Canonical tags are an important part of SEO best practice. Essentially, they allow webmasters to avoid the issue of duplicate content. But what are they, and how are they used? Here we explore the implications of duplicate content, the benefits of canonical tags, and explain how to use them correctly for SEO.
What are Canonical Tags and What are they Used for?
A canonical tag is an HTML tag in the source code of a web page. When similar or identical content is accessible through multiple URLs, you can add a tag to specify which page should be the main version or the “master copy.” This will tell Google which page should be indexed and ranked, and help you avoid duplicate content issues going forward. Most content management systems have these tags built in, or allow you to add them automatically with plugins. All you have to do is choose the right page to canonicalize! Ideally, this should be the URL that you want to rank the highest on Google, or the one that receives the most visitors and conversions.
What are the Implications of Duplicate Content?
To understand how canonical tags can improve SEO, it’s important to understand the implications of duplicate content and why it is important to avoid it. Internal content duplication, whether intentional or not, can be harmful for SEO.
Unique Content Gets Lost
Too much duplicated content on your website can cause your most important unique content to get lost. When you have multiple URLs that lead to the same page, Google will automatically choose one page to index over the others, and this may not be the page that you want to rank on the SERPs. As a result, your more important pages may lose rankings and clicks.
User Experience can be Harmed
Not only does duplicate content confuse Google, it also confuses your audience. If duplicate versions of a website URL show up on in Google results, users won’t know which version to click on, and may end up ignoring both. Additionally, when similar or identical content appears on multiple pages, the content loses its value, and this could harm your conversion rates. It’s important to ensure that your unique content stands out on SERPs, as this will have a positive impact on the user experience.
How can Canonical Tags Improve SEO?
Canonical tags provide webmasters with greater control over duplicate content, which can have a positive impact on your site rankings. There are multiple strategic ways in which you can use canonical tags to improve SEO.
The Homepage is one of the most common areas of a website that a canonical tag is applied. Homepages can often be accessed through different URLs, and although they all lead to the same page, search engines will identify each URL as a duplicate by default. This means multiple versions of your homepage URL will be competing with one another, because Google simply won’t know which URL to rank for!
Applying canonical tags is the simplest way to fix complex issues like these. Putting a canonical tag on the main version of the homepage URL will tell Google what the preferred URL is, and that specific page will be the one that ranks on Google. The same rule applies to duplicate product pages on e-commerce websites. Applying a canonical tag to the preferred page will eliminate the duplicate content and increase traffic to the main product page you want to rank for.
Avoiding Common Mistakes: How to Use Canonical Tags in the Best Way
Canonical tags are a powerful tool for SEO, but only if they are used correctly. It’s very easy to make simple mistakes when canonicalizing individual website pages, and these mistakes can lead to a lot of unintentional harm for your website’s SEO.
Don’t Over-Use Canonical Tags
When you over-use these tags (or apply them where they shouldn’t be) search engines get confused. If you specify two different URLs as the “master copy” of a page, Google won’t understand which one to index, and may ignore both. Be sure to double check your canonical tags before implementation and be very cautious when choosing which page to canonicalize. Sometimes, two pages may seem to be similar at first glance, but actually serve different purposes. The same issue will happen if an individual page has multiple canonical tags — a single web page should not have more than one canonical tag.
Always Use Absolute URLs
When implementing a canonical tag, you should always use the full URL — also referred to as the “absolute” URL. Canonical tags that don’t include absolute URLs will not be recognised by Google. A typical example of an absolute URL is: https://www.pureseo.com.
This URL features all the essential elements of a full URL, including the https element, the www element, the domain name, and the .com element.
Check the Accessibility of the Specified URL
When you add a canonical tag to a page, you must first ensure that the specified page URL is fully accessible. For instance, if you add a canonical tag to a page that includes robots.txt, Google will be unable to crawl it. This means the canonicalization won’t work and the page won’t be indexed, which defeats the purpose.
Learn More About SEO Best Practices with Pure SEO
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Robyn has lived in New Zealand for 15 years, after living in Trinidad for most of her childhood. Since arriving in New Zealand, she has travelled most of the country, and has also travelled abroad to North America, Asia and Europe. In her free time, Robyn loves going to the beach, discovering new places to eat, and spending time with family.
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