Rel=“Canonical” vs. 301 Redirection – What is the ideal solution

  • August 3, 2015
  • SEO
9 Comments

On-Page optimization is usually considered as the easy part and most businesses don’t even care about it but in my opinion if your on-page SEO is done correctly, you can easily win half the race but again on-page optimization/SEO is not limited to unique title and meta descriptions.

On-page SEO covers all technical problems that are within the website and optimizing them will not only improve user experience but it also helps website to rank better in search engines from the targeted key phrases. I am not saying this is ultimate but a decent on-page optimization checklist for small and mid-size businesses.

In this post I am going to discuss some technical SEO aspects that are rather confusing but important to consider like redirections and canonicalization. They are common but unfortunately most websites are not implementing it correctly, which is why they don’t rank better as compare to their competitors.

Before I start discussing scenarios and best practices, I should start with the definition of what 301 redirection and Rel=canonical are in nature.

301 Redirect: It is a permanent redirect like change of the address. Technically you send users from an old URL to the new URL and ask search engine to shift all the link juice from old to the new URL. The shift of link juice is never 100% and there is a certain percentage of link juice is always lost when you make a permanent redirect.

Rel=Canonical: You use rel=canonical tag to tell Google what is the preferred version of the page that is needed to be indexed. Let’s suppose if you have two pages on your website that contains similar content and for some reason you cannot use redirect (or cannot create unique content for both pages), Google allows you to use this canonical tag to tell search engine what is the preferred version and what URL Google should index.

Here are few of the scenarios and recommendations accordingly.

 

When you have two relatively similar products with identical product description:

This is the common problem for ecommerce websites that have relatively similar products (i.e same products with change in color or model numbers) they usually have more or less same product descriptions, which lead to duplicate content problem within the website.

Ideally you want both pages on the website for users so that they can see and choose from, but for a search engine  both pages contain the same content that create a duplicate content problem

Ideal Solution: Call it unfortunate but you can only allow one URL to be indexed in Google to avoid duplicate content. The idea is to choose preferred version and set rel=canonical on the alternate URL.

This will tell Google which is the preferred version and bot will index that one URL accordingly. At the same time users will have a chance to visit both pages and chose the best product accordingly.

Example: Let’s say you have two pages: example.php and example-2.php. So if  you consider example.php as your preferred version following will be included  in the header section.

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://domain.com/example.php” />

When creating a new version of the page:

This mostly happens when you have an active blog and you try to create new version of a post that you write may be couple of years/months back. This can be because of multiple reasons like content needs a fresh perspective, ideas that you discussed couple of years back are obsolete and such many other reasons.

Ideal Solution: If you have decent amount of traffic as well as links pointing to older URL the idea is to set 301 to the new page so that not only users but search engine also transfer the link juice from older to new URL.

Remember when you set 301 from older page to a new page, traffic will move to the new URL but you will lose some of the link juice. It is always recommended to do some quality outreach so that you can get some new links for new URL which helps regain the SERP position in search engines for targeted key phrases.

Example: I run moz.com/blog in screaming frog and saw lots of URLs were redirected (301-ed) to a new URL.

https://moz.com/blog/how-to-write-emails-that-get-opened-every-time 301 https://moz.com/ugc/how-to-write-emails-that-get-opened-every-time

 

When you are moving a page from HTTP to HTTPs:

Shifting website from http to https is trending these days. A number of websites be it small or large are doing this, which made me include this point in the list. Most people usually implement straight 301 redirection when shifting from http to https versions.

I am not saying this is wrong but if you have a large website, you have to limit your 301 redirections or else too many redirections will not only increase your page load time but will also hurt your rankings in search engine.

Ideal Solution: If you have more links and traffic on your http pages in that case 301 make sense. But if you have a case like The Workplace Depot, where we have almost similar link points to both versions we thought it would be better not to add 301, instead add rel=canonical to tell Google the preferred version of a page so that we can avoid duplicate content.

Example:

Links on HTTP page:

http

Links on HTTPs Page:

https

Rel= Canonical:

canoncial

When Product is permanently removed:

No matter whatever is the size of your ecommerce store, you probably will face this after every six months to a year when a product is no more available forever and you have no intention of selling that products from your website anymore.

Mostly, you set up 301 redirections to other relevant products in all such scenarios.

Ideal Solution: Obviously setting up a redirection is important because without it, the user experience might hurt and potential buyer may jump from your website to any competitors’ and you might end up losing your potential customer.

Instead of just setting a 301 to another product, try to dive deep in to products and see which one is more relevant to the product that is no more available. If you don’t find any try to redirect the URL to a custom 404 page that politely deliver your message that “the product is no more available and here are some other products that you might be interested in”.

Example:

404page

I personally like this page as this will not only tell user that a product is no more available but at the same time it guides a user to move to other relevant pages of the website. This helps user to stay on the website and probably end up buying stuff that are relevant to his/her needs.

 

There can be more scenarios but above are the few that are most common one. If you have more scenarios, just update in the comment section and I would be happy to share the ideal solution as per the best of my knowledge and experience.

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9 Comments
  1. Reply

    Nice insight with your post. I do have a question though… You state “too many redirections will not only increase your page load time but will also hurt your rankings in search engine.”

    I can understand your position on the page load time, but do you have any actual data that shows too many redirections hurt your rankings? I am only asking because I am truly interested if you have data on this or if it is just your opinion.

    Thanks for the post

  2. Reply

    Nice insight with your post. I do have a question though… You state “too many redirections will not only increase your page load time but will also hurt your rankings in search engine.”

    I can understand your position on the page load time, but do you have any actual data that shows too many redirections hurt your rankings? I am only asking because I am truly interested if you have data on this or if it is just your opinion.

    Thanks for the post

  3. Reply

    Nice insight with your post. I do have a question though… You state “too many redirections will not only increase your page load time but will also hurt your rankings in search engine.”

    I can understand your position on the page load time, but do you have any actual data that shows too many redirections hurt your rankings? I am only asking because I am truly interested if you have data on this or if it is just your opinion.

    Thanks for the post

    • AvatarUsman
    • August 4, 2015
    Reply

    “you have to limit your 301 redirections or else too many redirections will not only increase your page load time but will also hurt your rankings in search engine.”

    Can you explain this further please?

    • AvatarUsman
    • August 4, 2015
    Reply

    “you have to limit your 301 redirections or else too many redirections will not only increase your page load time but will also hurt your rankings in search engine.”

    Can you explain this further please?

    • AvatarUsman
    • August 4, 2015
    Reply

    “you have to limit your 301 redirections or else too many redirections will not only increase your page load time but will also hurt your rankings in search engine.”

    Can you explain this further please?

  4. Reply

    Hi Moosa, Good one! It has always been a topic of confusion for most SEOs.

  5. Reply

    Hi Moosa, Good one! It has always been a topic of confusion for most SEOs.

  6. Reply

    Hi Moosa, Good one! It has always been a topic of confusion for most SEOs.

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