lead to the same or highly similar content.
They allow you to influence the process of canonicalization, which is essential for avoiding duplicate content issues and improving your website's search engine performance.
All in all, canonical URLs and canonical tags serve the same purpose of indicating the preferred version of a web page to search engines. The canonical tag is used within the HTML element or code of a page to specify the canonical URL.
Importance of Canonical Tags in SEO
Canonical tags plays a vital role in SEO by addressing duplicate URLs or content issues and ensuring that search engines understand your website's structure.
Canonical tags ensure that the preferred version appears in search results, which can lead to higher click-through, engagement, and conversion rates. Additionally, canonical tags consolidate the "ranking power" of alternate pages, contributing positively to the canonical URL's search rankings.
How Can You Find the Canonical URL of Your Page?
To find the canonical URL of your web page, you can follow these steps:
- Check the HTML source code: Open the web page in a web browser and right-click on the page. Select "View Page Source" or "Inspect" to open the developer tools.
- Look for the <head> section: In the HTML source code, locate the <head> element. The <head> section typically contains meta tags, CSS links, and other page-specific information.
- Find the canonical tag: Search for a <link> tag with the attribute rel="canonical". It should look something like this: <link rel="canonical" href="https://www.example.com/your-page">. The value of the href attribute will be the canonical URL of your page.
- Verify the canonical URL: Make sure the URL specified in the href attribute is the desired canonical URL for your page. It should be the preferred version of the URL that you want search engines to index and display in search results.
What is the Difference Between Canonical URLs and Alternate?
Canonical URLs are used to address duplicate content issues by specifying the preferred URL that search engines should index and display in search results. It helps consolidate the ranking signals for similar or identical content, preventing content dilution across multiple URLs.
Conversely, alternate URLs are used to indicate alternative versions of a web page, such as different language versions or device-specific versions. These alternate URLs are specified using the <link rel="alternate" href="URL" hreflang="language-code"> tag and help search engines serve the appropriate version based on the user's language preferences or search queries.
In short, canonical URLs deal with duplicate content, while alternate URLs handle different versions of a page.
What is the Difference Between Canonical Tags and 301 Redirects?
Many people mistake canonical tags and URLs for 301 redirects. However, they aren’t the same. While both canonical tags and 301 redirects are used to address duplicate content issues, they serve different purposes and are implemented differently. Here are some tools to check 301 redirects.
A canonical tag is an HTML tag that tells search engines which URL is the preferred version of a page, whereas a 301 redirect is a server-side redirect that permanently sends users and search engines from one URL to another.
In general, use canonical tags when you want to consolidate duplicate or similar pages' ranking power while keeping them accessible to users. On the other hand, use 301 redirects when you want to remove duplicate pages entirely and direct users to a single, preferred URL. Here are the top tools you can use to remove duplicate pages.
When are Canonical Tags Required?
Canonical tags are useful in various situations. We recommend making it a practice to always use it, but if you’re wondering when then here are some common scenarios that require canonical tags.
Duplicate Content and Similar Ages
Duplicate content can occur when identical or nearly identical content is accessible through multiple URLs. This can lead to keyword cannibalization, where several pages on your site compete for the same rankings, potentially harming each other's performance in search results.
Pagination and Content Sorting
Websites often use pagination and sorting options to organize large amounts of content, such as product listings or blog posts. However, these methods can create multiple URLs that display similar content, leading to duplicate content issues.
A Canonical URL or tag can help search engines understand which version of the paginated or sorted content should be considered as the primary version, ensuring that search engines index and rank the correct pages.
URL Variations and Tracking Parameters
URL variations can occur due to different page or URL structures or the use of tracking parameters. These variations can cause search engines to see multiple versions of the same content, leading to duplicate content issues.
Implementing canonical tags can help search engines understand which URL should be considered the primary version, preventing potential penalties and improving your site's search engine performance.
Cross-domain Content Syndication
Content syndication is the process of repurposing your content on other websites or platforms. While content syndication can help increase your content's reach and visibility, it can also create duplicate content issues if not handled correctly.
In such cases, using canonical tags can help you consolidate the ranking power of syndicated content to your preferred URL, ensuring that search engines prioritize your original content and improve your site's search rankings.
Implementing Canonical Tags on Different Platforms
Implementing canonical tags may vary depending on the platform your website is built on. Here are some methods to add canonical tags on different platforms.
Adding Canonical Tags in WordPress
You can set canonical URLs on your WordPress site by using a WordPress SEO plugin, such as Yoast SEO or Rank Math SEO.
These plugins provide options for specifying canonical URLs on individual pages and posts, making it easy to implement canonical tags without manually editing HTML.
Adding Canonical Tags in Shopify
Shopify automatically includes default canonical tags for your store's pages, ensuring that search engines understand the primary version of the URL. If you need to create custom canonical URLs for specific pages or the ultimate blog writing checklist, you can do so using the `canonical_url` object in your theme's Liquid templates.
Adding Canonical Tags in Magento
Magento provides built-in support for canonical tags on product and category pages. In Magento 1, you can enable canonical tags through the admin panel's "Catalog" and "Search Engine Optimizations" settings.
For Magento 2, you can specify canonical URLs in the "Stores" > "Settings" > "Configuration" > "Catalog" > "Search Engine Optimization" section of the admin panel.
