Sandro goes over what canonical URLs are and why they’re an important part of your on-page SEO strategy.
The Importance of Canonical URLs
Liz Hey there. Welcome back to Liz and Sandro’s Marketing Podcast. We’re the podcast that helps companies and marketing departments control their business, their brand and get the word out. We are coming back to you today via Zoom and Sandro is going to be talking about canonical links. He’s going to explain what they are and why they matter.
Sandro Thanks, Liz. Yes. This will be a short episode, but I thought canonical links were important enough to discuss by themselves here and discuss what they are and like Liz said, why they’re so important. So basically, every web page you think has one URL or every website has one URL. So let’s discuss Hersh PR. Is that alright? HershPR.com.
Liz Do it. Yes. I will fully admit that my site needs a little bit of cleanup. I’m the shoemaker’s children over here.
Sandro No shoes for you.
Taking a Look at Liz’s Site
Sandro So yeah, let’s say HershPR.com, right? You punch that into your web browser and boom, you are at your website. So keep in mind, as we’ve talked about in the past, there are four versions of your site, the www.HershPR.com version, and the non-www HershPR.com version. In addition, there’s the, Liz’ site is secure. So there’s https and the non-https which, just HTTP version of her site. So that’s four versions: with an S, without an S, with a www, without the www. In this version though, she has a hard redirect to one of those four. Which one is it? I don’t even know.
Liz So, it looks like it’s the non-www, secured.
Sandro No, it is www. That’s what I’m seeing, yeah.
Liz Oh, wait. Remind me on my Mac. How do I display the full…
Sandro Command L.
Liz Command L, yeah. There it is.
Sandro So that is the secure www version of Hersh PR is the main of the four that come up, right?
The Trailing Slash
Sandro So that’s great. However, there’s also her www.HershPR.com/ let’s say. Or yours does not have a backslash. A lot of websites do have that backslash at the very end of the dot com.
Sandro Does that make sense? So that’s actually a whole separate page that Google looks at. So you’ve got more than one page, more than the secure version, more than the www version or the non-www version. You’ve got those versions with a slash. Without a slash. They’re still going to go to the same page. But those are all viewed as different web pages by Google. And then on top of that, if you add markup to the end, let’s say /?referrer=emailnewsletter. These are UTM tags that we’ll link to a past episode we’ve talked about in the past.
UTM Markup & Referrers
Sandro So if Liz sends out an email newsletter and you click the link in the email and it goes back to her website, her Mailchimp newsletter may be the referrer. So again, that’s a totally different page in Google’s eyes that the HershPR.com?/referrer=mailchimp, that’s a totally different website in Google’s eyes.
Sandro And then on top of all that, let’s say Liz has a blog post and she puts it on her website and then she also posts it or someone else posts it with permission on a different website. These are all duplicate content issues at their core. Google does not like duplicate content. They don’t want the exact same blog post. They don’t want the exact same information from one Web page on a different Web page.
Sandro So how do you resolve all this? And that’s through a canonical line of code. A line of code that tells Google which one is the main one, which one should get all the credit, which one is the original. That’s the canonical code. And we’ll put an example of this line of code in our show notes. But basically it says REL=canonical, href= and boom, the actual main web page, the secure www version of Liz’s page.
rel=”canonical” Tag Tells Preferred Version
Sandro So that anytime anybody visits her page from either the email newsletter or from Facebook and it has a string of code that says referrer=Facebook again Google sees that as a different page than HershPR.com. Well, when it gets there it’ll say hey Google, this isn’t duplicate content. This should all be attributed to Liz’s original secure www version.
Sandro If Liz publishes a blog post on Medium or on some other website, that site should say canonical back to HershPR.com. So this tells Google, this is your main version of the original content. I go to websites because I love movies. Let’s say a website lists the top 100 shark movies of all time. Every time I do this, I see the list, number 100 to number 91. You get to the bottom, you click “next page,” it goes 90 to 81. And it just keeps going page to page to page.
Best of Lists Example
Sandro However, a lot of these pages also have at the bottom, if you want to see the full 1 to 100 list on one long web page, “click to see the full list.” Well, that’s a whole different web page. You’ll click it and you’ll see all 100 of the best shark movies, which Jaws, of course, is still number one, in my opinion.
Sandro But let’s say, that’s duplicate content. You’re seeing number 100 to 91 on one page. Number 90 to 81 on a different page. And then suddenly you have a whole page with that list, all the top 100, that’s all duplicate content in Google’s eyes and you could be penalized.
