If you’ve been running your own digital marketing efforts but were never properly trained, chances are you’ve heard of canonical URLs, but just never got around to learning what they were. After all, Google chooses them for you most of the time, so why should you be concerned with them?
When you want to really get into the weeds of technical on-page SEO, canonical URLs are a powerful tool, especially for websites with multiple pages that have similar content or are product pages with multiple variants.
When a URL is canonical, it is considered by Google to be the authoritative source of information for all pages that reference that URL in the <head> with the rel=”canonical” attribute. This means that non-canonical pages are still indexable and can contribute link juice to your site, but Google understands that it is not meant to be read as duplicate content of the canonical page.
Suppose you have multiple URLs that point to the same page on your site:
If a canonical URL isn’t specified, Google doesn’t automatically know that one of these pages is meant to be the authority, and will treat them all as separate URLs with duplicate content. If https://www.examplewebsite.com/ was your canonical URL, you would insert this into the <head> of all the other pages:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.examplewebsite.com/”>
Canonical URLs can also be self-referencing, which, while not entirely necessary, can be done to ensure there is no confusion on Google’s end.
How Do You Use Canonical URLs?
Now that you know what they are, what is the best way to use them? There are quite a few uses for them for different kinds of websites and content.
Clean Up Search Results
For eCommerce sites, many of their product variants have random URL strings that can look unorganized and therefore decrease the CTR. If there are multiple URLs that get you to the same product category, you might want Google to show the one that looks “clean” instead of like a random string of gibberish.
When Google treats URLs with same or similar content as their own separate entities, it can muddy the waters when it comes to tracking and reporting. If you can get the majority of the traffic onto one consolidated page, it makes reporting much easier and simplifies your marketing efforts.
Consolidate Link Juice
When one URL is considered authoritative, it sends all the “link juice,” or ranking power, to that one page from all of the pages that reference it as canonical. This means that you no longer have pages with similar content fighting each other for a top spot, which can end up hurting your rankings in the long term.
Other Ways To Canonicalize URLs
While using the rel=”canonical” attribute is one way to get Google to canonicalize a URL, it’s not the only way. Most commonly, a 301 redirect will automatically canonicalize the page that it gets redirected to. In fact, Google has recommended that a redirect is used when possible–if it would break the user experience to do a redirect, then you can resort to using the canonical attribute where necessary.
Additionally, using a named anchor to jump to content on a page with the # parameter will not qualify as a separate URL in Google, and the page that content lives on is automatically the canonical version.
Of course, going through your entire site and canonicalizing the proper URLs can be an exhaustive task. Let our SEO experts handle it for you and contact us today!