Feb 16 2009

Canonical… Don’t make any changes yet.

by admin

Google Yahoo and MSN are coming together again to enforce a new standard in search engine optimization.  People have been talking about canonical links and the importance of addressing them through cleaning up site architecture, navigation and permanent redirects.

Definition:

Canonical is quite simply the the duplication of URLs that link top the same page. Here is an example. All of the links below link to the same page of content. The Search engines could index each one of these links. So the question for the search engines have to “guess” which one is important and which one isn’t.

http://www.mckyton.com
http://mckyyon.com
http://www.mckyton.com/index.php
http://mckyton.com/index.php
http://mckyton.com/index.php?content=home

Up until it has been the responsibility of the search marketers to be aware of this issue and address it through careful crafting of website architecture and 301 redirects. Well it still is the responsibility of the Search engine marketer but now there is real unified guidance on how to address this issue through a new tag attribute  rel=”canonical”

 Here are the announcements from the search engines:

http://ysearchblog.com/2009/02/12/fighting-duplication-adding-more-arrows-to-your-quiver/
http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/02/specify-your-canonical.html
 http://blogs.msdn.com/webmaster/archive/2009/02/12/partnering-to-help-solve-duplicate-content-issues.aspx

So What?

Well the simple answer is that this will better organize your website information in the search engines. Whether this will actually improve your SEO/SEM efforts is the real question.

It has been my experience in the past that you are not always rewarded when playing by new rules right away. For example implementing clean URLs on an established site and seeing traffic decrease in the short term. When clean URLs and xml sitemaps were in their infancy you could actually damage money making search engine positions. This would occur because, quite frankly, no one really knows exactly how the search engines will  react to drastic/newly supported changes on your site. When your are very indexed in the search engines and playing the long-tail key-term game you don’t even know everywhere you show up in the search engines. In other words if you make important changes to the structure or architecture to your site you can inadvertently negatively affect your site positions. No matter how knowledgeable or experienced you are until the search engines publish the exact method of ranking, indexing, algorithm changes, etc… All of this is a crap-shoot. Their are general rules you stand by but the rest of SEO/SEM is a constant game of Plan Do Check Act  .  In other words lots of  elbow grease.

Ignorance is Bliss

It has been my experience that sloppy url architecture can actually be a blessing in disguise for small static websites. Essentially, accidental traffic from search engines. If you start following this new recommendation right now you may be negatively effected.

What you should do?

Wait. Organized links are good for search engines but not necessarily you…yet.Don’t make any drastic changes to your site or linking methods yet.  Just sit tight and wait until the benefits are proven. Wait until it is proven that organized, canonical URLs offer more benefit than your acciental traffic. Eventually it will happen. That sweet spot will open up where you can move to this method with out inadvertantly breaking anyhting and you won’t be too far behind the curve that you lose out from inaction