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In the world of search engine optimisation (SEO), ensuring proper indexing and ranking of web pages is important. One challenge that website owners often face is managing alternative pages serving similar content.
In such cases, applying the canonical tag becomes important to signal to search engines which version of the page should be preferred for indexing and ranking.
In this guide, we will highlight the importance of the canonical tag and provide a step-by-step approach to resolving alternative pages through proper implementation in the Google Search Console (GSC).
Understanding Canonical Tags
Canonical tags, also known as rel=canonical tags, are HTML elements used to communicate the preferred version of a web page to search engines when multiple versions exist.
They play a vital role in consolidating the ranking signals of various similar pages into one primary page, thus preventing duplicate content issues and ensuring optimal SEO performance.
Challenges of Alternative Pages
Alternative pages refer to different URLs that provide the same or similar content, such as product variations, paginated pages, or localised versions of a webpage. While these variations may be necessary for user experience or marketing purposes, they can create challenges for SEO.
Without proper canonicalisation, search engines may view these pages as duplicate content, weakening authority and relevance signals and potentially leading to lower rankings or indexing problems.
Resolving Alternative Pages with Canonical Tags
Implementing the canonical tag effectively resolves the challenges posed by alternative pages. By specifying preferred URL versions, website owners can consolidate ranking signals and prevent duplicate content issues.
Here’s a systematic approach to applying canonical tags to alternative pages in Google Search Console:
1. Identify Alternative Pages
Start by identifying alternative pages on your website. This may include product variations, paginated content, print-friendly versions, or localised URLs.
2. Determine Preferred Version
Evaluate alternative pages and determine the preferred version that you want to be indexed and ranked by search engines. Factors to consider include content quality, user experience, and SEO objectives.
3. Apply Canonical Tag
Once you have identified the preferred version, apply the canonical tag to alternative pages. Insert the rel=canonical tag in the HTML head section of each alternate page, specifying the canonical URL.
4. Verify Implementation in GSC
After applying the canonical tag, verify the changes in the Google Search Console. Navigate to the Index Coverage report or URL Inspection tool to make sure that Google recognises the canonical tags and processes them correctly.
5. Monitor Performance
Monitor the performance of your canonical pages in GSC over time. Track indexing positions, search impressions, and rankings to assess the effectiveness of your canonicalisation strategy.
Best practices for canonical tags:
To maximise the impact of canonical tags and avoid common pitfalls, follow the following best practices:
- Use full URLs: Always specify full URLs in canonical tags to ensure clarity and consistency for search engines.
- Consistent Implementation: Maintain consistency in canonicalisation across your website to avoid confusion and ensure consistency in signalling preferred versions.
- Regular Audits: Periodically audit canonical tags to identify any discrepancies or errors and correct them immediately.
- Update sitemap: If you have made significant changes to canonicalisation, update your XML sitemap to reflect the preferred URLs and facilitate faster indexing by search engines.
An alternate page with a proper canonical tag is a webpage that serves similar or identical content to another page but includes a canonical tag specifying the preferred URL.
This tag informs search engines about the primary version of the content, consolidating ranking signals and preventing duplicate content issues.
You can identify alternate pages on your website by analysing your site structure, content variations, and URL parameters. Look for pages that serve similar or identical content, such as product variations, paginated pages, or localised versions.
Use tools like Google Analytics, Google Search Console, or SEO auditing tools to identify duplicate content issues and alternative URLs.
Yes, canonical tags typically pass link equity (PageRank) from alternative pages to the canonical URL. When search engines encounter canonical tags, they consolidate ranking signals, including link equity, from alternate pages to the canonical version.
This helps to preserve the authority and relevance of the preferred page, enhancing its chances of ranking well in search results.
It’s recommended to review and update canonical tags on your website regularly, especially when making significant changes to your site structure or content.
Conduct periodic SEO audits to identify any inconsistencies or errors in canonicalisation and rectify them promptly. Additionally, monitor changes in search engine algorithms or guidelines that may impact canonicalisation best practices and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Duplicate pages without canonical tags refer to multiple URLs that serve identical or very similar content without specifying a preferred version through canonicalisation.
This can lead to duplicate content issues, where search engines may struggle to determine the primary page for indexing and ranking.
Without proper canonicalisation, these duplicate pages may compete with each other, diluting ranking signals and potentially harming SEO performance.
No, Noindex pages should not have a canonical tag. The purpose of a Noindex directive is to instruct search engines not to index the page. Including a canonical tag on a Noindex page may confuse and lead to unpredictable indexing behavior.
It’s best to use either noindex or canonical tags, depending on the desired indexing and ranking strategy for the page.
The canonical page should be the preferred version that you want search engines to index and rank. Factors such as content quality, user experience, and SEO objectives should guide your decision. Choose the version that best represents the content and aligns with your strategic goals.
To fix an alternate page with a proper canonical tag in WordPress:
1. Identify the alternate page and the preferred version.
2. Install and enable an SEO plugin such as All in One SEO or Yoast SEO.
3. Navigate to the page editor for the alternate page.
4. Locate the canonical URL field within the SEO settings provided by the plugin.
5. Enter the URL of the preferred version into the canonical URL field.
6. Save or update the page to apply the canonical tag.
7. Verify the implementation in Google Search Console to ensure proper processing by search engines.
Effectively managing alternative pages through proper canonical tag implementation is essential for maintaining SEO integrity and maximising organic visibility.
Website owners can optimise their SEO efforts and make sure search engines display the most authoritative and relevant version of their content by using the methodical process described in this guide and best practices.
Take the use of canonicalisation as a tactical strategy in your SEO effort to maximise the organic search engine results for your website in Google Search Console.
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