Canonical tags are still important. Recently with my e-commerce clients, it seems that Google has re-ignited its deep love of the canonical tag. My most recent experience in implementing these, did increase sessions, and lessened the errors in search console. Basing my conclusion on experiments I am currently running, that the canonical is the main signal to let google know which page is preferred for indexing. I use search console for determining which of my pages can index better before implementing my canonical strategy.

Canonical tags for duplicate content

Most website (especially transactional) have at least a few pages on-site that contain duplicate content. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – after all, many times it’s completely unavoidable. However, duplicate content can dilute your ranking ability in the search engines if you are no handling them correctly. When the spiders come crawling, search engines find multiple pieces of content that are the same (or very similar), they’re not sure which one is the original. As a result, they may simply choose one at random, or they may spread the link juice (ranking power) between all of the pages equally. Either way, it’s not ideal. You could end up with a lower ranking than you would have if you only had one piece of duplicate content, or you could split your link juice between multiple URLs, diluting its power.

Canonicals – Best Practice Implementation

Canonicalisation is the process of identifying the one “true” version of a piece of content, and then telling the search engines which URL that is. This can be done in a few different ways.

  1. Self referential – simply add a rel=”canonical” tag to the head of each page on your site. This tag points the search engine to the URL of the original piece of content.
  2. Canonicalising the home page –  home page duplicates are common so it’s usually a good idea to put a canonical tag on your homepage template to prevent unforeseen problems.
  3. Dynamic URLS – here you should check the page to make sure that the canonical tags are not a different version for each page – the rag should refer back to the priority pages.
  4. Don’t confuse the search engine – make sure the canonicals are not pointing in a loop and that you have checked that your 301s are not confusing your canonical pages.
  5. Another way to canonicalise your content is through your .htaccess file. This is a bit more technical SEO, but it essentially allows you to redirect any traffic that arrives at a duplicate URL to the original URL.

All of these methods are fairly simple to implement, and they can make a big difference in how your content is ranked in the search engines. If you have any duplicate content on your site, canonicalization is a great way to help ensure that your original content is the one that gets indexed and ranked.

How to strategise your canonical tags for SEO

When auditing your canonical tags, there are a number of things worth checking for optimal SEO performance. Here’s a checklist:

  1. Does the page have a canonical tag? is it duplicate / thin content?
  2. Does the canonical point to the right  (the most important) page?
  3. Are the pages crawlable and indexable? i.e. is there a 404 / 301 to consider
  4. does you site have pagination, and is the canonicals set on each page?

Canonical tags in SEO are used to let Google know which version of the page you want to appear in search results. This should be the page that is the most important. Canonicals are a solid way to consolidate link equity from the duplicate pages as well as to improve crawling and indexing of your website.