Guide to Canonical Tags SEO

Being canonical is often thought of as a religious term, referring to the order of the books or chapters that are in a holy book. Canonization is also an integral part of SEO theology and it can be just as challenging to understand. It must be included in order for a website to be truly optimized, but one single piece of content can ruin the whole process.

Are you ready to discover how improving your canonical tags will help your website be able to show that it is more valuable to each visitor and to the search engines in general? Here’s what you need to know about canonicalization.

How Many Times Have You Posted the Same Content?

When thinking about canonical tags, think about it like this. Let’s say that you’ve been looking forward to a new book that’s been marketed for a year. You can’t wait to read it. You’re even the first in line at the bookstore to purchase it on the day it is released. There’s even a bit of a nervous feeling in your chest because the perceived value of the book and the knowledge or entertainment value it contains is ready to be claimed.

You read the first page of this book and it is amazing. It’s some of the best stuff you’ve ever read in your life. You let loose a small sigh of joy and contentment. The efforts at finding this awesome book have paid off. You turn the page… and the content is the same. It’s the exact same page that you read before.

Must be a typo or a printing error, you think. You turn the next page and the content is exactly the same again.

This is how search engines see duplicate content on your website. Different URLs exist everywhere that point people to duplicate content. By using canonical tags on your site, then you can inform the search engines that the duplicate content is not the preferred version of the page. It can be used to point everyone to the preferred page.

How Can You Fix This Problem?

Although in a perfect world, a website would never have duplicate content, the reality is that there can be multiple web addresses that can be put into an address bar to give someone access to the content that they want. Your job is to clean up that mess so that every address points to your preferred address. If you don’t get this job done, then the search engines will see a website that’s exactly like a book which is filled with the same page to read over and over again.

You’re going to need to get into the code of your website to fix this issue. Access the data where the URL is listed. You’ll then want to insert a bit of code that will refer people who are headed to an alternative page to reach the canonical page instead. Let’s say that “yourwebsite.org/page1″ is your primary content and that you’ve got three variations that are also valid URLs that will direct people to this same content.

Go into those three page variations and put this content into the head section of the code:
link rel=”canonical” href=”yourwebsite.org/page1″

It Doesn’t Need to Be the Same Content To Work

Now we get to the real meat and potatoes of why canonical tags are an effective optimization tool. There are a lot of pages on a website that aren’t exact duplicates of each other, but the value of the content is equal across the board. The words can be different and so can the pictures, but the results are very much the same for a reader. Here are some examples of this.

  • You have a retail store and the option to sort products in multiple ways.
  • You have a print version of your website and an online only version that are displayed equally.
  • You talk about the same product, service, or topic, but in a different way.

All of these pages can benefit from a canonical tag. Even though the pages are technically different from each other, a visitor to the site will find them all to be of equal value. By grouping the content together to assign them the one master site as the canonical version, the duplicate content penalties that search engines may assign become a thing of the past.

You don’t want to group together content that is structurally different or has different values. You’ll lose the optimization benefits that come from different content if you link items together under one canonical reference. Everything will be assigned to that one page and any potential benefits would be ignored from the other pages.

In an emergency, if you are finding that there are errors on a page or the content seems to be a bit spammy in nature, you can throw up the canonical tags to avoid a potential immediate penalty, but you’ve still got to get the problem fixed. Any type of spam, even if it is lower within your websites canon of pages, is going to penalize your good content.

This Isn’t a Permanent Solution

The goal of using the canonical tags is to give yourself a short-term solution to fix a long-term problem. The generation of multiple URLs that are identical or nearly identical is a structural problem from your website build. You can insert the code example to solve the immediate problem and avoid duplicate content penalties, but you’ll also want to get in and fix the problem that is creating the duplication in the first place.

Canonical tags are a great way to resolve some problematic SEO issues right now. Look through your sitemap to see if you’ve got areas of duplication and then group them together under one canon if you do. From there, look at your structure and make fixes so that your site can be effectively optimized for the long-term as well.

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