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Using Canonical Links and avoiding common mistakes

The use of ‘canonical links’ is a helpful tool for webmasters in cases where a website may have duplicated pages of content. The role of ‘canonicalisation’ allows website owners to tell Google and Bing which webpage is the one to give precedence when there are duplicates of that page on the site. However, there are some common mistakes that need to be avoided when doing this.

It’s often a common occurrence for a site to have several pages listing the same information, or set of products if it’s an ecommerce site. For example, one page might display products sorted in alphabetical order, while other pages display the same products listed by price or by rating. If Google knows that these pages have the same content, it may index only one version in the search results, or it may penalise the site for creating duplicate content pages.

Therefore website owners can specify a canonical page (the preferred version of a set of pages with highly similar content) to search engines by adding a ‘link’ element with the attribute rel=”canonical” to the ‘head’ section of the non-canonical version of the page. Adding this link and attribute lets site owners identify sets of identical content and suggest to Google that of all these pages with identical content, this page is the most useful – therefore please prioritise it in search results.

The use of canonicalisation has to be done carefully however, as there are some common mistakes that can be made and it’s important that it should only be used for pages that are duplicates.

These are the most important points to consider:

  • Verify that most of the main text content of a duplicate page also appears in the canonical page.
  • Check that rel=canonical is only specified once (if at all) and in the ‘head’ of the page.
  • Check that rel=canonical points to an existent URL with good content (i.e., not a 404, or worse, a soft 404).
  • Avoid specifying rel=canonical from landing or category pages to featured articles (as that will make the featured article the preferred URL in search results.)

If you would like to know more about how the use of canonical links can improve your website’s indexing of duplicate pages with Google & Bing, contact us now.