What is A rel=”canonical” Tag?

Written by Brick Marketing

There are a couple of reasons that a site might get flagged for duplicate content. Perhaps it was an honest mistake when the website was being built and two versions of a page (like mysite.com and mysite.com/homepage) were accidently created by the CMS. Perhaps you own an e-commerce website and you have several pages listing the same set of products, one in alphabetical order and the other price or by rating. It’s also possible that someone stole your content for their own site but didn’t give you credit as the original author and Google thinks you’re the one doing the stealing! Regardless, duplicate content can land your website it hot water thank to the Panda update if you’re not careful.

One way to protect your website and your content is to implement the rel=”canonical” tag on your site, which basically tells the search engines that it’s “the preferred version of a set of pages with highly similar content.” When Google canonicalizes a URL, the search giant determines (thorough its own algorithm) which version of that content is the most relevant/authoritative/valuable to the searchers. For e-commerce website the rel=”canonical” tag is a must so that you aren’t splitting link juice and SEO value among different product URLs. This can undermine how well the product does organically in the SERPs because one URL is siphoning away link juice from the other. Your website is basically cannibalizing itself!

The rel=”canonical” tag also helps the search engines differentiate between a regular webpage on your site and a printer-friendly webpage, which is technically the same content but it exists on two separate URLs. This helps ensure Google is pulling the preferred version of your content into the SERPs.

And last, but certainly not least, the the rel=”canonical” tag can help ensure that your content is never used against you by spammers and scrappers. Since the the rel=”canonical” tag tells Google that that URL is the “real” version it should keep a site that steals your content for their own use for outranking you with your own content. And even in a less malicious situation the rel=”canonical” tag helps ensure you get credit as the original author. For instance, for many months new posts on the Brick Marketing blog were being syndicated on a powerful marketing website. While it was a great branding and link building opportunity for Brick Marketing, because that site had more search engine trust and was being crawled more frequently for fresh content our syndicated blog posts actually ended up out-ranking our own blog, which was the original source. We were losing organic traffic for our own content! The rel=”canonical” tag was added to the blog posts and that problem stopped almost instantly.

Keep in mind that using the tag is just a suggestion to Google. According to the Webmaster Tool Guidelines, “We recommend using a link with the attribute rel=”canonical” to indicate your preferred URL, but we can’t guarantee to follow that preference in all cases.” It may not be foolproof but it’s an easy enough snippet of code to add that could make a big difference down the road.

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