What should you do when managing duplicate content on a website?
Duplicating content with several URLs in the CMS (Content Management System) can cause trouble for the SEO of that website.
Now, what is the solution to this problem? The answer is canonical tags.
Canonical tags tell the search engines that some URLs with duplicate content are the same as the main URL. Sometimes, websites include content related to the services or products on multiple URLs. But with canonical URLs, you can include duplicate content in your website without affecting the SERP rankings. In this writing, we will discuss everything related to canonical tags, why it is important, how to implement them, and many more.
What is a Canonical Tag?
A canonical tag is represented as rel=” canonical” tag, a summary of the HTML code. It allows the user to define the primary URL version in nearly duplicate or duplicate pages set on a website. Canonical tags in SEO tell the search engine crawlers which page version they should visit and index, consolidate the ranking strength by offering link equity, and display the results in SERPs.
Where Can You Find A Canonical Tag?
A canonical tag is present in the head segment of the HTML source code of a website and is usually written like this:
The canonical tags primarily point from the alternate page to the preferred one. But you can also use self-referencing canonical tags. Every canonical page should include a canonical tag pointing to its URL. Self-referencing canonical tags helps search engines to select which URL the user wants them to pick as canonical.
The canonical tags help prevent duplicate content problems, and the users will never be affected. These tags also increase engagement, conversion rates, and click-through rates.
Many websites have backlink URLs to different duplicate pages. But if you canonicalize these URLs, search engines will treat them as canonical URL links. All together, they will have a great ranking impact.
What is a Canonical URL?
A canonical URL is the original URL of the duplicated content web page. Search engines never want to display search results on duplicate pages with no value. Thus, whenever a Google crawler finds duplicate website URLs, it picks a canonical URL to represent them. It finally prioritizes while ranking or indexing them. Consider the below example.
Canonical URL: https://abc.com/blog/
Alternate URL: https://abc.com/blog/?page=1
Search engines will select the canonical URL for ranking. The canonical URL is the primary, representative, or principal version.
Canonicalization in SEO refers to the process of choosing the best URL when there are several choices available, and it usually refers to home pages.
For instance, most people would consider these the same URLs:
But technically all of these URLs are different. A web server could return completely different content for all the URLs above. When Google “canonicalizes” a URL, it tries to pick the URL that seems like the best representative from that set.
The purpose of canonicalization is to help prevent problems caused by identical or “duplicate” content appearing on multiple URLs. This can confuse search engines and can cause the search engine like Google to rank the pages lower as they don’t know which version(s) to include/exclude from their indices.
So, by specifying a canonical URL, you can clarify for search engines which URL is the main version. This can be done by using a special HTML link tag with
rel=canonical in the head section of your HTML page. This tag tells search engines that this page should be treated as though it were a copy of the URL, and all links, content metrics, and ranking power should be credited to that URL.
Why Are Canonical Tags Important for SEO?
The primary benefit of canonical tags for SEO is to tell the search engines which page is the original and main version and which pages are duplicates that look the same. Most websites include at least one duplicate web page and display similar content with different URLs.
For instance, in the case of product pages, you cannot display it through only one URL. You can display it based on different parameters like sorting through fit, currency, and material based on various URLs. Here, you can display the product page in the clothing’s primary category but can display and filter it according to color and size parameters. Thus, you can display it in at least 3 different URLs.
In these circumstances, canonical tags become exceptionally significant. The tags will guide the search engines to index only the primary category URL, clothes, rank in their results, and ignore the other 3 URLs. Besides this, canonical tags also come with the following advantages.
Consolidating The Page Rank
Canonical tags can consolidate the page rank or link equity from the duplicate web pages into a single canonical primary page. Duplicate pages might include externally sourced backlinks from social media, random websites, and many more. The tags will take over the primary version’s link equity from the web page you want to rank on the search engines. By using canonical tags on duplicate pages, you can transfer the page rank into one URL and improve your overall SERP ranking.
Improves Search Engine Crawling
Canonical tags direct the crawlers and bots of the search engines to visit the web pages you want to index and rank efficiently, as opposed to the web pages they should not crawl. Duplicate web pages waste the resources and time of the search engines as they are insignificant for crawling or indexing purposes. Thus, with the help of canonical tags, search engines can concentrate more on the vital web pages to you and save the crawling budget.
