If you’re not familiar with the principles of canonicalization, you’re not alone. Despite being one of the World Wide Web’s less discussed processes, this is a simple yet valuable aspect of search engine optimisation and site management.
What Is a Canonical URL?
Canonicalization involves defining a particular website address – also known as a uniform resource locator, or URL – as the default option. This is important because there can often be several URLs relating to a particular web page, including a choice between secured or unsecured HTTP transmissions. Our own site can be viewed by typing either uk2.net or www.uk2.net into your browser, with or without a / symbol after it. Some homepages have a URL suffix of /home or /index, but it isn’t always necessary to add these suffixes to view the page.
A canonical URL instructs search engines to define a certain address as the preferred one. Even if a particular page can be accessed with one of six different interpretations of its address, one of these will be presented to the search engines as the URL to display in results listings. This prevents the likes of Google from making their own decision about which URL to display, since they may not pick the optimal one. For canonical purposes, this is usually the most self-explanatory URL, or the one with fewest characters in it.
The Canonical Tag Option
Historically, users had to program each individual URL to redirect to the canonical one. In 2009, the major search engines unveiled the canonical tag option, enabling administrators and developers to nominate a preferred URL for search results pages. This simple HTML element allows the search engine algorithms to consolidate information for different URLs into one location, preventing the annoying phenomenon of the same web page displaying multiple times in results listings. It can also be useful for syndicated content that’s displayed on third-party sites, giving content creators the credit for external page views.
How to Add a Canonical URL in WordPress
Adding a canonical URL in WordPress is a straightforward process. Platforms like Yoast provide a canonical URL box pre-filled with a best-guess entry, which can be edited within seconds if required. Other versions of WordPress can call upon the self-evidently titled WordPress SEO plugin, eliminating any need to edit the <head> HTML content of each webpage with instructions like <link rel=”canonical” href=http://www.typeyourchosenURLhere.com>.
The Advantages of Specifying a Canonical URL
It’s much easier to track metrics and visitor numbers if all the data is collated for one address, rather than being dispersed between the HTTP and HTTPS protocols and other variations. Links from other sites can also be consolidated into one URL to boost the value of these external links, which remain a significant factor in SEO rankings. Bear in mind that search engines prefer canonical pages to be secure, providing they have valid SSL certificates and don’t instantly redirect to an unsecured site. It might be necessary to manually identify some components of a site address as irrelevant (such as URLs ending in a sessionid number), while 301 redirects on other pages can divert users and search engines alike to the designated URL.