- A general law, rule, principle, or criterion by which something is judged.
- A member of the clergy on the staff of a cathedral, esp. a member of the chapter.
- According to or ordered by canon law: "the canonical rites of the Roman Church".
- As a Noun: The prescribed official dress of the clergy.
And what do either of these definitions have to do with SEO or even rel="Canonical", for that matter?
Nothing. Except, perhaps, for the idea of a general law, principle etc. We’ll see how in just a moment.
So when asked in a Job Interview, anything referring to the Catholic church or Catholicism is not really the correct answer; unless of course your job happens to be in that area.
So what does rel="Canonical" mean, why should you care, and how should you make the magic happen?
rel= "Canonical" – Why, What and How
Why should you care about rel="Canonical"?
Have you ever heard of duplicate content and the penalties that come along with it?
I’m sure you have. In short, Google is not a big fan of duplicate content and it could seriously hurt your rankings! Whether you have or haven’t, here’s a real-world example to give it some context:
Let’s say you’re running a site selling products (or services). And oftentimes these product pages can have exactly the same, if not similar content, but a slightly different URL. For example:
As you can see, there are two different values of variables in the URL – sort=alpha and sort=price. Regardless of how they’re sorted though, you’re still looking at the same list of swedish-fish.
And they will have the same, if not similar, content. So what do we do?
We implement the rel="canonical" attribute or tag.
You need to decide which actual page has the most complete, accurate and best content for this subject, topic or page. Once you’ve done that, you need to go to all of the other possible URL pages and put in the directive to tell Google "Hey! I know this looks alot like this other page over there, but I want you just to pay attention to this one page for the content, instead of all the possible ways you could find it."
So then, in each of the non-canonical pages, or each of the pages that tell part of the story with duplicate or similar content, we need to tell Google to go to this other page for classification, like
<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/product.php?item=swedish-fish"/>
Place this in the <head></head> section of these pages – all pointing to the one page that you’d prefer to be listed in the SERPs for that content.
Oh! And here’s a couple of extra pointers regarding rel="canonical":
- It’s preferred to use absolute links instead of relative links, when specifying the canonical.
- Do not try to "game" the system by using this to simply rank a page higher; you will get found out. And quickly!
- If the preferred page does not actually exist – you’re at the whim and mercy of Google.
- To an extend, Google can follow a chain of canonicals – but if you’re trying to game the system – see the second bullet point above.
- Yes, you can use it to point to pages on another site…But again…Hopefully you get the point.
So you’ll either have to do this manually in the pages of your website, or if you’re using WordPress as a back-end CMS or blogging platform, there is a much easier way.
WordPress SEO by Yoast is an outstanding plug-in to say the least, with all of its wonderful functionality.
And one such piece of functionality is about rel="Canonical"!
After you’ve installed and activated the plug-in, go into your Page or Post that you need to get Canonical on, and scroll down past the content area into the box supplied by the plug-in.
Click on the "Advanced" tab, scroll down a wee-bit and there you have it: a form field labeled "Canonical URL". That’s where you would paste in the URL for the page that has the most complete and accurate content that you’d prefer Google to index and show on the SERPs for this topic’s search query.
Well folks, that’s it. Hopefully you’ve learned a little bit about rel="Canonical", why you should use it, and how to do so.
Oh and by the way, there is a way to use this for the whole www.website.com vs. website.com battle too.
Have you figured out how?