Managing The Syndicated Content
Canonical tags show the way to the search engine about the website containing the original content, which is just syndicating, paraphrasing, or republishing. Many websites copy the original content from another website for promotional purposes. Thus, search engines must decide which website is the original content owner, which should be ranked, and which website is just promoting it. Canonical tags can resolve this difficulty by putting the tags on external websites and promoting only the main and original version of the webpage on search engines.
How to Implement Canonical Tags?
For using the canonical tags in the HTML, you have to add rel= canonical to the header segment of the web page.
But do you have a CMS plug-in in the website and want to add canonical tags without the HTML?
For this, you must go through the below segment to read the instructions for implementing canonical tags in WordPress through Rank Math and Yoast SEO plug-ins, Wix, and Magento 1.
Do you have a WordPress website and want to set up the canonical tags in it?
You can accomplish this simple procedure with any WordPress SEO plug-in. Access the most common plug-ins like Rank Math and Yoast SEO in WordPress.
A. Rank Math SEO Plug-in
If you have the Rank Math SEO plug-in installed in your WordPress website and want to add canonical tags, follow the instructions below.
Open the Rank Math SEO plug-in box from any page or post of your website
- Go to the advanced tab
- At the end, there is a mention of a field called canonical URL
- Put the URL you want to mark as a canonical URL
- Save the settings, and your work is done
B. Yoast SEO Plug-in
If your website has a Yoast SEO plug-in installed, follow the steps below.
- Open the Yoast SEO plug-in on any page
- Go to the advanced tab section
- In the end, there is a canonical URL field
- Enter the specific URL you want to mark as canonical
- Save the page settings and exit
Wix web pages include self-referencing canonical tags by default. But you can change the tags’ structure in the following ways.
1. Go to your page’s SEO Settings from the left side of Editor and top of the Editor X:
- Now Click the More Actions icon
- Click SEO Basics.
2. Now Click the Advanced SEO tab.
3. Then go to Additional Tags.
4. Click the More Actions icon on canonical.
5. Now click on Edit.
6. Now here you have to add your tag under Tag Value.
7. Finally, click Apply.
If your website runs a Magento 1 store, follow the steps below to include canonical tags for category and product pages.
A. Product page
- Log into the administration panel
- Go to system and then configuration
- Click on the catalog and open the SEO section
- If canonical tags are absent, you must click “Use Canonical Link Meta Tag For Products” to yes.
B. Category page
Go back to SEO settings on the catalog page
- Search for the “Use Canonical Link Meta Tag For Categories” field and make it no
- Mention the canonical URLs manually for the categories
- Go to the edit page option of any category web page and search for the custom design tab
- Add the code below and swap in the canonical URL in the custom layout update.
Canonical Tags: SEO Best Practices
If you cannot use the canonical tags appropriately, Google will ignore your website and harm the SEO performance. Thus, you must follow the practices below to acquire the best results.
Using Self-Referential Canonical Tags
It is one of the best SEO practices to add a canonical tag on a web page pointing to itself, even if you are not using the canonical tags on the remaining duplicate pages. Though this practice is not compulsory, it will benefit long-term. Implement self-referencing canonical tags on the original and primary page, giving the search engines a clear signal that they are canonical.
Using Absolute URL
Reference the canonical tags using absolute URLs compared to the relative ones. Absolute URLs in the canonical tag will prevent bad interpretations or unintentional mistakes related to the canonical URLs. It means you have to use the complete URL, including the domain like the following:
And different from a relative URL such as the one below
Using Lowercase URLs
Google or other search engines are highly sensitive about the lower and upper cases in the URL. Thus, you can use lowercase in the canonical URLs to prevent duplication and maintain the duplication for search engines. Try to include lowercase in the servers while applying to the canonical tags.
Specifying WWW or Non-WWW URLs
It will be better to stick to one URL version across the website to avoid confusing the search engines. Search engines consider the non-www and www URL versions as duplicate ones.
Non-WWW example: https://abc.com/
WWW URL example: https://www.abc.com/
Specifying Trailing Slash or Non-Trailing Slash URLs
Have you ever noticed whether your pages use trailing or non-trailing slashes at the end URL?
Trailing slash means using a slash at the URL end (https://abc.com/), and non-trailing slash means the absence of a slash at the URL end (https://abc.com). If there is a trailing and non-trailing slash in the URL, search engines will consider it as two different ones. Thus, always reference your canonical URLs appropriately by inserting the slashes when necessary. It will help in making your website and SEO performance consistent.
