Day 17: The Canonical Tag Explained and How WordPress Handles It

The Canonical Tag Explained and How WordPress Handles It

The Canonical Tag is an extremely important concept to know for anyone who wants to get serious about SEO. The Canonical tag is a very simple, yet powerful concept that all SEO aware website owners should become familiar with no matter how much they know about code. Here’s an example of the Canonical tag in action.

<link rel="canonical" href="http://wplifeguard.com/" />

No, you’re not able to use the excuse of “I don’t know code.” Really, it is not a valid excuse. Thanks to WordPress and WordPress plugins, there is very little to do with the Canonical tag anyways, and anything you do need to do is just add a URL to a text box – but more on that later.

Here’s an excellent 20 minute video from Google examines why the Canonical tag is so important. It goes into more detail about the Canonical Tag than we will, so it’s worth a watch if you have the time or interest. If you do watch it, you can go ahead and skip down to the “How WordPress Handles the Canonical Tag For You” section. If you still want to continue learning further about the Canonical Tag, take a look at Google’s overview of the Canonical Tag.

How the Canonical Tag Works

The main purpose of the Canonical Tag is to fight duplicate content. Years ago, duplicate content was a technique used by spam sites to get higher in the search engines. They’d have multiple pages or entire websites even of the exact same pages, all linking to each other in an effort to get to the first page. So now copying an entire page from your website or someone else’s website will result in being blacklisted by Google and the other major search engines. However, there are times when duplicate content is a valid technique. This is where the Canonical Tag comes in.

The Canonical Tag allows you to tell search engines that a page is a reposting of another page. Let me provide an example. Here on the wpLifeGuard site we have a Recommended Web Hosts page. It is a very valid and useful page for our users – however we had already made a recommended web hosts page on Bold Perspective. So to save time, we reposted the exact same page that was originally on Bold Perspective here on wpLifeGuard. Under the rules of Duplicate Content, wpLifeGuard would be blacklisted for using Bold Perspective’s page – but that’s where the Canonical Tag saves the day.

We put the following on the wpLifeGuard Recommended Hosts page.

<link rel="canonical" href="http://boldperspective.com/recommended-web-hosts/"/>

That tells Google that we’re using content from a different website and are giving them credit for it. While wpLifeGuard won’t receive any SEO benefit from the Recommended Web Hosts page, we also won’t be blacklisted for it and we still have a valuable page for our readers.

Using the Canonical Tag to ‘Move’ Pages

Now say we wanted to move Bold Perspective’s Recommended Web Hosts page, the original, over to wpLifeGuard. That’s just as simple as adding a Canonical Tag on Bold Perspective’s page pointing it over to wpLifeGuard’s new page.

How WordPress Handles the Canonical Tag for You

I’ve said it before, but WordPress is an absolute powerhouse when it comes to SEO. One of the ways it does this is through it’s automatic inclusion of many tags including rel=”index”, rel=”prev”, rel=”next”, and rel=”canonical”. These tags are a perfect example of the minute levels of SEO making a world of difference.

WordPress automatically adds the Canonical Tag to all Pages, Posts, and Custom Posts Types. However, WordPress does not add the Canonical Tag to other pages like search results, categories, tags, archives and the like. This keeps you from running into duplicate content issues if you display full or partial post content on those pages. It also helps Google know which are the main pages with the substantial content.

This keeps you from not getting blacklisted because of your own CMS and it actually strengthens your SEO further than it would have without these tags.

How You Can Fine Tune the Canonical Tag

Now here’s the part where you can actively get involved in helping your WordPress website’s seo via controlling the Canonical Tag. The All in One SEO Pack (which we talked about yesterday) and the Canonical URL’s WordPress plugins allow you to specify a Canonical Tag for that page. So say you were reposting something from a different website, then you could use one of these WordPress plugins to specify a different URL in the Canonical Tag.

The Canonical URLs plugin in action
The Canonical URL’s WordPress plugin in action

Don’t know how to install WordPress plugins? Check out our video tutorial showing how to use WordPress plugins.

Conclusion

Once again, WordPress is a SEO Powerhouse. WordPress does more for your SEO than most people realize – and it does it all automatically. Taking your WordPress SEO to the next level is a cinch to some free WordPress Plugins. Simply educate yourself a little about the Canonical Tag and take your WordPress website’s SEO to the next level.

31 Days to a Better WordPress Blog

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