Canonical Tag: A Simple Fix that Could Pay off BIG!

March 19, 2010  |   Internal Architecture   |   8 Comments

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of my clients who have been running into this issue and so I thought I’d share to see if you may have the same issue.  You may have seen this before or this might be completely new to you.  Regardless, I’m going to show you a few URL’s.


Although these 7 URL’s lead to the homepage of this non-existant website, the search engines will actually look at all 7 of these URL’s as different pages on your domain.

So why does this matter to you?

If you are inconsistently linking to your homepage with variations of the homepage URL rather than choosing 1 version, that is a very inefficient way to flow your PageRank through your site.

Let me illustrate this with an example.  There is an old game I used to play called “Coconut”.  The basic idea is to place your hands together (palms touching) while your opponent flicks you as hard as they can on your fingers.  You then get a turn to flick your opponent’s hand.  Okay…I know it’s a weird example, but bear with me here.  Do you think it would be a better idea to flick each of their fingers to induce as much pain to a greater area?  Or would you rather concentrate on one specific area and flick that repeatedly until you won?  The game is over and a winner is declared when the other person gives up.  I don’t know about you, but I would choose to concentrate all my flicking to one precise spot.

Now, let’s wind it back to our example of the many different URLs above.  If you have inconsistencies in linking to pages within your site, your competitors could potentially win while leaving you with nothing but very sore knuckles.

So how do you fix it?

You could either go through each page and hover over each link and make note of the destination URL for each link.  For a site that has under 10 pages, no big deal.  When you start getting into the 1000’s or even 1,000,000’s of pages, probably wouldn’t be the wisest move.  Instead, save your time and energy by using the canonical tag!  This was only recently accepted by the 3 search engine giants.  So this tag should go into the <head> of each of the webpages that you think could potentially get tagged as duplicate versions.  The example above would have a canonical tag that would look like this:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”” />

When else would you use it?

If you have an e-commerce website in which you sell a product in many different sizes, you might be a qualified candidate to use this tag.  Say you have a pair of the latest Ben Gordon Nike shoes you sell and have a different page for each of the different sizes & colors.  The URLs might look like this:

  • ben-gordon-nike-shoes/red

If these two pages have the exact same content word-for-word, then the search engines will see this as duplicate content and this can be an issue for you.  If you have a ton of pages that show the same content, then that puts Google in a little pickle of knowing which page to show when users search for “Ben Gordon Nike shoes”.  From past experience, I’ve seen the duplicated pages fall out of Google’s main index and into their supplemental index, which is not a good place to be.  The supplemental index is in a nutshell, Google’s backup database and the only chances of showing up in a search is if there are no results in the main database.    So to fix this issue, you would use the following tag in the <head> of the main Ben Gordon Nike shoes page:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”” />

I hope this is making a little bit more sense to you now.  I’m going to hand it over to you guys and ask if you can think of any other situations where a canonical tag would come in handy?

About the author

Maximus Kang is the Director of SEO Strategy & Founder of Ranking Channel, a Seattle-based SEO consulting agency. With enterprise level experience at Expedia and agency experience at Optify, his SEO knowledge covers a wide spectrum. He also started his very . Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Facebook.

New to SEO? You can learn How to Win Users & Influence Google.


8 Comments for this entry

  • Reg Charie - NBS SEO

    April 8th, 2010 on 2:17 PM

    I have to respectfully disagree with you on this one.

    Google is “smart enough” to understand the different pages are identical and assign it a unique ranking.

    There is no empirical evidence to support the theory.
    If there was you would see multiple identical listings for many sites depending on the canonical level in use. E.G. same listings showing for with and without the www.

    Best. Reg

  • Maximus

    April 8th, 2010 on 7:27 PM

    Hi Reg,

    I guess I’m having a hard time understanding what theory are you referring to and what exactly are you disagreeing on?

    Everything I mentioned in this post was based on Google’s guidelines, from Matt Cutts, & from experimental testing. If your site has many www. & non-www. versions of a URL, Google looks at them and sees each of the URL variations as unique URL’s because a web server has the potential to return different content for each of the example URL’s I posted above.

    When Google chooses a specific URL to rank in their main database, the remaining variations get pushed into the supplemental index, which is the reason why you don’t see two listings for your website with two URL variations.

  • Michael

    August 11th, 2010 on 5:16 AM

    Unfortunatelly most CMS systems don’t support placing the link rel=”canonical”.
    But most of them do have alternatives.

    • Maximus

      August 13th, 2010 on 12:09 PM

      Hey Michael! Yea…all hail the power of CMS. :)

  • Andy Kuiper - SEO Analyst Vancouver

    September 22nd, 2010 on 12:41 PM

    I’ve used the rel=”canonical” link a few times with good success. I think it’s a good idea if implemented properly.
    Andy :-)

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