Using Canonical Tags On The Cross-Domain Duplicates
You can also use canonical tags to reference the original page from other domains, including the website. Suppose there is duplicate page content on another website. In that case, you can use self-referencing canonical tags on the primary page or a canonical tag on the external website, referencing the original one.
Implementing Canonical Tags At The Correct Location
Always put the canonical tag in the correct location of your website. Since these are placed in the webpage’s header HTML code, remember this while managing the signals sent to the search engines for duplicate content.
Never Link Internally To Non-Canonical Web Pages
It is another SEO best practice to guide search engines to support the canonical web pages. By avoiding internal page linking to the non-canonical web page, you can pass on the traffic juice to the canonical version and not to the non-canonical one.
Specifying Only One Canonical URL For Every Page
You must mention only one canonical URL for each web page, or it might confuse the search engines. Do not include 2 canonical tags in the HTML code of a page. If your website is in the HTTPS protocol, refer to it as the canonical URL.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Canonical Tags
Many website owners need to correct their mistakes while using canonical tags. But the most common ones include:
Directing The Canonical Tags To The Redirected Pages
Direct the canonical tags to the redirected pages. It will confuse the search engines. For instance, page A gets redirected to page B. But no canonical tags will point to page A instead of page B.
Redirecting Multiple Canonical Tags To A Single Page
Sometimes, multiple canonical tags might be present in a web page’s HTML code by accident. It can create confusion for Google, and thus, it is best to avoid this mistake. For multiple rel=canonical declarations, search engines will avoid all the canonical hints, and all the advantages of canonical tags will get lost
Implementing Canonical Tags For The Non-Duplicate Pages
Have you also included canonical tags for the nearly identical or duplicate content?
If the answer is affirmative, then you are making a grave mistake. Some website owners incorporate canonical tags to consolidate the non-duplicate web page ranking.
For instance, if you want to direct the authority from the out-of-the-stock product pages to the category pages.
Using Canonical Tags For The Paginated Web Pages
Paginated web pages include fragmented content on numerous pages. The best example of paginated web pages is the comment segment of the website divided into pages like 1, 2, 3, and so on. In these pages, it is best to use self-referencing canonical tags on every page and not refer to page 1 from the remaining pages. You have to implement rel=canonical on page 2, referencing page 1.
Do Not Block The Canonical Tags With The Help of robot.txt
Yes, you read it right. Never do it, as the robots.txt file will stop the search engine crawlers from visiting the duplicate pages. Thus, search engines will not see the canonical tag referencing the main web page version. Furthermore, blocking canonical URLs will also affect the page rank to transfer to the original page.
Never Implement Canonical Tags In The Body
Canonical tags should always be present in the head segment and not in other segments like the body of the HTML source code. Search engines will ignore the canonical tags present in any segment of a website other than the head.
Avoiding Canonical Chains and Loops
Always implement canonical tags referencing the original web page to prevent canonical chains or redirect loops.
For instance, implementing a canonical tag from page A to B and then again from Page B to C will create a canonical loop. It will confuse Google and waste their time and resources.
How Can You Audit The Canonical Tags?
Auditing all the canonical tags in a website for improved SEO performance is essential. Select a web page, check whether it has a canonical tag pointing to the correct location, and examine if Google is crawling and indexing it. One of the easiest ways to audit canonical tags is by evaluating the web page’s source code. Check for the header section to see if the tag is present.
FAQs About These Tags
Do I need a canonical tag on every page?
Yes, it is one of the best practices to use canonical tags on each web page without exception. All web pages, including the canonical ones, should include a tag to prevent content duplication. Even if there is no duplicate page version present on the website, the page should contain a canonical tag linking to it.
Can a page have multiple canonical tags?
Search engines will ignore the web page if multiple canonical tags are present on a page. Even if one of the canonical tags is incorrect, the benefit of the tags will be removed, and it won’t be very clear for Google because of other canonical tags.
What is the main difference between a canonical tag and a redirect?
A redirected tag is a directive that will guide the search engines to another page. A canonical tag, on the other hand, is a direct hint to the search engines.
Canonical tag is a powerful tool for SEO, particularly for bigger websites with many web pages. Using canonical tags can be vital and offer outstanding SEO improvements. Using the canonical tags wisely and understanding how it works is crucial. Ensure to use the canonical tags to manage the duplicate web content pages and enhance your chances of ranking high in the SERPs.