When Should I Use a Canonical vs. a 301 Redirect?


Today’s Ask an Web optimization query is one that you simply’ll discover on any Web optimization discussion board, non-public group, or in-person meetup (keep in mind these?).

“When should I use a canonical tag instead of a 301 redirect?”

This is a nice query, not simply because the reply is “it depends,” however as a result of it’s one many Web optimization professionals appear to be confused about.

Before we dive in, we have to perceive the variations between a 301 and a canonical tag.

301 Redirects

A 301 redirect is a manner of completely transferring one URL to a different.

From a person perspective, they sort in a single URL and magically get a completely different one.

No content material is loaded on the unique URL, it simply redirects to the brand new place.

Most methods of doing this introduce a small delay in load occasions, however with CDNs and caching and fashionable expertise, it actually isn’t one thing we have to fear about.

There’s a ton of various methods to implement a 301 redirect.

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If you’re on Apache you are able to do them in your .htaccess file.

It’s a bit completely different on Windows internet hosting.

You may even use a scripting language to do a redirect in code, though I would favor to do it on the .htaccess stage if doable.

The varied methods to do redirects are past the scope of this text.

Canonical Tags

The canonical tag has been round for a very long time.

It’s developing on its 12th birthday, however Web optimization professionals nonetheless proceed to wrestle with utilizing it and non-Web optimization professionals nonetheless wrestle with announcing it.

The most important intent behind the canonical tag is to permit the webmaster to specify the popular URL of a web page that’s just like one other web page.

Think of a “print version” of a web page, or a kind characteristic on a web page.

The canonical tag could be very helpful in these conditions. More on that later.

A canonical tag lives within the <head> part of the web site.

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Canonical tags within the physique of a webpage received’t be revered (in the event that they have been we may have a lot of black hat enjoyable)

The canonical tag is easy:

<hyperlink href="https://example.com" rel="canonical">

I’ve seen some web sites put the canonical attribute inside meta tags or different tags.

I’m unsure if that works, or why you’d wish to try this, so simply do it like above.

Canonicals vs. Redirects

I’m going to only say redirects on this part so it will probably cowl 302 and the ever-elusive 307.

While a redirect is a directive (it actually directs you to a different web page) a canonical tag is simply a trace to serps.

That’s a key distinction that explains when to make use of one vs. the opposite.

It’s price contemplating that everytime you use a canonical tag, a search engine might select to disregard it.

Here’s an excessive instance.

Imagine a state of affairs the place you will have the URL of widgets.html with a canonical tag on it that factors to widgets.htm.

These URLs are very related apart from the extension.

Now, if all of the hyperlinks in your web site level to widgets.htm and widgets.htm is listed in your sitemap, the various search engines might select to disregard that canonical tag pointing to widgets.htm as a result of all the different alerts in your web site level to the .html model not the .htm model.

Despite your intention with the canonical tag, Google is selecting to make use of different stronger alerts.

This instance appears bizarre, however I’ve encountered tons of tremendous sophisticated edge circumstances that principally boil right down to a model of this state of affairs.

When to Use a Redirect

Quite merely, when you will have two equal (or very related) pages and also you don’t want each pages stay for another enterprise cause, it’s best to use a redirect.

Examples of when to make use of a redirect embody:

  • Products you not carry.
  • Out-of-date pages you don’t want to replace (replace them first).
  • Pages eliminated out of your web site.
  • A web page that has moved to a completely different URL.
  • When to procure an expired area to switch its area authority to your web site.

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You ought to not use a 301 redirect for non permanent functions, as CDNs (and a few browsers) can cache this, making it troublesome to rapidly undo.

Using a redirect might also decelerate how typically serps crawl that outdated URL – which isn’t a drawback if you happen to deliberate on transferring it to the brand new one however could possibly be a drawback if you happen to plan on undoing it.

When to Use a Canonical

There are numerous nice makes use of for canonical tags.

But usually, I like to think about canonical tags as band-aids for poor or in any other case unavoidable URL construction. They’re the final resort.

If you’ll be able to’t forestall the URL from being crawled or seen, and it’s tremendous just like one other URL, the canonical tag is your savior.

Here are some examples:

  • A “print version” of a web page.
  • Facets and sorting of pages (e.g., a URL that reveals the identical merchandise however sorted by value excessive to low).
  • Unwanted parameters – maybe from a paid search marketing campaign or one thing else. Using a canonical can cease these pesky advertising and marketing URL strings from exhibiting up in search outcomes.
  • Products that stay in a number of classes. If you may get to a product by way of a number of classes on the positioning, you may wish to canonical all of them to at least one model of the product web page – particularly if the product web page is similar for each class it reveals up in.

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Situations the place a parameter is added to the URL however the content material itself isn’t modified:

  • Instances when the person does one thing that alters the structure or presentation of the content material, however not the precise content material

What If I Have Products with Similar Content & Descriptions?

Well, it relies upon.

A number of Web optimization professionals say to make use of the canonical tag for related merchandise however say, completely different colours.

But for some merchandise the colour may be vital sufficient to garner important search quantity, and you may want a completely different web page for it.

Some examples may be stainless-steel home equipment or a purple Swingline stapler – issues individuals particularly seek for by coloration.

Most of the inventive makes use of I see for canonical tags are in circumstances the place they’re actually getting used as a sort of band-aid.

In basic, if the content material on the web page is close to similar to a different web page, and also you don’t need each exhibiting up in search outcomes, use a canonical.

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