URL Canonicalization: SEO Best Practices

One important issue for webmasters to get a handle on is URL canonicalization. This SEO best practices is really a simple matter, but it’s easy to make it difficult. The bottom line is you want the search engines to deliver one URL for a specific set of search results. How do you tell them to do that when you may have more than one URL with the same or similar content?

The most basic URL canonicalization practice dates all the way to the beginning of the World Wide Web. The Internet and the World Wide Web are separate entities. Therefore, an URL that represents a domain name can exist on both entities.

Here’s an example of what I mean. When you buy a new domain you can put your website at http://newdomain.com or at http://www.newdomain.com. The first URL exists on the Internet while the latter sits on the World Wide Web.

To get the search engines to recognize which domain name you want to focus on for your website, you’ll need to present them with a 301 redirect. This is a permanent redirect that tells the search engines to send all traffic from one domain to another. It doesn’t matter whether you send all your traffic to the www URL or the non-www URL, but you need to communicate your intent to the search engines and you do that with a 301 redirect.

After you have done that you’ll need to start pointing all of your links to your domain. When you engage in link building, be sure that all of your links point to the right URL. You want them to point to the same URL that you have established your 301 redirect to, not the one you established the 301 redirect from. In other words, if you want the search engines to index your non-www URL, then you need to make sure all of your links point to that URL as well.

You can implement both of these strategies on any web page of your website, not just the home page. Be sure to consider where you want your links to point for each web page on your website.

If your website is large enough or you have undergone multiple designs and redesigns over the life of your website, then sometimes you might have several versions of a web page sitting on the same server. Webmasters sometimes get confused and forget to redirect web pages or delete them when doing redesigns. You can use the rel=”canonical” html code to communicate which version of a web page is your canonical URL – the one you want search engines to index.

The code should be placed in the section of your html document. The exact code syntax looks like this:

This tells the search engines that any other pages with content duplicated from this URL should not be indexed. The search engines will not redirect those pages to the canonical URL. Instead, they simply will not index them. They will index your canonical URL instead.

If you have duplicate content pages on your website and you fail to designate the canonical URL, you run the risk of having each page de-indexed. That would not bode well for your website’s SEO.

URL canonicalization is an important SEO practice. Every webmaster should pay attention to this detail in order to prevent duplicate content issues on their web pages.

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