What are Canonical URLs?
The problem with search engines is that they have little power to evaluate content in a human manner. We’d all like to think of Google as our best friend, but really it’s our best friend that always holds your hand. This means that if you have a webpage and someone uses search terms that are relevant to your webpage, Google will decide if your webpage is worth bringing it up in the results with the power its algorithm.
This doesn’t always work properly. People can often have multiple versions of one page, such as the original webpage and a printer-friendly version of their original page. These two page versions will yield different URLs, but will have the same content. Now you’ve got two URLs for one page. Add onto this the fact that people post on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites and you get even more URLs. Before long you have a whole alphabet’s worth of URLs for the exact same content.
This poses problems. Google prefers to provide search results that are relevant, and if there are many URLs for one piece of content, it has a hard time deciding which is best.
It also makes it very hard to get a decent ranking in search engines because of ranking dilution. This means that because Google does not show what it thinks are duplicate web pages, it makes it harder for a website to end up at the top of the list. Google won’t consolidate these duplicate rankings.
Saved by the Canonical URL
This is where canonical URLs come in. Someone finally got the idea that Google wasn’t really doing what the website owners wanted it to and created a system that allows the site owners to decide which page they would prefer to have shown. That system was known as canonicalization.
If Google decides that another page on your site is best and you’d prefer another page, you can tell Google through html text to use another page. Thus, you get to maximize the amount of traffic that can be directed to the proper page.
So, when a page is requested by a user, the URL can redirect the link to a page of the site owner’s choice, making the consumer experience much more streamlined.
By having a canonical URL, Google consolidates your rankings and applies it to that canonized page. This way you don’t lose any of those important rankings and have a lessened chance of all that duplicate content showing up that you’d rather not.
Canonical URLs make the online experience much easier to navigate and make Google, whose powers of deduction are something akin to those of an idiot savant, happy. When you make Google happy, in turn Google will make your business happy.
Mike is the SEO Manager at TechWyse Internet Marketing. Staying on top of the latest SEO trends isn’t only part of his job description, yet a passion of his. To keep up to Mike’s speed follow @Techwyse on Twitter.