A lot of people have questions about canonical tags and this might be the reason why you are reading this post. What canonical tags mean? When you should use them? How canonical tags impact SEO?
I know there is a lot about it. But are you aware of the good part? If not or might be partially then read this post. In this post, I have covered almost everything about canonical tags.
So, let’s delve into the details and know about canonical tags and their impact on SEO.
What Does Canonical Tags Mean?
Canonical tags are tags which were designed to rectify issues related to duplicate content. For example, if you possess three duplicate webpages or those with very similar content, you can select one to be ranked in the SERPs. In this manner, you are supporting search engines conveniently decide the webpage to showcase and rank in the SERPs.
But an important thing to consider is that canonical tags are of no help to search engines till they are used properly. A lot of misunderstandings surrounds this topic, and hence, below I will discuss each one of them. But before that, let me tell you about the way how duplicate content is treated by search engines.
How Search Engines Treat Duplicate Content?
Consider it like Google has a difficult task to rank websites. Out there are numerous web pages available. Ideally, all sites must contain unique pages. And undoubtedly, each page must contain unique content. In reality, however, pages with duplicate content can occur frequently. This is not only about content copied from other sites, but even content that is written by simply changing and shifting just a few words.
Sure, when Google ranks pages, it is able to easily spot two posts having similar content and on the same website. This particular thing is known as ‘content cannibalization.’ As far as online marketing is concerned, cannibalization is a major reason for a drop in the sales for a product, once a similar product is introduced.
Hence, when Google indexes a website and identifies 3 pages competing to rank for the same keyword, it may end up ranking none of them or only one of them. It is because Google has to select among billions of distinct websites as well as among pages with the same content of a particular website. If you tend to offer duplicate pages, then you will only be going to increase your work.
If you have high domain authority, you may want to rank two or more or all pages of yours. But a common fact is that Google does not rank the same domain innumerable times for similar content. This is vital for the sake of diversity. For this reason, such similar pages end up showing in the omitted results from Google.
However, this is just a basic idea. Things are quite complex than this and the reality is that Google offers a penalty to duplicate content because it prefers simple work.
How Canonical Tag Affects SEO?
Now, as I have already told you, canonical tags were created to rectify duplicate content problems as well as support search engines to better rank pages. So, it definitely has very much in harmony with SEO.
SEO is impacted by the canonical tag in two ways.
1. Canonical tags can straight away influence the results displayed by search engines.
By using canonical tags, you can directly tell Google that ‘instead’ of this particular page, please showcase ‘that’ page. So if your second page ranks for the same keywords, you can inform Google to showcase first page instead.
2. When you canonicalized pages properly, it can give a great boost in the rankings, because of numerous factors.
As I mentioned earlier, Google prefers things which are simple to understand. When you make things simpler and clear for it, automatically it gives higher ranking to them. With canonical tags, you can shift Google’s focus to narrower pages to gain rankings on search engines. At the same time, you can keep other pages of your website for an enhanced experience for the users.
For instance, you may have a single pricing page with different subpages. Both of them might cannibalize each other and compete with each other for ranking for similar keywords. Moreover, you don’t want to combine both the webpages into one single page. In this situation, you can manage the cannibalization problem using rel=” canonical” tag. When you use such a tag, users will land on core pricing page via search engines. At the same time, they will be able to conveniently navigate on other pages while on the entire website.
Canonical Tag and 301 Redirect – How do they differ?
301 redirect and rel=canonical tag differ from each other. Using a 301 redirect, you are basically informing Google that the particular page no more exists. Simply ignore this content and consider the content at the other good pages.
However, using canonical tags, you are informing Google that the particular content is identical and there is a preferred and similar version of the content that you want to showcase instead.
Practically speaking, canonical tags let you direct a user to land on the first page, while a 301 redirect would not do this. When you follow the internal link and the first page shows 301 redirecting to the second page then both the users as well as search engines will appear on the second page.
So, how you must use the canonical tag?
If you think that pages with duplicate content are completely useless or inefficient for the site, then the finest part is to use ‘301 redirects’ to its appropriate counterpart. But if in case you wish to keep both types of pages on your site and index only a single page in the search engine, it is best to use the canonical tag.
Can Canonical Tags Shift the Link Equity?
A known fact is that 301 Redirect passes link equity to other webpages. And to some extent, canonical tags work in the same way. They transfer link equity to some extent and the same has been announced by Google in its official page.
Hence, if you want to shift the link equity to some extent then it can be done by including a canonical tag.
