Canonical URLs: Why It Matters to SEO
It is not a secret that duplicated content can be present on the website for one reason or another. This is not forbidden by Google as the content belongs to the same website and the same company. However, such an occasion may cause some confusion for search engines and website visitors as well.
To deal with the issue of repetitive content, the notion of canonical URL appeared. This could either refer to a Google-selected or proprietary-indicated URL address. Each of these cases along with their advantages and precautions is discussed in detail in this article.
Here you’ll also find canonical URL examples for you to better understand how to use them and why they are important. Such examples are generalized but still help to understand canonical URL meaning.
What Are Canonical URLs?
So let’s get to the point of the article and have a detailed look at canonical URL addresses. The canonical URL meaning defined by Google states that “this is the best URL address selected from the group of pages with duplicate content”. In simple words, this is the principal URL address that belongs to the main page which is prioritized among others having the same or very similar content.
Importance of Canonical URL
A website may decide to have several pages with the same content for many different reasons. While this is not a highly recommended practice, some businesses decide to have content duplicates.
If a company decides to have such duplicate pages, there is a strong necessity to identify the ‘leader of the group’ by making its URL canonical. This would greatly help to rank separate pages and the entire website properly avoiding any associated issues. Otherwise, Google will do this on its own and define canonical URLs according to its tastes and assumptions.
The second case might be easier to implement as relying on Google is not a bad idea. However, in the case of canonical URL definition, it is better to dedicate some of your time to that.
Implement Canonical URLs
To take the weight off Google’s shoulders and at the same time do better for your website, indicate the URL manually. There are several methods on how you can do that, and also you can combine them to reinforce the overall result and strengthen the canonicalization of the principal page among duplicates.
When you want to point out the canonical URL right in the HTML code, use the <link> tag with the element rel=’canonical” in the header section of the web page. It should look something like this:
Google also suggests adding the <link> tag with the element rel=”alternate” in case a web page has its analog mobile version with the same content.
For those who are using CMS systems such as WordPress or Wix, there is also another code-free way to indicate a canonical URL. In the web page settings, there is a field Canonical URL where you should paste the web address of the principal page among duplicates.
Redirects might be necessary if you want to shift your traffic from the HTTP page version to its secure HTTPS analog. However, don’t delete web pages as that can lead to unwanted broken links or lost ranking signals.
To reinforce the effect of the two above-mentioned methods, elaborate on your sitemap as well. This document is fundamental for Google to understand which pages should be prioritized in crawling and indexing processes. Also, a sitemap provides Google and other search engines with a website structure and dependence on web pages.
If there are several versions of the web page, indicate the address of that particular one that you consider canonical. By default, Google considers the pages on the sitemap as canonicals and easily understands how to index any duplicates then.
URL Canonicalization Issues
Even despite clear and transparent guidelines on pointing out canonical URLs, certain issues may occur. Google may decide on its own to select another canonical page for a number of reasons. Otherwise, canonicalization issues might develop from incorrect redirects, localization, and so on. See below the most common canonicalization problems and possible solutions to those.
Incorrect Canonical Elements
Some CMS systems may deal with the canonical URLs in an incorrect way by applying not very precise techniques. Therefore, the canonical URL does not appear to belong to the page you want but to some other web page.
Use the HTML code inspector to see how the canonical URL is specified and whether rel=”canonical” element is used where needed. In case an error was detected, contact your CMS and report this issue so it could be fixed instantly.
Multiple Canonical URLs
Sometimes it happens that several pages with similar or duplicate content are defined as principal. Otherwise, the 301 and 302 redirects are done to different web pages with the same content. This might cause great confusion for search engines and invoke changes in your website rankings.
The occurrence of multiple canonical URLs usually takes place when lots of content is produced on a regular basis. The risks could be mitigated with better content management at the place. Use tools that help detect any possibility of duplicate content even before its actual crafting.
Localized Page Versions
Sometimes it happens that pages destined for different geographical regions might seem duplicates to Google. Those are usually web pages in the same language but for various countries. For instance, you might have several pages about the same subject in Spanish but each of them is designed for Spain, Argentina, Ecuador, and so on.
If you craft content in the same language but for different countries and then localize it accordingly, you should take care of tags and annotations on each page. Those would help Google to perceive each page as a different unit to appear within a certain geographical region. Reinforce your local SEO efforts for such cases as well.
This is not a common issue but no website is 100% protected from intruders even despite modern cryptographic solutions. In the case of website hacking, canonical URLs or redirects might be performed in the wrong way. All this is usually done by competitors to drop your website’s ranking.
Even though search engines are already smart enough to process websites on their own, it is sometimes necessary to head them in the right direction. Even though Google can define canonical URLs on its own, it might not be the same page you want to promote on search engines. Therefore, indicating canonical URLs manually using one or several methods for that increases the quality of evaluation and perception of your website on the web.
Benefits of Canonicalization
To have better control over your website, canonicalization of URLs is one of the methods for that. It allows you to specify things that would help search engines percept your website correctly and index pages properly as well. Below you will find the most tangible benefits of canonical URLs implemented for your web pages.
Having rel=”canonical” element within HTML content guarantees clarity not only for search engines but for website developers as well. You will immediately see which page is canonical and thus put more effort into updating it. Meanwhile, other similar pages would be given a lower priority for updates. This greatly helps to structure the workflow for content management and website optimization.
By indicating the pages on the sitemap, both search engines and website admins get a better understanding of the core pages. This, in turn, greatly assists to craft the UI version of the website and menu for users.
Duplicate Content Issues
As canonical URLs are implemented for web pages with similar content, let’s have a look at the instances of duplicate content and how to deal with it. We also have to admit that duplicate content on the same website is not as critical as duplicate content on different websites.
In the second case, similar content on various domains might appear a heavy issue. Google can even penalize both websites that have similar content because this is against its principal policies. That is why, the emphasis on original content that brings value to users is always there when it comes to the content creation paradigms.
Another issue of duplicate content is the ranking of different web pages that cover the same topic. The matter gets even more critical if the same keywords are also dispersed throughout the text. It means that pages of the same website compete with each other – this makes no sense. You should rather concentrate all your efforts on improving one page and enhancing its content over time.
Globally, duplicate content occurrence might be the result of poor content management. First of all, it is highly recommended to create a content plan on an annual basis, so you see all article topics. Secondly, you should have a system where all the web pages and blog articles’ names are present. This might be especially convenient for those who have had websites for years, and remembering all the content made during this time would be practically impossible.
One more thing about duplicate content, even when its creation is inevitable, is the updating of all those pages with similar texts. Updating all those pages would be a tedious process with lots of time required for that. Having the main page of the duplicate content group is convenient because you might concentrate all your efforts only on it.
While canonicalization is not a very common practice, it should be implemented in the workflow of webmasters. Identifying canonical URL means that you point out the main page in the group of web pages with duplicate content. This could be done either by implementing the corresponding element in the HTML code, sitemap, or by using redirects. Each of these methods has its own benefits so it is also advisable to use all of them simultaneously for stronger effect.
Sometimes it happens that canonicalization issues arise – this usually happens because of poor content management. That is why it is important to have all existing content under surveillance. Also, make sure that there is only one page with a canonical URL to avoid any confusion. Another important aspect is to properly address localized web page management and reinforce local SEO efforts for them.
Finally, keep in mind that duplicate content should exist only when this is inevitable. If it is possible to avoid duplicates, try to do so in order to keep your website in top-notch condition.
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