Sandro But instead, you could put on number 91 to, I’m sorry, 90 to 81, on each of those separate pages you can put, canonical is our main one listing all 100 pages. Hey Google, this is not duplicate content. We’re just breaking it down so people don’t have to scroll as much. Our main page, the one we want to give all the credit, is the big list with all 100 over there. But most people don’t want to scroll through 100 movies to get to the bottom. That’s one example. Another example of a way to use canonical.
Online Store URL Structure
Sandro Another way is if you have a store, let’s say Hersh PR is selling shoes someday, maybe.
Sandro It’d be HershPR.com/blackshoes/size10. Or it would be HershPR.com/size10/blackshoes. It’s the exact same content, it’s just a different way to get there. You’ve got to pick one of those and make it the canonical version.
Liz So I’m gonna jump in with a couple of quick comments because I think you’ve touched on some really important things and I want to maybe also put them in perspective for those of us who are marketing agencies or consultants. When you tell a client, oh, by the way, there are four, at least four versions of your website out there, they’re kind of blown away. They’re like, wait, what do you mean?
Liz This is one of the early things that we um, depending on, you know, when you start working with a client and how much they’ve done in this space. This might be one of the early things that you need to fix. Like, in my mind is kind of month one, you have a checklist of basic things that you need to get done. This is often one of them. This being everything redirects or merges to one version of the page.
Liz I also think it’s interesting when you’re talking with other agencies or consultants and they start to say, oh yes, we do SEO too. And perhaps they’re just speaking to things like keywords and title tags and meta descriptions. And yes, absolutely, those things matter. They’re very important. But if you dig a little bit deeper and they can’t really speak to canonical links, they probably don’t know what they’re doing.
Canonical URLs Merge Into Preferred Choice
Sandro And, you know, I use the word merge. I should have used it earlier. But basically, that’s what a canonical link does. It merges every version, from a search engine’s perspective, into one version of the page you want to rank.
Same Content, Different Languages
Sandro And one final, and probably not final, but one other way that I can think of off the top of my head to use canonical links is for multi-language websites. When you’re in Europe, you know, at the top of their Web pages, there’s a picture of the UK flag or the Spanish flag or the French flag, and you’ll get the page in French, in Spanish or in English, right?
Sandro Well, again, Google looks at those as duplicate content. You’ll want to use a canonical version to get the main juice, the Google juice, let’s say. The English version or the French version or the Spanish version. So that’s another way to use canonical tags. Which one is the main one? The English one, the French one, the Spanish one, whichever one you want. You want one of them to rank on your Google pages on your Google search engines. Use the canonical tag to tell Google which version is the main one. But that’s another way. Yeah, that’s another way to use canonical tags.
Liz Yeah. Now, can you clarify? This is a once and done thing? It is something that is ongoing?
Sandro It’s one and done. You put it on your main page, each page. Yeah, it’s just a one and done thing. And actually I’m looking on HershPR.com. And yours is very good.
Yoast Takes Care of Canonical Tags
Sandro If you use the Yoast plugin, they do it automatically for you. So it’s pretty awesome. Another reason I love Yoast, but I see under your Yoast plugin code on your Web page you’ve got “link REL canonical” and the main version.
Sandro So it’s all set, so you’re good to go. So a lot of plugins do this for you already. One problem is multiple canonical tags. So some plugins, if you use two SEO plugins, they’ll create two canonical tags on there and Google hates that. You should only have one per page. So that is one problem. So that’s something to check. Maybe turn it off in one of your plugins, but you’ve only got one on your page and that’s good to go.
Multiple rel=”canonical” Tags Hurt
Liz Good. Yeah. I’ve always used Yoast and I’m very mindful to not install and activate plugins just because, you know, if there’s no purpose or if they’re duplicative of what’s already on the site, I try to avoid that.
Sandro Yeah. And if you tune into our next episode, Liz is going to talk about plugins and she’ll discuss best methods for installing plugins and testing them.
Liz There is a whole process behind it. So stay tuned for that episode.
Sandro Correct. If you have any questions on canonical tags, shoot us an email. But really, yeah, so bottom line, don’t worry about them too much. Just know what they are. Most websites are set up just fine. But if somebody tries to impress you with their, “oh, are your website, is your website canonical? Is everything set up right?” Chances are it is. Most modern versions of WordPress are all set up just fine. I mainly wanted to teach you what it was, why they’re important, and that they’re pretty common nowadays. And you really don’t have to do much to your website to get to make sure they’re set up properly.
Liz Definitely. All right. Well, good. Thank you for this background info and providing clarification on what all of this means and why it matters. That wraps up today’s episode. You can find us on let’s see, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. You can listen to our episodes on iTunes, Spotify and Google Podcast. Send us some love. Leave us a review on iTunes. We would be so appreciative of that. And as always, send us your questions and comments and we’ll give you a shout out on the show. Thanks so much and we’ll see you next time.