SEO: What is a Canonical Tag?

Feb 21, 2014 | Search Engine Optimization

SEO is made up of a lot of moving parts encompassing hundreds of concepts. Today, we are focusing on one important aspect of SEO, and that is HTML, or code. Specifically, we will be explaining the importance of the rel=canonical tag.

Search Engine Optimization

SEO is made up of a lot of moving parts from social media and content to links, domain authority and code. These elements can be broken down further to encompass hundreds of concepts. Today, we are focusing on one important aspect of SEO, and that is HTML, or code.

HTML Tags are Vital to SEO

Code is the behind-the-scenes language on your website that is created by your developers and used to both structure the site and communicate messages to search engines. Since this code is used to communicate to search engines, it is vital to SEO. Search engines do not see the pretty design of your website that your human visitors see. Instead, they read the code to understand what your site is all about. The code contains a variety of HTML tags that are used to structure and categorize the content and elements of the page.

Some of these more common tags include Titles, Meta Descriptions, Meta Keywords, etc. These are all important to SEO, but the specific tag we want to focus on is the rel=canonical tag.

The Role of the rel=canonical

A rel=canonical tag is used specifically to convey a message to search engines. In and of itself, it is not essential to the structuring of your website. However, it is essential to letting search engines know which URL you want them to turn up in search results. The canonical tag is used when your website has one or more pages that are quite similar, if not identical, to one another. Generally, you should not even have these duplicate pages, but there are various scenarios in which this occurs. For example, common canonicalization errors that can be produced when using the default settings of one of the most common web servers, the Apache Web Server, include:

• http://www.example.com/
• http://www.example.com/index.html
• http://example.com/
• http://example.com/index.html

Taking You to the Right Address

When you must have duplicate pages, it is vital for you to include the rel=canonical tag on the page that you want the search engines to index. This lets the search engine know what URL you consider to be your official URL and therefore, the one you want them to turn up in search results. Therefore, your “better” or more complete page will always show up in SERPs over the duplicate page. This guarantees that your more complete, or original, page will always turn up and that all links and content metrics the engines apply should be credited toward the provided URL.

A simpler way to understand this is by thinking of your home address. It can be written multiple ways and still direct people to your home; however, while you can get away with leaving off the “NW” or abbreviating “Avenue”, there is an official way you should write your home address. Similarly, while people can get to your website different ways, you only want the search engines to index what you consider to be your “official” web address so as to avoid duplicate content, titles, and confusing site statistics.

If you have any questions regarding the HTML tags on your website, contact your web developer for assistance. As always, Informatics is here to answer any questions you may have.

Sources: Moz