Join David Booth for an in-depth discussion in this video Working with canonical URLs and redirects, part of SEO Foundations.
- As search engines try to find and index all the pages they find on the internet, they rely on unique URLs as pointers to each piece of content. While there should be a single, unique URL for each page on the internet, often our web pages can introduce slightly varied URLs for the same piece of content, resulting in duplicate URLs in the search engine index. A common reason for this is the use of URL parameters. These are extra bits of data that are appended to the end of URLs, and they can be used to do a variety of different things.
Sometimes they can actually control what content shows up on the page, and in those cases, the different URLs actually are different pages. Other times though, they have nothing to do with the content. They could be used to store session IDs or tracking parameters, and while the URL may be different, the content is unaffected. The problem is search engines can't assume what are important URL parameters for content, and which ones aren't. One way to resolve this issue on your site is to use the REL Canonical meta tag.
This tag is something that you add to your page that acts as an instruction for search engines, telling them that no matter what URL might be showing up in the address bar for this content, make sure to index this URL as the primary URL to access this content. Another way to clear up any confusion about how your site uses URL parameters for content is to tell the search engines directly through Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools. Here's an example in Google Webmaster Tools where we've gone to the Crawl URL Parameters area to tell Google what they should do with certain URL parameters we are using on our site.
Another reason that duplicate content may exist is because content may have moved from one location to another on your site. The old location and the new location could potentially be in the search engine's index at the same time, and to avoid this situation, whenever you move content around, it's important to implement redirect rules. There are a few redirect types that you or your webmaster can use, but let's take a look at two in particular. The first is known as a 302, or Temporary Redirect. This should only be used for short-term content moves, like when you want to show an alternate page while your site is down for maintenance.
It tells a search engine that the page it's looking for isn't there right now, but it will be back very shortly, so please don't do anything to your index. For a long-term, or a permanent content move, which search engines are really concerned with, you'll want to use a 301, or a Permanent Redirect. These types of redirects tell a search engine that although they may have indexed a previous URL for that content, that old URL is no good any more, and the search engine should take everything it knew about that old URL, and apply it to the new one where this content now lives.
Ensuring that the search engines know which URLs your content lives on, and that you have unique URLs for each of your pages will help them index your pages properly, and this is a building block on the path to the top of the search results.
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- What is SEO?
- Understanding how search engines index content
- Researching keywords
- Using SEO tools
- Optimizing pages for keywords
- Optimizing code and site structure
- Building links to your content
- Optimizing nontext components of a webpage
- Analyzing content quality
- Defining your audience, topics, angle, and style
- Promoting your content via social media
- Measuring SEO effectiveness
- Setting up Google+ Local
- Optimizing ecommerce sites for search
- Configuring sites for mobile