Canonical Tags: How to Beat Duplicate Content and Boost SEO




Updated 2/3/2024

Learn how to utilize canonical tags for better SEO with this guide. Understand their importance and how to implement them.

canonical tag cover - windows and leaves

Sometimes, it’s hard for search engines to know what page to serve on your site, especially if multiple pages have similar or identical content. Canonical tags help with that and are an essential SEO concept. This guide covers the basics.

What are Canonical Tags?

The canonical tag, also known as “rel=canonical”, is a way of telling search engines that a specific URL represents the master copy of a page. It helps prevent problems caused by duplicate content appearing on multiple URLs.

Essentially, it’s a way of declaring to search engines: “Of all these pages with similar content, this one is the most useful. Please prioritize it in search results. Thanks, boo.”

Why are Canonical Tags Important?

There are several reasons, but here are the main ones:

They Avoid Duplicate Content

Search engines don’t like duplicate content because it’s hard for them to rank and serve the best page. It’s confusing for them to decide which version of content to include/exclude from the indices, whether to consolidate the link metrics (trust, authority, anchor text, link equity, etc.) or keep them separated, which version to rank for query results, etc.

Canonical tags help consolidate all the link signals for a particular page to the URL you determine as the canonical version. This means all the inbound links that point to various URL versions will count towards the URL’s popularity in the eyes of a search engine.

How to Apply a Canonical Tag

Adding a tag involves adding a simple piece of HTML code to the webpage header you want to identify as the canonical version. Here’s an example:

<link rel="canonical" href="" />

In this case, the URL is identified as the canonical version of the page.

For more, see Google’s guide on using canonical tags. The best place to learn about search engines is still from the engines themselves. ?

Common Mistakes to Avoid

While it’s good to apply canonicals, using them incorrectly can be harmful. Keep these common issues in mind when implementing the tags:

  1. Using a Non-Canonical Page as the Canonical Version: Make sure the page you declare canonical is the most complete and best representation of the content.
  2. Canonical Points to 404: Ensure your canonical URLs are not broken or lead to a 404 page.
  3. Inconsistent or Mixed Signals to Search Engines: If you’re using other signals like redirects or hreflang, ensure they’re consistent with your canonical tags.

Bottom Line

The canonical tag is a powerful tool for managing duplicate content and ensuring search engines understand which pages you want to appear in search results. Implementing it correctly can help improve your site’s SEO and overall visibility in search results. Remember to regularly review your use of tags to ensure they’re current and accurately reflect your preferred page hierarchy. ?


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