Canonical tags are pretty deep into the technical space of search engine optimization, but can have a massive impact should you implement them properly. Canonical tags tell search engines which page you would like to rank should a search engine try to rank the page. These tags make sense in many situations, but understanding best practices can keep you from shooting your proverbial website in the foot with search engines.
SITUATIONAL CANONICAL TAG USE
While there are many cases where canonical tags can be used and even more edge cases to explore, there are a few hard and fast rules to follow as you look to implement these lines of code on your pages. Canonicalizing your pages tells search engines which page represents the “master copy” of that page.
Multiple Versions of the Same Page
This is probably the most common use of canonicalization and is a situation you could find your current website in with some auditing. Say you wanted to create a landing page for people to contact you from your adwords campaign. You wouldn’t necessarily want that page to rank in search results as you already have an optimized contact page. There is potential for your adwords devoted page to outrank your main contact page depending on a considerable number of ranking factors. It would be important to implement a canonical tag to establish which page you would like to show up in the search results. Taking our contact page for example, we have our page built out at https://www.firestarterseo.com/contact/. If we built out a landing page for an adwords campaign, the URL may look like this – https://www.firestarterseo.com/contact-lp/. We would want to implement a canonical tag on the contact-lp page to establish the main page – https://www.firestarterseo.com/contact/ as the page we want to rank. This would ensure that even if Google decided to rank the contact-lp page, the page that shows up would be our main contact page.
If you have two domains you are producing content for, but only want one version to come up in search results, canonical tags are your best friend. An example of different domains would be if you were to setup a blog subdomain on your site. To use firestarter as a reference, we may create a blog.firestarterseo.com subdomain to house all of our content, but still post some high level blogs on our main site. This would cause duplicate content problems and put you out of good faith with Google. The solution is to implement canonical tags on the version you would like to rank. So you may have a canonical tag on the blog.firestarter version that sets the “master copy” as the version on the main site, or vice versa depending on your strategy.
CANONICAL TAGS VS. 301 REDIRECTS
We know the importance of redirecting old/dead pages so you may be inclined to setup a 301 redirect from the blog subdomain to the main website page, but this is not always the best tactic. If you implement a 301 redirect, the user will never see the page you are redirecting from and crawlers will pass all of the ranking value to the page you have redirected to. Sticking in the vein of the subdomain example, you may not want users bouncing back and forth between your blog subdomain and your main website. It would be important to have the URLs on the blog subdomain all serve content (no 301 redirect), but canonicalize the content living on the subdomain to point to the main versions of each. This lets your users continue to browse on the subdomain, but Google will rank any of the main pages you have canonical tags setup on.
If we lost you at some point in all this, leave a comment or contact us today to learn more about canonicalizing your URLs and directly establishing which pages you would like to rank on Google.