Canonical Links: The End of Duplicate Content Woes?

Point Your Pages to the Right Location

Point Your Pages to the Right Location

Duplicate content definitely has a tendency to clutter up the net, and let’s face it, as SEOs we know it can mean less than perfect URLs earning page rank. There are many causes of duplicate content, and there are also many strategies for dealing with it. Sometimes it’s something as simple as the “www” and “non-www” version of a site earning links and being ranked. Other times, it could be as a result of dynamically generated URLs from a content management system. Either way, SEOs and users alike want easy to read, pretty URLs to follow, and the search engines are taking us a step closer to making this easier.

Usually fixing duplicate content issues meant 301 redirects on the server side, or the use of site maps to try to insure that the best (desired version) of the page was the one being indexed. But for many webmasters some of these fixes for duplicate content were simply not possible, and for many more, the issues which cause duplicate content just couldn’t be avoided. But the times they are a-changin’.

Introducing: The Canonical Tag. The word “canonical” means “Stated or used in the most basic and straightforwardly applicable manner”. So by definition this tag aims to streamline the process of indexing and ranking proper content pages on the net, thus preventing duplicate content issues, and here is how it works:

This is a
tag that will live in the head of your web document. It’ll look a little something like this:

< link rel= “canonical” href=”http://www.example.com/page1.html” / >

This tells the spiders that the page they landed on is the same as www.example.com/page1.html. This comes in handy for many reasons, the first being that this works like a 301 redirect. Now the spiders know that they should be passing links, page authority, and priority to that version of the page.

This is great for CMS users that have multiple versions of pages generated by their archives, searches, or categories. Now they can point the search engines to one page and avoid the issues that arise from duplicate content. The best part is that all 3 of the major search engines are going to be honoring this tag. So it could potentially mean big things for the search engine optimization game. Take a listen to what Search Guru and Main Googler Matt Cutts had to say:

Matt Cutts Announces Canonical Tag

Currently, there are some limitations. Right now, it can only be directed within the same domain. For different domains you’ll still need to use 301 redirects. Also, you’ll want to make an effort not to string these canonical links. Google will make an effort to follow chains, but its better not to complicate it at this point. Currently this tag is considered a “hint” meaning that 99% of the time it will be honored, but it is not guaranteed, and the search engines reserve the right to handle it how they see fit to prevent errors and to maintain the best usability for its searchers out there.

Now to make the easy even easier… (Maybe even canonical? Lol! Ahem…Sorry bad joke.) Since this is big news especially for CMS users, I’m happy to point wordpress-ers out there over to Yoast.com, who has created a great new plug-in to help out with this new feature. Check it out here:

Yoast.com – Canonical Plugin

There are still a lot of questions to be answered about this new tag, but I for one am anxious to see how this plays out for SEOs and what it means for search engine optimization strategies.