SEO Canonical Element - Testing is crucial!

Search business — facesaerchteam @ 11:42 am

On Feb. 12 2009 Google announced the support of the new Canonical-Tag. Basically you can now specify the preferred URL you want Google to associate with a specific webpage.

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.example.com/url/here” />

So cool.

After implementing it on various properties and checking the use of it on other websites there are a few findings:

  • It’s immense powerful!
  • For Google it’s basically a HTTP 301 permanent redirect.
  • Without the actual redirect.
  • It’s easy to implement.
  • No design or function change for human users.

After implementation you see first effects about 10 to 14 days later, depending on your indexing speed. If you have a grown, messy site it will give you a big plus SEO wise.

Now the downside:

powerful + easy + lack of feedback  = source of possible devastating errors

The minor errors i have seen:

Wrong markup

  • <link  rel=”canonical” content=”http://www.example.org/url/here”>

As SEOs are used to deal with meta tags, we write a lot of stuff in meta-tags (robots, description, …). The canonical element is not an meta-tag, it’s a link-tag (like external CSS or RSS referrers).

The consequence is quite harmless: you implemented something without effect. It only becomes an issue if your implement logic on top of it, or look for a reaction and see none. A popular wordpress theme made this mistake, and i got caught up in a serious twitterfigth by pointing it - impolite (sorry) - out.

Typo that leads to an HTTP 404

  • <link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.example.com/urlh/ere” />

The typo (/urlh/ere instead of /url/here) leads to an error (most common HTTP 404 file not found) page.

Google follows this lead, sees that something is wrong, keeps on continuing his work without any consequences. Again not a biggy until you implement something on top of it or wait for a reaction.

Major errors

Typo that leads to an HTTP 200 or HTTP 301 / HTTP 302

  • <link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.example.com/url/hier” />

If /url/hier exists (HTTP 200) or instead of an HTTP 404 triggers a redirect to somewhere else (i.e. the startpage) you communicated to Google that the page the canonical tag is on placed on is not valid, and another page is the right one. Google does not hesitate to kick the original URL out of the index, and goes to the ‘canonical’ one instead.

If the error is systematically (on a lot of pages) you will butcher your search engine traffic in no time (10 days). The shit thing is: mistakes happen, and especially if you don’t see any real time feedback.

Also if you update your URL structure or your redirect logic, but forget to update your canonical you will run into major issues.

Conclusion: The canonical tag is a present from god Google. Due to the lack of direct feedback also a source of possible devasting errors.

Help: A simple JS Greasemonkey script which shows the canonical tag in the upper right corner (if it is sepcified).

39 Comments »

  1. You are right. I made a mistake. Thanks for twittering this. :)

    Comment by Aldo — March 25, 2009 @ 3:39 pm
  2. SEO Canonical Element - Testing is crucial! | facesaerch blog…

    neuer tag, wird behandelt wie ein 301!…

    Trackback by frida/sb — April 24, 2009 @ 7:22 pm
  3. Thanks - we will give it go on our holiday rental comparison site.

    Comment by Ski holidays — August 10, 2009 @ 10:55 am
  4. Absolutely right. That’s really worth of praise.

    Comment by backlinks — September 12, 2009 @ 11:15 pm
  5. Definitely needed for SEO!

    Comment by Challenge Coins — January 9, 2010 @ 1:13 am
  6. Absolutely right

    Comment by Airport Limo — March 13, 2010 @ 12:05 pm
  7. Thanks for típ ! That’s great !

    Comment by Doan Tung — August 21, 2010 @ 11:46 pm
  8. ok,
    it looks great, thanks a lot

    i will work on it

    Comment by chambres d'hotes — August 27, 2010 @ 10:11 pm
  9. Thanks for tips ! Bookmarked !!

    Comment by Doan Tung — September 16, 2010 @ 7:33 am
  10. Thanks for tips ! \m/

    Comment by Vi Pro — September 16, 2010 @ 9:50 am
  11. I didn’t try it before but I will do it. Thx a lot I have found a lot of informations in your article. Please more article like yours

    Comment by au pair — September 29, 2010 @ 5:58 pm
  12. Good tip, I’ve had trouble which 301s before so this might help. I can’t see why Google doesn’t figure all this stuff out itself to resolve the problem automatically.

    Comment by Metal Lunch Boxes — October 14, 2010 @ 2:23 pm
  13. Definitely needed for SEO!
    it looks great.az, thanks a lot

    Comment by wwwgreataz — November 3, 2010 @ 10:31 pm
  14. Soemtimes the older posts are the best ones! Thanks for helping me with this problem.

    Comment by solarman — December 3, 2010 @ 1:05 pm
  15. SEO is a hard-working job with wisdom.

    Comment by superman — December 24, 2010 @ 9:54 am
  16. Thanks for típ ! That’s great !

    Comment by organisation mariage — January 4, 2011 @ 11:15 pm
  17. This is very nice post. thank you so much for such a informative blog. its very helpful for me

    Comment by Kerala Holiday Packages — January 14, 2011 @ 8:23 am
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    Comment by Rimi — March 4, 2011 @ 10:03 am
  19. I had a massive issue with this for a long time and took me ages to get the right code string to solve it as its different code depending on what servers you are on.

    Comment by hydroponics — June 7, 2011 @ 1:27 pm
  20. meta tags are usually quite easy to understand but it goes to show I don’t know everything

    Comment by mulberry bags — August 14, 2011 @ 12:04 am
  21. I have heard that meta tags doesn’t matters anymore .

    Comment by electronics — November 16, 2011 @ 7:51 pm
  22. Thanks for the post. It might give me an extra boost for my SEO campaign!

    Comment by Jump Manual — December 28, 2011 @ 12:18 am
  23. great post.
    Last week Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft announced support for a new link element to clean up duplicate urls on sites

    Comment by sajan kota — June 18, 2012 @ 1:58 pm
  24. Very nice post share…..Its really nice post about seo topic.

    Comment by Web Design Company — July 6, 2013 @ 10:19 am
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