For many, the methods and reasoning that go into SEO (search engine optimization) can be puzzling to say the least. The confusion can be partially due to the cross-functional aspect of SEO, where both developers are needed to implement special tags and syntax, whereas marketers are required to help enforce consistency, brand-standards, and to follow SEO best-practices. While various platforms and tools can help automate certain aspects, it’s helpful to know why or what purpose the various options serve. While marketers of today may be familiar with the standard title tag, meta description, and sitemap files, URL canonicalization can be a confusing topic for some.
What is canonicalization in SEO?
To fully understand what you would use a URL canonical for, it helps to understand the problem it solves. While the original forms of search engines relied on simple keyword searches, today’s search engines (such as Google, Bing, and others) rely on much more complicated and ever-evolving algorithms to ensure searchers get the best and most accurate results for every search query. Since sending searchers to any particular page can be valuable for that website (from ad revenue, or eCommerce transactions), there are of course certain nefarious actors who try to “game-the-system” and trick these search engines into thinking they’re the authority on a particular valuable search query or phrase. One way they used to do this is by creating many pages with essentially the same (or largely the same) copy-and-pasted text to make search engines think they have a lot of content on that subject. When search engines realized this tactic, they implemented tweaks to their algorithms to take this into consideration when returning search results to users.
While there are of course legitimate reasons a website may have duplicate content across a few pages, search engines allow website owners to avoid any issues by indicating a single URL as the “source” of the content. This is done by leveraging the “rel canonical” tag, which looks like:
<pre><link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.example.com/product/acme-adhesive” /></pre>
To use this, you simply choose which of the URLs with the content you’d like to be the “source” or “master” page, and use the canonical tag on the other duplicate pages so that search engines know you are aware of the duplicate content, and which is your preferred URL to display in search results.
Why is this important in B2B eCommerce?
The most common reason canonical tags come into discussion in regards to B2B eCommerce experiences is while discussing product taxonomy, especially with distributors. Here’s an example: a distributor sells Acme Adhesive, a multi-purpose adhesive that can bond wood, metal, and plastics. Since this distributor also sells many other adhesives that work with those various materials, they have categories for Wood Adhesives, Metal Adhesives, and Plastic Adhesives. Acme Adhesive can be in all three of those, causing at least three URLs:
Since the product information is the same, this is duplicate content. You could choose any of those three, or create a new generic fourth option (such as: www.distribution.com/product/acme-adhesive) to be your “source” URL and canonicalize all of the other pages back to that URL.
While this can be done manually, luckily, some eCommerce platforms like InsiteCommerce® will handle this for you and automatically create the canonical tags on all product detail pages, alleviating this concern.
Interested in reading more?
Check out these resources for more on canonical tags in SEO:
- Google Search Console Help: Use canonical URLs
- Google Search Console Help: Duplicate content
- Moz – Canonicalization