Today we have a funky little concept for you that has become a critical part of the eCommerce world in the last couple of decades – canonical tags.
Now although this would usually fall under the domain of a SEO specialist, canonical tags needs to be thought out well and hence require someone who knows the business and the brand well – you.
Also, more and more eCommerce platforms are now making canonical tags a part of their solution and hence making them super easy to implement.
So let’s get learning!
What are canonical tags?
A canonical tag (also known as a canonical link) is an HTML element that helps search engines prevent duplicate content issues. It does this by letting the search engine robots know which link is the ‘parent’ or the ‘preferred’ link.
So let’s say, you have a product in your eCommerce store – a white-gold necklace.
This white-gold necklace exists under the ‘silver necklace’ category. You then add in a ‘jewellery category’ and add in the white-gold necklace in that category as well. Now the white-gold necklace exists under the ‘silver necklace’ category and under the ‘jewellery category’. This lets your users access the product in two different ways. Now although all the content and product information on the two pages would the same, the URLs will be different.
The silver necklace category URL might be something like this:
The jewellery category URL would be something like this:
You end up with two URLs with the exact same content and that brings up two issues:
1) Search engines get confused as to what URL they should be ranking higher for the relevant keywords
2) Having duplicate content on your site negatively affects your search engine results
We know what a lengthy process it is to build your search engine ranking in the first place, so to lose it over such a small thing can be frustrating!
Enter canonical tags!
With canonical tags you can pick one URL that is the ‘original’ or the ‘preferred’ URL so that when search engine bots crawl your website, they know which URL to rank higher for the relevant keywords and they do not penalize you for duplicate content.
How do I set up canonical tags?
Canonical tags are super simple to implement. If you are working within the commercebuild platform, here is how you would add in your canonical URLs:
Adding canonical tags in commercebuild
1) Log into your admin account and navigate over to Catalog –> Products
2) Once in products, pick a product that appears in multiple categories. Here is an example:
In the example above, the product exists in the B2B category and in the B2C category, has two different URLs with the same product content and information.
3) Click on edit and stay in the ‘General’ tab. Scroll down to ‘Item Categories’ and here you will find the options to pick your canonical URL!
That’s it! Easy peasy.
Adding canonical tags if your platform does not provide you with the ability to do so
1) Find the product that has multiple categories and list out the multiple URL’s that it can be accessed by.
2) Pick one of the pages as your canonical URL. This should be the page that you think is the most important and the one you would want your traffic to go to.
3) Add a rel=canonical tag to all the pages that you did not pick as your canonical page. This needs to be added into the HTML of the page in the <head> section. Going on our jewellery store example, if we chose the jewellery page to be the canonical page, we would add the rel=canonical tag to the silver-necklace category page like this:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.myjewelleryboutique.com/silver-necklace/white-gold-necklace/” />
And you’re done!
If you are looking for some more tips on best practices on setting up canonical tags, we would recommend checking out Google’s guide on canonical tags!
Okay, I know how to set it up but what does a canonical tag really do?
While we won’t go into too many tech-y details, we thought we would go over what happens in the back-end when you add a canonical tag to a URL.
When you add in a canonical tag, it “merges” all the duplicate content pages together in the search engine’s eyes. So, when someone searches for white-gold necklace (or any relevant keyword), Google will crawl the canonical version of the URL (which in this case is the jewellery category page) and will crawl the duplicate URLs less often. For search engines, the canonical tag acts as a “soft-redirect” from the non-canonical page to the canonical page. It is important to note, that in the user’s eyes, nothing has changed – they can access both pages and do not get redirected when they go to the non-canonical pages.
Here are some fun images (courtesy of MOZ) that explains canonical tags in a super simple way:
How Google bots crawl your pages before adding canonical tags
How Google bots crawl your pages after adding canonical tags
We are not sure why the Google bot changed – for the record we do like the first one (any Futurama fans?). We hope that helped in visualizing the process a little bit!