Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a process to improve the visibility and search engine rank of a website. The results are evident in the form of increased traffic on the website. Almost all search engines use SEO today.
But what happens if the link to your website displays the content that another website also displays? In simpler words, what happens when two URLs (Uniform Resource Locator) display the same content?
What is a canonical tag?
A canonical tag (an HTML link tag with attribute rel=canonical) is essentially the marker between duplicate content and preferred content. It specifies the source URL (the first and original page of content) of a given page to a search engine. It is, in essence, a method of informing search engines that a particular URL is actually the authentic and original source of the given content.
How does a canonical tag work?
Canonical tags are used to establish the fact that a particular page is the true source of content.
Let’s elucidate the concept:
All of these URLs will lead you to the same page but to a search engine, each of these represents an exclusive page.
Canonical tags are used by search engines to sift through pages and retain original content on the original page. In this way the issue of duplicate and identical content can be addressed and the source URL can be given its due search engine ranking value.
Why do we need SEO canonicalization?
A dearth of canonical tags can cause a plethora of problems.
- In the event of identical content, search engines will not know which pages to exclude and which to include in its search indices.
- This means that search engines will also not know whether or not to link the content to one page or keep them separate.
- The search engines will crawl (visit your website to track a process) various URLs with identical content and will skip/skim/fail to pick out your website’s crucial and extraordinary content. This would mean loss of unique content from your website.
- From an SEO viewpoint, duplicate links to the original content splits up duplicate URLs and minimises the significance of link building. This means that production of vast amounts of similar content will jeopardise your search engine ranking value.
- A low search engine ranking value will cause low flow of traffic to your website. This would inevitably decrease the popularity of your website and cause a decline in your revenue.
- The search engine itself can, subsequently, become less germane and relevant.
- Original URLs may not appear as original and an incorrect URL may display the authentic content as ‘the source.’
Canonicalization is the fundamental step to improving your website’s credibility and SEO ranking. It will give more authority to your page. Since canonicalization consolidates traffic metrics of different similar content pages into a single URL, your day-to-day website can be gauged, measured and tracked.
Canonicalization becomes more important for e-commerce websites that generate links based on several versions of a sole product.
How to set up a canonical tag?
1.Select a preferred URL.
2.Now add “rel=canonical” in the link element or the section of the preferred URL and all its variants:
3.Be sure to use only one canonical link specified in the, otherwise all of them will be dismissed. A faulty SEO plug-in could easily result in such a scenario.
4.Use 301 redirects for all URLs that are not canonical. This will direct traffic from other URLs to your preferred URL.
When should SEO employ canonical tags?
The choice of a proper canonical URL for every series of similar URLs improves the SEO of your website. The search engine will know which version is canonical and will, therefore, compute all the links towards all the different versions, as links to that sole authentic version.
The most common case of when to use canonical tags is when different URLs exist for the same content.
Another situation where the employment of these canonical tags is helpful is where several categories and tags result in the same content.
At times mobile and phone websites display similar content but through a different domain. In a situation like this, canonical tags can be useful.
The relevance of 301-redirect and canonical tags
While both of these phenomena act similarly, from an SEO standpoint, they are not interchangeable. Remember a 301-redirect takes the person browsing a website or web page to the canonical URL, while a rel=canonical tag does not do this.
Usually, only one of these should work. If your aim is to permanently consolidate and combine two pages and remove the duplicates, using a 301-redirect is advisable.
Moreover, if your site structure has altered, a 301-redirect would be a good option since it will also correct bookmarks. However, if you wish to keep both pages available to people browsing your site but only have one appear in search results, it would be smarter to use rel=canonical.
Remember, having search engines index all of your duplicate content affects the relevancy of their results, and inevitably affects the ranking of your page. This leads to other domino effects like reduction of traffic on your site and a decrease in your revenue.
However, it is also crucial to bear in mind that canonical tags will not instantly and automatically enhance the conspicuity and visibility of your website.
The results of using canonical tags will vary depending on how effectively you use them. They will also vary considering they are actually needed to be used. It will be helpful to evaluate if your website has duplicate content or multiple URLs pointing to the same content. If the answers to these are yes, then you should devise a strategy on how to implement these tags and on what pages.