Ways to Incorporate Canonical Tag:
It is quite simple to add canonical tag within HTML. However, it is quite difficult to manage and avoid issues. You will require distinct canonical bonds across various kinds of pages. Simply, you can complete this process through a shortcut method. Sometimes, you require advanced programming traits to get the kind of work you desire for.
For instance, you may want to plan an internal search URL while also directing to the other page. This is not convenient to do as many of the platforms create search pages, without any other way to access the code to add your tags.
1. Using the Search Console URL Parameter:
The Search Console URL parameter solution from Google is excellent to use alternatively to canonical links. This tool can be used to indicate particular URL parameters that you intend to exclude from the search. But make sure you inculcate the correct settings in the Google Webmaster Tools because if you fail to do, it can greatly impact your website’s indexing. Hence, make sure you know what you are doing.
2. Directly through HTML:
One simple way to add canonical tags is by adding them directly through the HTML. Such a tag is quite similar to descriptive Meta tag.
Consider an example, there is page A, which is a duplicate form of the page B. In this case, page A must include a canonical tag with a ‘href’ attribute that includes the URL of page B. It will let search engines know that they must rank and index the page B rather than page A.
3. Add Canonical Tag Using Plugins like Yoast SEO:
Another simple way of adding canonical URLs is by the way of a plugin. For those who run their site on WordPress, a good way is to add canonical URL by using the Yoast SEO plugin. It is not mandatory you use Yoast SEO. You can also use other SEO plugins for different sorts of CMS platforms.
Yoast SEO by default adds a self-referring canonical URL. You can even add a customized canonical URL for the webpage. However, this is not simple as in order to add functionality to your site, you must know the canonical link.
The Different Types of Canonical Tag Uses:
There are lots of possibilities for using canonical tags.
1. Canonical Tag that Self-Refers:
Every URL must contain one canonical tag directing towards it. It is important that the tag point towards the root. Such a canonical tag fixes numerous issues generated by different URL parameters.
It is easier for Google to crawl such links. A good way is to add the self-referencing canonical tag as a backlink to URL with a parameter which points to the preferred version.
2. Resolving Duplicate Content Problems
If your content is not ranking and is not bringing any value to the site or users, it is good to consider 301. It is best to merge two content pieces into a single piece if both of them are not exactly the same. This makes sure that any ranking signals and link building measures are provided to the novel page and users can also reach it.
3. Useful for Syndicating the Content:
If the content is syndicated, you can include rel=canonical to ensure your site gains top ranking and not the publishers. This can also help you deal with breached content. Rather than getting the content removed, you must include a canonical tag into the page. If your page content gets new backlinks, you will have the advantage of showcasing authentic version on the website.
Common Mistakes of Canonical Tags that You Must Avoid:
Though you have complete control over canonical tags, they are a part of technical SEO and are difficult to deal with in specific situations. Mistakes in a canonical tag can result in display issues in the search engine and therefore reduce rankings. In the worst scenario, the errors pass unnoticed.
1. Rel=Canonical Mobile Versions:
A common mistake is that people are referencing the mobile version of their URL using a canonical tag. However, the proper method to achieve it is to include a canonical tag directing to the URL of the desktop. Also, you must have an alternate tag which directs from the URL of the desktop to mobile URL.
2. Mentioning Irrelevant Content within Canonical Tag:
Canonical tag plays a major role in rectifying issues related to duplicate content. If you are using a canonical tag to rank particular pages on distinct keywords, it will not work well. Google will understand this and figure out your game.
If there are similar content pieces, it is possible to canonicalize only a single version. However, a better solution is to use 301 Redirect for weak version to robust version. Also, you can consolidate both the tags into a stronger URL.
3. Numerous Canonical Versions:
It is good to add numerous canonical tags. However, doing this is absolutely counter-intuitive for search engine. Having numerous canonical tags on one page makes Google believe that it is a duplicate page. This way, numerous canonical tags from a single page directing to distinct main versions are bad for the website.
4. HTTPS and HTTP Issues:
Most of the times, when HTTP is merged to HTTPS, a few canonical tags are left unfixed. So, even if you run your site on HTTPS, the canonical tag lets Google check the HTTP version. This issue can be resolved by setting 301 Redirect properly.
5. Paginated Content:
Usually, the first page of a list is canonicalized by individuals. This is not good as other pages may contain unique content. For such paginated pages, it is best to use the rel-prev/next rather than a rel-canonical tag.
To Sum Up:
Canonical tags can have a huge impact on your SEO rankings. It all depends on the way you use them. Just use canonical tags wisely and only when needed, and this will do all good to you.