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Why You Need to Understand Rel=Canonical – Here’s Why #76


Uh oh! All three of our Musketeers claim to be the same person. What a mess!

Sometimes Google finds itself in a similar dilemma. If you have very similar pages on your site, which is the real one that it should index? That is, which would be considered the canonical version of the page? In this Here’s Why video we explain why the rel=canonical tag can help search engines know which of your pages to rank.

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Mark: Eric, we know that one of the main purposes of on-page SEO is to make things as easy as possible for search engines to understand. That means avoiding any confusion. We want the best page for any given keyword to be the page that Google directs people to.

Eric: That’s right. One situation that can cause confusion is when there’s more than one page on a site with the same or similar content. Sometimes that’s actually necessary because of site structure. But thankfully, search engines recognize a link attribute that directs them to the page that we want considered the original or canonical version of the page.

Mark: And that attribute is?

Eric: Rel=canonical.

Mark: So what exactly does a rel canonical link do?

Eric: It simply directs search engines to the page you consider the canonical version. In a way, it tells them that this is not the page you were looking for.

Mark: This is not the page I was looking for. Move along.

Eric: The Force is weak with this one.

Mark: Okay, what else should we know about rel canonical and how it works?

Eric: Well, in one of our virtual Keynote events with Gary Illlyes of Google, we asked him how Google views rel canonical, and he shared a number of useful insights. One of the things Gary told us is that even though rel canonical is most often used to resolve duplicate content issues, the rel canonical link attribute can actually point to any page. The targeted page does not have to be a duplicate, or even related to the page with the link.

Mark: But what happens to any ranking signals coming to the page with the rel canonical link?

Eric: They’re passed along to the page to which the link points.

Mark: Okay, so the page with the rel canonical link passes on ranking signals, but itself is no longer indexed?

Eric: Right. Now just as with a page that has a no index tag, a page with a rel canonical will still be crawled by Google. But the time between crawls will gradually increase until the page is no longer crawled very often at all.

Mark: Okay, so while Gary did say that you can point a rel canonical link at any page you want, doing so recklessly can cause problems right?

Eric: Oh yes. At Perficient Digital, we did a study of 20 of the largest eCommerce sites on the web. And we found that 62% of the sites had glaring problems with their use of SEO tags. And two of those sites were directing all of their rel canonical links from sorts and filters to their home pages.

It looked also like Google was ignoring those rel canonicals, meaning they weren’t accomplishing the SEO purpose the sites were looking for. So Gary agreed with me that it’s best practice to direct your rel canonical links to pages that are at least reasonably relevant to the page with the link.

Mark: Thanks, Eric. Viewers will also want to check out your digital marketing classroom video on how to implement rel canonical on your site.
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Eric Enge

Eric Enge is part of the Digital Marketing practice at Perficient. He designs studies and produces industry-related research to help prove, debunk, or evolve assumptions about digital marketing practices and their value. Eric is a writer, blogger, researcher, teacher, and keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences. Partnering with several other experts, Eric served as the lead author of The Art of SEO.

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