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The Definitive Guide to Canonical Tags

If you ever ask an SEO savvy what was the best part about 2009, I bet you would hear canonical tags at least a couple of times if not more. 

It was first introduced by Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo as a rapid solution for duplicate content issues. But can a single tiny tag resolve the age-old headache of content producers? 

Only if you can apply it properly.

In this guide you will learn the following:

What are Canonical Tags?

Canonical Tags vs. Canonicalization

What do They Look Like?

How do They Affect Your SEO?

Common Applications: URL

Common Applications: Syndicated Content

Auditing Canonical Tags for Your SEO

Implementing Canonicals on Your Website

Canonicals and 301 Redirects

Canonicals = No More Duplicate Content 

What are Canonical Tags?

Canonical tags (rel=“canonical”) are HTML tags/snippets that help the crawlers prioritize pages with duplicate, close to duplicate, identical, or sometimes even not so identical(but that’s for later) pages. In other words, they point at the main page that undergoes indexing. 

Canonical Tags vs. Canonicalization

A canonical tag is the name of the rel=“canonical” attribute, while canonicalization is the process of identifying the main URL that is to receive attention from the search engines. 

In some cases, canonicalization is more obvious than you can anticipate. That is when one version on the page has more visitors/readers or backlinks, which increases your chances for ranking. But that is not always the case. 

Tip from LinkSignal: Even if there is no room for strong priorities and the pages are utterly identical, it’s always better to canonicalize than not to. 

What do They Look Like?

Canonical tags are used in the <head> section of the HTML code. A typical sample looks as follows: 

<link rel=“canonical” href=“https://sampledomain.com/example-page/” />

The word “canonical” in the first part of the sample code points at is the main version of the page that should be spotted by SEO spiders. The rest that comes after href tag is the URL for the canonical version. 

How do They Affect Your SEO?

Oh, trust me they do it perfectly… In human terms, with canonical tags, all the links pointing on different pages count towards your SEO. Easy, right? Contextually, canonicalization is easily confused with 301 redirects, which is fairly self-explanatory: you end up saving links, on top of the ranking content.  

Common Applications: URL 

Now, apart from solving duplicate content issues, canonical tags help you come up with more logical URL structures that appear on SERP results. Test it yourself, which one of the links below you are most likely to click on?

https://www.yourdomain.com/homepage/

https://www.yourdomain.com/index.php??id=7

The first one, for sure. From an SEO standpoint, that is also the more effective one, as an explicit cue for the search engines. 

Common Applications: Syndicated Content

If you have a blog with decent traffic, you’re publishing actively, you’re engaged in guest blogging activities and your content is circulating on multiple channels, odds are you might be dealing with syndicated content. 

Again, you are highly recommended to use canonical tags to prevent duplicate content from ranking. You better invest that time to consolidate your other SEO efforts. 

Auditing Canonical Tags for Your SEO

A thorough audit can help you identify the pain points of your site, highlighting the areas that need further improvement, which is as true for other SEO practices as it is for canonical tags. 

Keep in mind that the following questions should be on your priority list.

  • Do you need a canonical tag for a particular page?
  • Does that page already have a canonical tag?
  • If yes, does the canonical tag direct you to the right page?
  • Can Google crawlers crawl and index your page?

Some of the common mistakes include having your canonicals on pages that are set to no index, which usually gives search engines mixed results. 

There is an abundance of tools you can opt for to inspect canonicalization mistakes, including Ahrefs’ Site Audit tool or Mozbar by Moz. Both have a pretty comprehensive interface and will save you a ton of time if used properly. 

Implementing Canonicals on Your Website

At this point, you should be guessing that there is nothing complicated about canonicals. All it takes is adding rel=”canonical” to your page’s header. Edit it yourself in your HTML code or ask your developer.

You want to have close to the sample below: 

<link rel=“canonical” href=“https://yourdomain.com/canonical-page/” />

Tip from LinkSignal: lowercase and uppercase URLs are considered two different links. Go for lowercase first and make sure to apply the correct domain version (HTTP or HTTPS). 

Things are easy if you’re using WordPress. With Yoast SEO extension, self-referral canonicals are added by default, although you can edit custom canonicals in the advanced section of every page. 

Canonicals and 301 Redirects

Want a lifehack? Use 301 redirection to drive traffic from the duplicate URL to the canonical version of the page. 

Whether your content’s available at yourdomain.com or yourdomain.com/index.php, you gotta stick to one of them are redirect all of your traffic there for your own efficiency. 

Do the same for HTTP and HTTPS versions of your page. 

Bonus by LinkSignal: It is totally worth specifying the secure version of your website where it is feasible, as HTTPS is a major ranking factor. 

Canonicals = No More Duplicate Content 

Not a secret anymore that canonicals are your content ambulance. No matter which SEO strategy you go with, you simply cannot deliver trashy content to your readers. Be honest, confess, that’s hard to deal with especially if your domain is content-heavy. 

A hands-on solution? 

rel=“canonical”

Remember, your canonical route consists of inspection first [usually through an audit], identification of canonical mistakes [if any], and setting up or fixing the actual canonicals then. 

We hope this article equipped you with all the information needed to proceed with canonicals confidently. Did we leave anything hanging? 

Feel free to address your questions, concerns, and feedback in the comments below.

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