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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Canonical URL Link Element - Not Meta Tag

Last week we learned of the magical new Link Element which was announced at SMX West which was purported to resolve a longstanding problem with duplicate content by pointing search engines to a single URL for pages which could have multiple paths to the same content.

Well it turns out that the single solution is only a partial solution. According to the video below from Matt Cutts, we should still do all we can to avoid internal links with session ID's, sort order, path analysis and tracking parameters appended. Damn, can't be simple solutions that resolve it all.

It turns out that the search engines will just "prefer" your canonical tag as the single source and "favor" it as the most important ... and they "reserve the right" to do what seems most appropriate, regardless of your link element tags. Damn!

Well I guess a little help is better than none. I've recommended the tag heavily to everyone while trailing around party balloons and confetti. Now I gotta go back and say, "Well, go ahead and do what I told you, just don't expect it to completely solve your problems and - by the way - ya still gotta do the 301 redirects and consistent linking and everything we did before."

Here's Matt Cutts with the news that - not only won't this magical tag solve our problems, but we also have to be careful how we use it and make certain those tags all use absolute URL's and not relative URL's.

So really, this is just something we should adopt as a best practice for SEO and then keep fighting the good fight for 301's and consistent linking practices. Hmmm. Glad I fought for an application which does internal redirects while tracking URL's before this whole thing came up. :)

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Canonical Tag Ends Dupe Content, Consolidates PageRank

Big News in an SMX West announcement by search engines last week! There is a new tag to place in the "Head" section of your web pages which can resolve forever the problem of duplicate content in search!

Something many SEO's have fought for years are things such as session ID's, tracking ID's, referrer tags, clickstream data, and variable formatting and source strings in URL's. As of this day in SEO history, those are no longer a problem.

Google's Matt Cutts, in the WebProNews video below announces that the three top search engines have each signed on to support the "Canonical tag" concept, which allows webmasters to post the canonical source for all potentially duplicated URL's. (Those URL's that vary, but produce the same content.)

That new magical tag (shown below) is a godsend for those of us who have fought for years against "Print page" URL variations, "Marketing tracking URL's," database strings which tell servers how to display everything from page formatting to custom logos and that dreaded "Session ID" problem.

I'd started to dread speaking with engineers and developers to request a new 301 redirect, and now I can simply ask for a site-wide application of this tag to tell search engines to redirect everything that varies that URL string.

<link rel=”canonical” href=”” />

That way, if we have a marketing campaign running with an URL like this:

That Canonical tag above simply tells search engines to consolidate PageRank and more or less treat any variation in that URL with added appendages as a single headed beast, rather than the many headed Hydra it can turn into on some sites.

I intend on continuing the fight against splitting pagerank among many tracking coded URL's, but the search engines have just made it much easier to solve for this problem in cases where 301 redirects are not practical. Thank goodness for this little SEO godsend.

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