Semalt Explains What Canonical URL Is
There are a lot of search engine jargons out there, and today we want to talk about canonical URLs. Basically, it is a way to tell search engines which URL they should prioritize.
If you have been losing ranking or maybe you noticed some weird URL popping up with a lot of traffic on your analytics, you might want to check your canonical URLs. If you are unsure how to do this, our SEO team at Semalt can help you figure out what's wrong.
Semalt is an SEO company, and we not only consult on technical SEO, we also build links and write content that rank on search engines.
If you've used canonical URLs previously or are completely unfamiliar with the phrase rel="canonical," this article explains all you need to know to ensure that your client's website is properly optimized for search engines. Let's dig in.
What is a Canonical URL?
A canonical URL also called "canonical tag," is a HTML link element with the rel=canonical attribute found in your website's "head" section.
The canonical URL tells search engines which version of a web page's URL is the best. With the help of canonical tags, search engines know which page to crawl and list. This is important because URLs can be different but have the same content.
This is important because URLs can differ depending on many things, but they can still serve the same or similar content. The specification went into effect in April 2012 and was written up in RFC 6596.
Take these URLs as an example:
The URLs are different, but they both point to the same page. This can be hard for search engines to figure out because they might need to know which one has the right information.
With a canonical URL, however, search engines will only rank the chosen version of your URL out of a list of URLs and disregard the others.
So, even though the same content is on different URLs, Google won't punish your site. This can be hard for search engines to figure out because they might need to know which one has the right information.
Why Do I Have Content That Is The Same?
If you have a website, you have probably heard the phrase "content is king." It not only brings people to your site and keeps them there, but it's also what search engines use to rank sites.
If your content is original, useful, and interesting, it's more likely to rank higher in search engines. On the other hand, your site's ranking will go down if it has duplicate content.
Some webmasters have duplicate content on their sites and don't even know it. So, why do websites have the same content? Content duplication can happen for many different reasons. These things are:
- Regional domain prefix: If your website is available in different areas, you must use canonical tags to highlight the main content and avoid duplicating content.
- Mobile versions: URLs for mobile versions of sites are often different. To tell them apart, you need to use canonical tags.
- Transfer protocol/subdomain differences: If you can get to a site through different URLs, as was shown earlier, search engines will see these as separate pages.
- Product pages: In eCommerce sites, redundant content is a major issue, particularly when there are several iterations of the same product.
- Copied content: Sometimes, you may need more than one website to publish the same content. If this is the case, you should make the preferred content the "canonical" version.
Google Panda was an algorithm that came out in 2011 and punished sites with a lot of duplicate content.
If you do not want Panda to hit your site, you can reach out to us so we can run some technical SEO for you and find places where your site has duplicate content.
What Does A Canonical Tag Look Like?
Here's an example of a canonical URL:
<link rel="canonical" href="https://example.com">
Assuming you have an eCommerce product page - mysite.com/product- Now, this product can be reached through several URLs, such as:
There may be more than one URL that leads to the same content. In this case, you should add a canonical tag to the head section of all the copy pages to tell search engines which version of the URL is correct.
In our example above, we want to keep the preferred URL:
So, we'll add this canonical tag to the head> section of all three pages with duplicate content:
<link rel="canonical" href="https://mysite.com/product-a"/>
Importance of canonical tags and URLs for SEO?
The main job of canonical tags is to solve problems with duplicate content. But canonical URLs are also an important part of SEO. This is why.
1. Canonical Tags Choose the URL you want to show up in the search results
When a canonical tag is used on a page, search engines are informed as to which version to display. Search engines will need to know which material to rank in order to avoid issues with duplicate content and SEO.
2. With canonical tags, it's easier to keep track of metrics for a single product or topic
When there are many URLs, getting a single set of metrics for each piece of content can take time and effort. But when you use canonical tags, tracking how each page is doing is easier.
3. It stops Googlebot from crawling pages that are the same as others
If you have a large website with canonical URLs, make sure that Googlebot crawls your new pages instead of duplicating pages with the same content. But this could be a problem only if you have a lot of pages, like hundreds or thousands.
4. Canonical URLs combine links to duplicate content and help you manage content that has been syndicated
Search engines can assemble data about a URL into a single, reliable URL with the help of canonical URLs. Also, they help you move your page ranking to the URL you want.
How and When Should Canonical Tags Be Used?
Now that you know what canonical tags are and how important they are for SEO let's look at when and how to use them.
- Use canonical tags if you have duplicate content on your site.
- Use them when you sell similar, slightly different products, especially if you have an online store.
- Use them to set up extra information for a particular URL. It sorts and describes the information on a webpage (URL parameters).
Common Canonical Tag Errors
These tags are very useful. But if it's done wrong, Google might ignore websites or parts of websites, which could be terrible for traffic and sales.
Before putting in a canonical tag that points to another page, a web admin should ensure that the content is the same and learn about the most common canonical tag mistakes.
Some common mistakes are:
- The status code for a canonical URL is 404. Since a 404 error confuses the crawler, canonical URLs must always be available.
- It is not recommended to use "noindex," "disallow," or "no follow" tags with canonical URLs.
- The canonical URL element is in the body of a document and shouldn't be used more than once in the metadata.
- As a canonical link element, a relative Path is set. This could cause the Googlebot to misunderstand the tag, making it less useful. Because of this, the link should always be put in the canonical tag as a full URL.
- Grammar doesn't matter. When setting up the URL, all characters should be taken into account. It doesn't matter if the canonical tag points to https://page.com/ or just https://page.com; it should be different from HTTPS to HTTP. In January 2017, Google said that a site's use of a secure HTTPS connection would become a major ranking factor. Google has preferred HTTPS pages over canonical URLs since then. So, the Canonical tag should point from the HTTP page to the HTTPS page, not the other way around.
- The canonical tag points to a site's home page. This would be wrong because it would show two copies of the same page.
- Chains or cross-references canonical texts: When the canonical tag is used wrong, canonical chains or cross-references are made. Pages linked to a "canonical" link shouldn't link to other "canonical" pages.
Difference Between 301 Redirects and Canonical Tags
Many people use 301 redirects and canonical tags in the same way.
But they are not the same as each other. Canonical tags let you tell Search Engine Results Pages which URL you want to be shown (SERPs).
On the other hand, A 301 redirect assists in switching URLs permanently for good. Users who enter a URL send them to a different URL.
It tells servers, browsers, and users that the URL they are trying to access has been moved to a different URL. The final URL loads in the browser, so users don't notice 301 redirects.
Here's when 301 redirects should be used:
- When the domain name changes because the business is getting a new name.
- If you've changed your website's URLs.
- If a page on your website doesn't exist anymore.
Need Help With The Structure Of Your URL?
As long as visitors see the right content, how your site's URL looks might not seem like a big deal.
However, even small changes like this can affect your SEO and, as a result, your ability to bring in new customers. Canonical URLs are a simple way to fix sites with different URLs for the same page.
Semalt can help you put them in place or deal with any other problems on your website. Our SEO experts have years of experience finding and fixing website problems for our clients, and they'll do the same for you.
Get in touch with us right away to talk to a strategist!