Canonical Tags in SEO: A Guide to Better Site Visibility

When you have the same content, or similar content, on more than one page on your website, canonical tags tell Google which one is the main page (canonical page/URL). This way, Google knows which page to index and show to people who are looking for what you have on your site.

This is why the use of canonical tags in SEO is important. Using these tags is a good practice to keep your website organized and make it friendly for search engines. Read on the learn more about canonical tag best practices.

Key Takeaways:

  • A canonical tag is a snippet of HTML code that allows you to define the “primary” version in a set of duplicate or near-duplicate pages on your site.
  • Canonical tags suggest to Google which version of the page it should index, consolidate link equity (ranking strength) to, and show in search results.
  • Add a canonical tag to tell Google the correct version of the URL. Without it, Google may choose it’s own canonical version.
  • Canonical tags are placed within the <head> section of a web page.
  • Canonical tags are not a directive but rather a signal for search engines.
  • Canonical tags can be helpful for sites with a handful of pages, or millions of pages.
  • Before implementing a canonical tag pointing to another page, a webmaster should first decide whether the content is in fact the same and then familiarize themselves with the common errors.
  • Every page you want indexed and ranking should have a self-referencing canonical tag.
  • Only list canonical URLs in your sitemap files.

    Table of Contents

    What Are Canonical Tags?

    A canonical tag is a small piece of HTML code embedded within the source code of a webpage, indicating the canonical URL, which is the “canonical page” or original version of that page. 

    Essentially, when there are multiple pages with similar or duplicate content, a canonical tag tells search engines which one they should pay attention to. This is crucial as query overlap as a result of duplication is detrimental to SEO.

    The syntax for a the canonical link element is straightforward: <link rel="canonical" href="" />. This piece of HTML is your ticket to better content organization and improved SEO performance.

    Why Canonical Tags Are Important For SEO

    The use of canonical tags is a staple in SEO for several reasons. Firstly, they combat duplicate content issues, which, if left unresolved, could be detrimental to your site’s ranking on Google Search.

    By specifying a canonical URL, you guide search engines to the version of the page you want to be indexed and shown in search results. Secondly, they consolidate link equity. When other sites link to different versions of the same page, the link equity – which is crucial for SEO – gets dispersed.

    Canonical tags ensure that all that precious link equity gets attributed to the canonical version, bolstering its ranking power.

    It doesn’t matter whether you operate a website for an enterprise level business, or a local business. These tags are important all the same.

    Combatting Duplicate Content

    Duplicate content is a notorious issue in SEO. It confuses search engines, making it difficult for them to chose which version of a page is more relevant to a given search query.

    This is where canonical tags come into play. They help Google and other search engines understand which version is the original or preferred one, hence mitigating the chances of duplicate content penalties.

    Without them, often Google chooses their own canonical URL, which may end up being the incorrect one entirely!

    Consolidating Link Equity

    Link equity is the SEO value that a link passes from one page to another, and it’s a crucial factor that search engines consider when ranking pages.

    In a scenario where multiple URLs have similar content, the link equity gets scattered, weakening the ranking potential of each page. Here, the use of canonical tags is a lifesaver as it consolidates the link equity to the one URL, ensuring it gets the SEO value you want it to.

    Facilitating Indexing and Crawling

    Canonical tags are instrumental in guiding search engines on how to index and crawl pages. They act as a roadmap, ensuring that the hierarchy and structure of the content on your site is easily understood.

    This is paramount for SEO as it guarantees that your pages are indexed correctly, enhancing your site’s visibility.

    Implementing Canonical Tags

    When it comes to implementation, it’s important you adhere to some best practices to reap the maximum SEO benefits. Here’s a quick guide to canonical implementation:

    • As a first step, audit your canonical tags to understand what issues, if any your site is facing.
    • Ensure that the canonical tag points to a live URL and not a 404 page.
    • Utilize absolute URLs instead of relative URLs to avoid any confusion. 
    • Use canonical tags on paginated content and to self-canonicalize pages when necessary. These steps ensure that your canonicalization efforts are fruitful and positively impact your SEO.

    Self-referencing Canonical Tags and Canonical URLs

    Every page on your website you want indexed needs to have a self-referencing canonical tag. A URL with this tag is known as the “canonical URL/version”. Basically, a canonical tag is a small snippet of code used to highlight original content on your website.

    Self referencing canonical tags are used on pages you want indexed. This is to remove any potential duplicate content errors and tell search engines which page they should be looking at and serving in search results.

    Canonical tags need to always match URLs in your sitemap files too! This ensures that every page you are submitting to search engines is the correct page and you’re not sending mixed signals to crawling bots. Doing so will alleviate any indexation issues and wasted crawl budget.

    Canonical Tags and Pagination

    Even though Google says they depreciated the use of pagination as a ranking signal years ago, self-referencing canonical tags still apply on pages within a paginated series (page-2, 3, 4 and so on). 

    Google treats paginated pages as individual pages, so they need to be canonicalised. Example:

    <link rel=”canonical” href=”” />

    <link rel=”prev” href=”” />

    <link rel=”next” href=”” />

    The previous tag always needs to point to the default page in the sequence, not /page-1/, not /page-0/. The canonical should still be self-referencing. Check out this post to learn more about handling pagination.

    Canonical Tags vs. 301 Redirects:

    “Are canonicals and 301 redirects the same?”

    No, they are not. Although they can share a similar outcome, 301 redirects and canonical tags are different in both intent and from a technical SEO perspective.

    Canonical tags are for search engines only. They signal where crawling bots from the likes of Google & Bing should direct their indexation and ranking attention, without redirecting users to a new page.

    This is particularly useful for ecommerce websites, where multiple near duplicate pages may exist as status 200 pages.

    301 redirects are for both users & search engines. 301 redirects are used to direct crawlers and users to a new page. This redirect passes all the ranking authority to the new page too.

    In short:

    • Use a canonical tag to signal original content and the page you want indexed
    • Use a 301 redirect to pass all value to a new page

    Testing and Verifying

    Utilize tools like the URL Inspection Tool in Google Search Console to audit canonical tags and verify whether or not they are recognized and functioning as intended.

    Additionally, inspect the source code of your pages to ensure that they are placed correctly within the <head> section of the HTML.

    Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

    It’s not uncommon to encounter issues when implementing canonical tags. Some common pitfalls include pointing to non-200 status code URLs, pointing to redirected URLs, or having inconsistent canonical tags across different versions of a page. Steer clear of these errors to ensure that your canonicalization efforts are effective.


    Canonical tags are an indispensable tool in your SEO toolkit. When utilized correctly, they resolve duplicate content issues, consolidate link equity, and ensure that search engines correctly index your pages.

    These subtle pieces of HTML code hold the potential to significantly boost your site’s SEO, making your content more visible and accessible to your target audience.

    Common FAQs:

    Q: Should I use canonical tags for all my web pages?

    A: It is not necessary to use canonical tags for all web pages. They should only be used when you have multiple versions of the same content available on different URLs.

    Q: Can I use canonical tags to specify a different canonical URL?

    A: Yes, you can use canonical tags to specify a different canonical URL than the current page’s URL. This can be useful when you want to consolidate content from multiple URLs into a single canonical URL.

    Q: How does Google choose the canonical URL if I don’t specify it?

    A: If you don’t specify a canonical URL, Google will typically choose the most appropriate version of the page based on its own algorithms and signals.

    Q: How do you add canonical tags in WordPress?

    Adding a canonical tag in WordPress is super easy. Navigate to the required page or post > Click edit > Click advanced > Paste in your canonical URL in the “Canonical URL” box.


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