Did you know that any web page can be accessed using a variety of URLs? For example, our website's homepage https://www.weblite.com.my can be reached using http://www.weblite.com.my, and http://weblite.com.my, amongst a handful of others. While this may look like a good thing, it isn't. While you can purchase several domains and use redirects to ensure that users always end up at your website despite user error, the above links fall under a separate category and need to be managed differently. Unfortunately, having duplicate content across unique URLs creates a host of different SEO issues. Thankfully there is a simple solution to this problem - canonical URLs.
What Is a Canonical URL?
A canonical tag is a small piece of code that tells search engines which variant of a URL you want to be prominent in search results. By pointing the 'rel canonical' tag to a specific page you turn that URL into the canonical URL, the master representative of any selection of duplicate or similar pages. This process gives you the power to ensure that all viewers of your site end up on the correct page every time they visit. It also means that different pages that happen to have similar or the same content are accessible by users and ranked appropriately by search engines.
For example, remember the small list of URLs we listed earlier that go to our homepage? We've set one of them as our canonical URL. If you check out the page source, you will see a small bit of code on how we have setup canonical URLs on our website. To view the source code, right-click anywhere on the homepage and choose the menu option that mentions 'page source' or 'source code'. This section of code should read:
link rel="canonical" href="https://www.weblite.com.my"
This tiny snippet is all you need to turn a URL into a canonical URL. With it being such a simple process, there is no reason you shouldn't use canonical tags to your advantage.
The Benefits of Canonical URLs in E-Commerce
E-commerce stores are notorious for serving duplicate URLs because of the sheer amount of similar content available. Product variations such as sizes and colours when designed with unique URLs are one example. Products with similar descriptions, items listed in multiple categories, category pages, and even filter options are also potential culprits. If you don't select canonical pages, all of the various links that go to duplicate/similar content will be considered separately instead of consolidated which can result in diluted rankings for your website. Canonical URLs will also provide you with more accurate and structured reports when viewing data using Google Analytics - this will allow a consolidated view of similar pages instead of them being report individually.
Unfortunately, this isn't the only problem. In an effort to provide the best experience for users "duplicate" content is rarely shown in search results which means search engines will automatically decide which one of your pages to display. Not only are you leaving the visibility of your website up to an automated system but by not distinguishing between pages, pages that the engine considers duplicates will have less to no visibility. For a shop, this means consumers won't see many of your products and the various e-commerce pages you worked hard on won't increase in rank.
SEO is important and canonical URLs are just one step of the process. Without them, your website will be competing with itself, effectively "watering down" results. You're also leaving the search engine in charge of deciding what's most important for your viewers, not the best move. Even if you think your site doesn't have "duplicate" content, canonical URLs will remove any guesswork out of the equation, enabling users to see your website exactly as you intended. Ultimately, by taking the time to use the canonical tag you will take the visibility of your website, e-commerce or otherwise, into your own hands - a crucial part of any website's success.
If you need more help with adding canonical URLs to your website, contact us today! We're happy to assist you.