What Is a Canonical Meta Tag and How Should It Be Used?
It’s no secret that Google and other search engines frown on duplicate content. When they crawl multiple URLs with strikingly similar content, it can create a whole list of SEO issues (more on this in a moment).
But sometimes, you’re going to have repeat content on your e-commerce website.
Canonical meta tags were developed to combat the problems caused by duplicate or similar content on your website in a number of ways.
What Is a Canonical Meta Tag?
Also known as “rel canonical,” the canonical meta tag tells search engines that a URL is the “master copy” of a web page.
Here’s what it looks like:
Duplicate or similar content can result in a bigger problem than you might realize.
On the surface, we tend to look at web pages as concepts, such as your website’s home page.
But search engines see things differently. Every URL is a different page, like the ones in this example:
Though each of these URLs relates to your home page, search engine crawlers view them as unique pages.
Many of today’s modern content management systems further complicate the problem. Many sites may automatically insert tags or provide multiple paths to the same page. In fact, you might have dozens of URL variations without even realizing it.
Why Does Canonization Matter in SEO?
Practically speaking, the canonical tag tells search engines which version of a URL you want to appear in search results. It also eliminates the SEO issues caused by multiple URLs having the same or similar content.
For example, if you have several pages in your E-commerce store with the same or similar information, search engines have so much content to crawl they might miss out on your unique content. Also, duplicate content could hinder your ability to rank. And even if you do manage to rank, search engine crawlers may pick the wrong URL because they don’t know which one is the original.
Adding a canonical meta tag to your header code takes the guesswork out of knowing which page is the true master copy.
And, unlike 301 redirects that repoint all traffic, the canonical meta tag is just for search engines. This means you can still track visitors to each URL for analytical purposes.
When to Use Canonical Meta Tags
Now that you know more about canonical meta tags, how do you know if you need them and when should you use them?
Webmasters and SEOs often apply the canonical meta tag in the following scenarios:
- You have multiple URLs for the same content, and
- You’ve suffered a drop in rankings and traffic
Let’s say you have two versions of the same product page for a blue T-shirt. The content on the page is exactly the same, but each page exists in a separate part of your website. Which page do you want search engines to display in results?
The two URLS might look like this:
This is exactly what the canonical meta tag was invented for, especially as it pertains to E-commerce. One product could have multiple URLs, depending on how you got to the product page.
When this happens, you would apply the rel=canonical tag to the page you think is the most important. If you’re not sure, choose the one that’s gotten the most traffic, or backlinks, or conversions.
Once you choose the page, you’ll add a link from the non-canonical page to the canonical one. So, if you chose the www.yourstore.com/tshirts/blue to be your canonical page, you’d add the following code to your non-canonical page:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”www.yourstore.com/athletic/shirts/blue” />
This “merges” the two pages in the search engine’s perspective without affecting the user experience. Now, both URLs represent a single, canonical version of one URL.
It’s a simple step that strengthens your overall SEO strategy and prevents minor URL issues from turning into a profit-killing problem.
Best Practices for Using Canonical Meta Tags
When you’re using canonical meta tags on your web pages, there are few best practices you’d be wise to follow:
Start With Your Home Page
The home page is one of the most common duplicated pages that can benefit from the canonical tag. People link to your homepage in many different ways, which are usually out of your control. Because of this, it’s a good idea to go ahead and add the canonical tag to your home page to prevent future or unseen problems.
Proceed With Caution When Canonicalizing Near Duplicate Pages
Most people think of canonicalizing pages with exact duplicate content. You can also use the canonical meta tag on pages with similar content, but there are a couple things you need to consider first.
In general, it’s usually okay to do this if there’s only a slight variation of content between pages. For example, you might display a different currency or some minor product characteristic. But the versions of the page that are non-canonicalized might not be able to rank. Also, if the search engines crawlers feel the content is too different, they may ignore the tag altogether.
Use Miva’s URI Management
Miva’s URI management feature means you no longer have to create your own code for a unique URL. It automatically uses a default product name as the URL, though you also have the flexibility to specify any URL structure you choose.
If you’re not currently using this feature, you will need to manually enable URI management to generate consistent URL structures for your products, pages, and categories. Please use this feature with caution, especially if you are not sure, as this an extremely powerful tool, and just like any tool, it can also do damage if used incorrectly.
Prioritize Canonical Meta Tags for E-Commerce
E-commerce is one of the core reasons why the canonical meta tag was developed. This alone should demonstrate the importance of using them in your content. Because of the volume of URL variations E-commerce stores generate, it’s critical to your SEO strategy to disclose a canonical version to search engines.
If you need help implementing canonical meta tags in your E-commerce store, reach out to our team today for more insight, best practices, and guidance.