If you’ve been fixing SEO issues on your site, you’ve probably heard about canonical issues and 301 redirects. A canonical issue occurs when your web page is available and indexed in search engines with the www and without the www (non-www). A 301 redirect fixes your canonical issues and removes duplicate content from search engines. Here are some tips when managing your canonical pages.
Use a Plug-In
If implemented incorrectly, your 301 redirect can cause crawling issues. Search engines bots are sometimes sent on an endless loop of redirects, and it can also happen to your readers. Plug-ins reduce the chance of endless redirect loops since they take care of the major technical side of it.
There are several WordPress plug-ins on the market that help you with 301 redirect implementation. Of course, you can only use a WordPress plug-in if you own a WordPress site. Other out-of-the-box applications offer 301 redirect plug-ins including Joomla and Drupal.
Pick One Version and Stick with It
You have the choice of using the www or the non-www version of your domain. You send mixed signals to search engines when you redirect between different versions without any consistency. Choose which version you want to use and redirect all the others to your chosen version. For instance, if you want to include the www, take all of your non-www pages and redirect them to the www version.
You can do this in the .htaccess in PHP and Linux sites and in IIS for Windows users. You can also use redirects directly in your website code, but it’s not the preferred method for handling canonicals.
Verify Canonical Settings
Don’t just edit the .htaccess or source code and walk away. Always verify your settings by opening a browser and viewing your site. You can also use tools to verify these settings. Web-sniffer.net or Rex Swain’s HTTP Viewer are two tools that allow you to see the server response code. A 301 redirect is the first response, and then the next response should be a 200 code.
Set Your Preferred Version in Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools (WMT) gives you the option to set your preferred domain version instead of messing with your code. It’s a great option for people who have no idea how to work with a 301 redirect. Remember that setting a preferred domain in Webmaster Tools is only good for Google and not other search engines.
You first need to register the domain with WMT. WMT is linked with your Google account, so you’ll need to sign up first. Once you have a Google account, you’ll need to verify your site. You can do this by either placing a meta tag in your code, uploading an HTML file generated by WMT, or updating your DNS settings. The easiest method is the HTML file for users unable to edit code. WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and other website packages have plug-ins that help you register, but you’ll still need the account information in WMT.
Another advantage to this method is that you don’t need to wait for a recrawl. When you implement 301 redirects, Google needs to crawl your pages again for the changes to take effect. Setting a preferred version in WMT can take effect within a day.
Is It Worth the Hassle?
If you’re looking for ways to improve your rank with search engine optimization, canonical URLs should be one of the first issues you review. Essentially, when you have multiple versions in search engines, you have double the pages that you should have. You ultimately have duplicate content. Setting a 301 redirect and fixing canonical issues can improve search engine rank. It’s not a magic fix for being number one for all of your target keywords, but it will help you improve. As long as your content and site are user friendly, your site has potential to move up the search engine ranks.
It’s not what you sell; it’s how you sell it. Danny Todd, the Cleveland SEO Guy understands that sometimes the best brands get left behind because their web design and SEO has become outdated. The Internet is always changing! Google and the other search engines are always adapting! Keep your brand current and reach Google’s #1 spot.