Understanding duplicate content can be complex. However, when search engines crawl multiple pages with identical content, it can impact your SEO. Here’s how:
- When crawling many URLs having duplicate content, the search engine is likely to ignore a unique content
- Duplicate content on large scale can affect your website’s ability to rank
- When there are multiple pages with duplicate content, search engines may crawl the wrong page as the original
The best way to manage your duplicate content and improve search engine optimization is by using a canonical tag.
Canonical tags are HTML code snippets that indicate the primary URL for duplicate and similar pages. To put it simply, it lets search engines know which URL is the master version of a page. Using this tag helps prevent the problems that arise when multiple URLs have duplicate or identical content. It tells the search engines which version of the page you want to show up in search results.
There are several reasons to choose canonical tags. If you do not tell the search engine which page is canonical, it will see all the duplicate pages as the same. It will also randomly select any one page as the main version and crawl that. Hence, it will consider all other pages as duplicates and will index them less often. This can hurt your SEO efforts as the primary URL, which you want to rank in search engines, will not get indexed and people will not be able to see it.
Let’s face it – Google does not like duplicate content much. While there may be valid reasons why you may have duplicate or similar pages, it often confuses the search engine to choose:
- Which URL to index
- Which URL to rank for relevant search queries
- Whether the search engine should split “link equity” between multiple duplicate pages or on one primary page
Additionally, excessive duplicate content may also negatively impact the crawl budget. When there are no canonical tags indicating the main version of the page to be indexed, Google may waste time and your budget indexing multiple versions of the same page rather than crawling important content on the website.
Implementing canonical tag best practices can help reduce the risks of search engines crawling an unwanted version of the page as canonical.
Discussed here are the proven ways to implement a canonical tag and make the best use of it:
It is very common to have duplicate versions of your website’s homepage, particularly when there are separate desktop and mobile websites. To ensure Google crawls the right homepage version, it is a good idea to canonicalize your homepage template. This is important because users may link to the homepage in ways beyond your control. Hence, it is crucial that the search engine crawls and indexes the right homepage version that you want to be ranked for.
Another good practice is to use a canonical tag on an URL pointing to itself. And it does not even require canonicalizing the remaining pages. For the original, primary version of the page, you can add self-referencing rel=canonical that signals the search engines that they are canonical URLs. According to Google’s John Mueller, “I recommend doing this kind of self-referential rel=canonical because it really makes it clear for us which page you want to have indexed or what this URL should be when it’s indexed.”
Often, it may happen that you mark a page as a canonical version but it returns a 404 error or redirects the search engine to another URL. Or that you block the URL using robots.txt. This can impact the way Google crawls and indexes your pages. To avoid this, make sure you use canonical tags only for URLs that are allowed by the robots.txt file or return a 200 status code. Also, check the pages for noindex tags and ensure they are listed on the website’s XML sitemap.
This is an absolute must when using a canonical tag – add the full URL. This means the URL must include the following parts: https://, www, your domain name, and the part including .com. Google does not recognize the part of the URL that appears after the “.com” when reading canonical tags. When you do not use an absolute URL, the search engine will ignore canonicalization.
When you follow these best practices, you can easily use a canonical tag and optimize your website to improve SEO and drive proven results.
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