It can be difficult to know how you should redirect a web page, especially when there is duplicate content involved in the mix. Generally, there are two major ways of handling the issue: the 301 redirect and the rel=”canonical” attribute. They both have their strengths and their weaknesses, and knowing how to use them properly can mean the difference between SEO success and languishing on page 3. Let’s take a look at some basic best practices to keep you in the game,
Let’s start with the differences between the two. Google has outlined what they prefer, so there is very little guesswork involved here.
rel=”canonical” — There are multiple versions of a page, or multiple pages containing the same content. When indexing pages, Google gives preference to the page that has the rel=”canonical” tag. The other pages with duplicate content NEED to exist for some reason, but the page with the canonical tag will be the one that gets indexed.
301 — You have moved a page from one location to another, permanently. A 301 redirect tells google to index the page at the new location, and pass all of the old PageRank to that location as well.
Pretty simple, right? Now, let’s dig a little deeper.
It’s important to know that there are a few different theories on just how well a 301 will pass PageRank. The most commonly held belied is that you will, over time, get most of the original link juice passed to the new page location. The key words there are “over time” and “most of.” It’s not instant, and you won’t get all of it, so don’t 301 on a whim. Make sure that you truly need to move the page before any migration, especially if the page is currently doing well. Also, when performing a 301 on multiple pages or something like an entire blog, make sure each post redirects to the same post on the new page. All to often you see people redirecting all posts to the new homepage, killing their PageRank in the process.
The first thing to know about the canonical tag is that you should never use it in place of a 301 redirect. You would be amazed how many people put rel=”canonical” on a page’s new location and leave the old version of the page live. Don’t do this!
The best place to use the canonical tag is on your pages that have lists. For examples, product pages. You may have one page that sorts products by price and another page that sorts them by rating. The content of these pages will be essentially the same, so you should think about which is more valuable and assign that page with the canonical tag.
Remember that canonical isn’t a command like a 301 redirect, it’s only a suggestion. If Google think you’re wrong about which page is more valuable, it has the ability to index whatever pages it prefers.
That’s the basic overview for these two methods of page redirection. If you have any more questions about either, feel free to ask us at Questions@wikimotive.com