Canonical tags are important for both protecting SEO equity and informing search engines that licensed (duplicate) content has been sourced with permission.
But they can be confusing.
Fear not! Canonicals are easier to grasp than it may appear, we’re here to help explain, and we handle all of this for you inside Matcha. We also promise to not use the phrase “link juice,” because that sounds like a particularly unpleasant-tasting beverage.
What are canonical tags?
Canonical tags are links in the header of a web page’s code that tell search engines the relationship of your content to the other pages on your site (or another website entirely). If there is duplicate content, the canonical specifies which is the original and which is a duplicate, allowing the search engine to give appropriate credit to the original. For SEO, this is critical:
“To provide the best user experience, search engines will rarely show multiple, duplicate pieces of content and thus, are forced to choose which version is most likely to be the original (or best).”–Moz
Rather than let the search engine make an educated guess, canonical links specify the primary source to which ranking power should be assigned. If your content appears on your own blog as well as other sites, canonicals attribute the combined SEO value of these pages to your original publication, rather than allowing them all to compete for SERP (Search Engine Results Page) placement. Google has more if you’re interested in the technical aspects of how canonical tags work.
When you work with Matcha, you don’t need to know anything about HTML. Canonical tags are automatically handled with all the content you commision or license.
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Let’s use a real-life example. We wrote this article about skiing in the French Alps for Atout France, and it appears on their website via the preceding link. This article also appears on the Craghoppers blog here.
Who gets the ranking power for this piece? Which will show up in search engine results?
Because we have a canonical link in place, Atout France is the answer to both questions. All of the engagement resulting from these concurrent distributions is attributed to Atout France, via canonicalization.
Marketers often fear that duplicate publications will water down the SEO value, but with canonical tags the exact opposite has happened: multiple instances of this article reach a broader audience and create a larger, aggregate SEO value for the original client.
Go ahead and perform a couple of Google searches for the above example. You’ll see that Atout France’s site ranks for your search terms, because it’s the primary distribution and tagged as such with canonical links. In fact, it can be difficult to find the non-canonical versions.
The key takeaway here is that, rather than splitting the ranking power, the additional distributions actually improve the search engine ranking of the original article.
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Featured image provided by Tim Green