What Are Canonical URLs?
Your site’s URL is similar to the address of your home or business. When someone has your address, they can easily find you. When someone has your company’s URL, they can easily find your website, or a specific page on the website.
The URL appears at the top of your Internet browser, and each page of your website will have a unique one. For example, the URL for Google is “www.google.com”.
Here’s where it gets confusing: Sometimes, one page may have more than one URL. For example, a page with the exact same content may be listed as:
All of these pages are the same—with the same content—but the URL in the Internet browser looks a little different.
It can get even more confusing if your website offers a customizable user experience. If this is the case, your URL may look like this:
This is known as a URL with parameters. Search engine such as Google, Yahoo!, and Bing may treat each separate URL as a separate page, even if all these pages are in fact the same content.
This may seem unimportant, but having multiple URLs for the same page can harm your SEO and make monitoring your site more challenging. That’s where canonical URLs become important.
When you use canonical URLs, you let search engines and users know that the content on two URLs is the same, and which one is correct. This way, each of your different URLs are treated as one.
If there are different URLs on your site with identical content, you need to set up a canonical URL as soon as possible. WebFX can help! You can contact us online or call 888-601-5359 today to speak with one of our experts!
Do Canonical URLs really matter?
All of this might not seem like a big deal to you. After all, as long as people get to your site, does it matter?
If you don't indicate canonical URLs, you could run into a few problems:
1. Your pages will be competing with each other on search engines
Having lots of pages with different URLs may seem like an advantage. After all, if you have three URLs all directing to the same content, then you have three times the chances of getting onto the first page of search engine rankings, right?
Not so fast.
Instead, your SEO efforts will be diluted and you will have a harder time ranking well.
2. It can be confusing for customers
If you have a short, easy-to-remember URL, visitors will get used to it. Seeing other URLs in the search engine box can be confusing and can make customers think they're not getting the right search engine results.
They might not click on an unfamiliar URL—even if it really is your site. To avoid confusion, make things easy with a canonical URL.
3. It could hurt your SEO efforts because of duplicate content
If Google and other search engines count your different URLs as different pages, they may categorize your site as having duplicate content. You could be penalized for this, even if duplicating content across multiple pages was not your intention.
By indicating a canonical URL, you eliminate this problem and increase your chances of ranking well as a result.
4. Analytics will become much harder
Having multiple URLs for the same page can make understanding your analytics difficult. Let's say, for example, you have three different URLs for one page and no canonical URL.
You check analytics, and each URL is treated as unique. One of your URLs gets 3,000 views in a month, another gets 1,000, and another gets 500, and they all have different top traffic sources.
How can you use this information meaningfully to make changes to your content to attract more viewers? When it comes down to it—you can’t.
By indicating a canonical URL, you ensure that Google Analytics (and other analytics platforms) can provide accurate data for your site. This will give you a better understanding of where your traffic is coming from, who your customers are, and how you can improve your marketing efforts. Rather than having to track several different URLs, you’ll get more streamlined and useful information.
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How to use canonical URLs
If you have multiple URLs for the same pages on your site, it’s time to address the issue. Thankfully, creating canonical URLs doesn’t have to be a complicated process. Simply follow these 3 steps, and you’ll eliminate confusion for search engine crawlers, as well as simplify your analytics:
1. Add “rel” tags to your HTML
For any page on your site, you can add the following tag to indicate what the canonical URL is:
<link rel=“canonical” href=“type out the canonical URL you want here” />
Place this between the <head></head> tags.
2. Use 301 redirects
If you have multiple URLs that redirect to the same page, you can use 301 redirects to make sure that all of the different pages are redirected to the same canonical URL.
3. Tell search engines which URL to use
Although the above two steps are the only ones you need to take to get your site in order, it doesn’t hurt to tell search engines directly which URL you want them to use.
On Google Webmaster Tools, for example, navigate to Site Settings and set your “Preferred Domain.” This will ensure that your URL always displays the same way in search results.
Need assistance with your URL structure?
The way your site’s URL appears may not seem like an important detail as long as visitors see the right content, but even minor changes like this can impact your SEO, and as a result, your ability to attract new customers. For sites with multiple URLs for the same pages, canonical URLs are a simple solution.
If you’d like assistance putting them into place, or with any other issues on your site, WebFX can help. Our experienced team of SEO professionals has years of experience identifying and addressing site issues for our clients, and they’ll do the same for you. Contact us today to speak with a strategist!
Ready to start your Internet marketing and design campaigns? Call 888.449.3239 or contact us online today to learn more about how WebFX can help with your SEO challenges.