Implementing Canonical Tags in Wix
Wix pages uses a self-referencing canonical tag by default. You can edit your site's canonical tag structure through the SEO settings in your Wix dashboard by selecting "Marketing & SEO" > "SEO" > "SEO settings" and then choosing the type of page you want to edit.
Wix allows you to add custom variables to the canonical tag, making it easy to implement the desired canonical structure.
Implementing Canonical Tags Through HTML and HTTP Headers
If your website is not built on any of the platforms mentioned above, you can still implement canonical tags manually by adding the rel="canonical" tag to the HTTP header section of your page. In the case of non-HTML documents, you can use rel="canonical" in HTTP Headers to specify a canonical page or URL.
SEO Best Practices for Canonical Tags
To ensure that your canonical tags are effective and improve your website's search engine performance, you can follow these best practices.
Avoiding Multiple Canonical URLs Per Page
Each page should only have one canonical URL specified. Including multiple canonical tags in a page's HTML code can confuse search engines and lead to incorrect canonicalization. If you set a canonical tag using your CMS, make sure not to add additional canonical tags manually in the HTML.
Ensuring Consistency in Domain Protocol
If your website uses the HTTPS protocol, always reference the canonical URL with HTTPS. Consistency in domain protocol helps search engines understand your website's structure and prioritize the correct version of a page.
Trailing Slash or Non-trailing Slash URLs
Consistency in using trailing slashes (e.g., `https://example.com/page/`) or non-trailing slash URLs (e.g., `https://example.com/page`) is crucial. Inconsistent use of trailing slashes can cause search engines to view URLs as separate, leading to duplicate content issues. Make sure your canonical URLs consistently include or exclude trailing slashes as needed.
Non-WWW or WWW URLs
Search engines consider non-WWW (e.g., `https://example.com`) and WWW (e.g., `https://www.example.com`) versions of a URL as separate pages. Choose one version and maintain consistency across your entire website.
Using Absolute URLs
When specifying canonical tags, use absolute URLs instead of relative URLs. Absolute URLs include the full URL, including the domain, while relative URLs reference the path without the domain. Using absolute URLs ensures that search engines can correctly interpret and index your canonical URLs.
Common Mistakes to Avoid with Canonical Tags
In order to ensure the effectiveness of your canonical tags, you must avoid these common mistakes.
Canonical Tags Pointing to Redirected Pages
Do not specify canonical URLs that redirect to other pages. This can confuse search engines and lead to incorrect canonicalization. Instead, make sure your canonical tags point directly to the desired page.
Canonical Tags for Non-duplicate Content
Canonical tags should only be used for duplicate or near-identical content. Using canonical tags to consolidate the ranking power of dissimilar pages (e.g., directing authority from out-of-stock product pages to category pages) is not recommended by Google and may result in your canonical tags being ignored.
Incorrect or Broken Canonical Links:
Ensure that your canonical tags point to the correct and functional URLs. Broken or non-existent canonical URLs can hinder search engines' ability to crawl and index your content correctly, negatively impacting your website's search rankings.
To improve crawling, ensure each page has a valid canonical URL pointing to the preferred version, conduct regular audits to fix broken or incorrect canonical URLs, and utilize webmaster tools to monitor and address any crawling issues. Here are some of the best crawling tools that you can use.
Auditing Canonical Tags on Your Website
To identify and resolve issues with your website's canonical tags, use tools like Google Search Console. Such tools can help you identify duplicate content issues, multiple canonical URLs, and broken canonical links and ensure that AMP pages have the correct canonical tags.
Here’s how you can conduct an audit for canonical tags using Google Search Console.
1. After logging in, locate the search bar at the top and input the desired URL.
2. Perform a search for the URL within Google Search Console.
3. Once the "URL Inspection" report is generated, navigate to the "Page indexing" section.
4. Scroll down to locate the "Google-selected canonical" information.
5. In case the displayed URL is not your preferred choice, it may be necessary to review the deduplication strategy implemented on your page.
6. Ensure that the "User-declared canonical" is present and accurate.
By conducting an SEO audit for your website's canonical tags and addressing any issues, you can improve your site's search engine performance and overall SEO.
Implementing canonical tags correctly can significantly improve your website's search engine performance by addressing duplicate content issues and ensuring that search engines prioritize the correct version of your pages.
By following the best practices, using the right canonical tag checker tools, and avoiding common mistakes that we just discussed, you can harness the power of canonical tags to optimize your website's SEO and improve its search rankings.
1. What happens when your page has more than one canonical tag?
When a page has more than one canonical tag, it can cause confusion for search engines, leading to potential indexing and ranking issues.
2. What is the difference between canonical and non canonical URL?
The canonical URL is the preferred version of a webpage that should be indexed and ranked, while a non-canonical URL is an alternative version that may exist but should not be considered the primary one.
3. Do all pages need a canonical URL?
Not all pages necessarily need a canonical URL. It is typically used when multiple URLs have identical or very similar content, and you want to indicate the preferred version to search engines.
4. Why am I unable to canonicalize my URL?
There could be various reasons for being unable to canonicalize a URL, such as technical limitations, improper implementation, or conflicts with other elements on the page. It's important to troubleshoot and resolve the underlying issue to ensure proper canonicalization.
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