Canonical or 301 Redirects

Canonical or 301 Redirects

Whether it’s a new website, a website restructure, a domain migration or even a good old fashioned website clean-up, at some stage you would have probably come across the word ‘redirect’.

Redirects have been around within the web industry for a number of years with several key types. The most common is the 301 redirect but in recent years, the canonical redirect has gained it’s own following with industry experts also dubbing canonical as one of the most important advancements in SEO.

In our latest web grower article, our Cheshire web design team aim to take you on the journey of explaining what a canonical tag is, why canonicalization really matters and when to use a canonical or a 301 redirect. Sound good?! Let’s get started…

What is a canonical tag?

In it’s simplest form, a canonical redirect (aka “ref canonical” tag) allows you to not only communicate with search engines to instruct them that certain, similar pages with identical URLs are actually all the same content, but also allows you to choose which of those duplicate URLs you wish to appear in search engine results.

Example of a Canonical Redirect Tag

So what’s the point?! Well if you have a website containing products or is accessible under multiple URLs, chances are… very similar URLs are automatically generated containing the very same content. The canonical tag instructs search engines to ignore the automatically generated URLs and solely concentrate on your chosen URL.

So why does canonicalization matter?

Sadly, auto-generated URLs containing duplicate content is a very complicated subject and can cause a number of SEO problems for your website, especially those who have e-commerce websites containing a volume of products to buy so I have broken it down into three reasons;

Firstly, when crawling through your website, if search engines crawl through too much duplicate content, without instruction they could miss unique content from your original page. Secondly, if certain pages require large-scale duplication, this could seriously hinder your search engine position as this could be seen as ‘Black Hat SEO’ in which your website will be penalised. And most importantly, without guidance, search engines may pack the wrong URL instead of the original.

The problems with URL’s

  • http://www.example.com
  • https://www.example.com
  • http://example.com
  • http://example.com/index.php
  • http://example.com/index.php?refer=twitter

To the everyday visitor, the URLs in the above example all represent the same page, but to search engine crawlers, each of these URL’s are identified as unique pages and are often generated due to a number of different variables such as domain’s associated, platform structure of the website and even social media interaction. Today, content management systems are so-far advanced, they automatically add and allow tags and paths to the same page content you create and add URL parameters for searches, sorts, currency options resulting in multiple, sometimes even dozens of duplicate URL’s on your website without you even realising it.

So what are 301 redirects

Let’s say for example you have a page called Blogs but after a website restructure, you decided to rename your page Case Studies, a 301 redirect is a permanent redirect which informs search engines to no longer search Blog and to instead look for Case Studies and according to statistics, this protocol passes between 90-99% of the ranking from the historic page to the redirected page if submitted correctly so you will not loose any SEO rankings or be penalised by search engines.

So what’s the difference between canonical tags and 301 redirects

Using the same example as above, the difference here between a canonical and a 301 redirect is a canonical tag informs search engines to keep crawling through every page, but this certain page is the one you want them to rank for search engine rankings. A 301 redirect instructs search engines that when indexing your website, every time they find the blog page, it’s now no longer here and should look at the Case Studies page instead.

Cheshire Web Design – Best Practice

As a Cheshire web design, as part of our due-diligence we often capture the links of each website in just about every scenario – regardless of a website development rebuild or domain management. From here, we identify what the website / client wants then put into practice what we know best by implementing either 301 or canonical redirects.

Hopefully by reading this blog you have taken away some learnings and can implement these redirects into your small business website to help it grow. If you would like any further advice or guidence, get in touch with your local Cheshire web design agency.

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