What Are Canonical Tags?

If you’re looking to level up your search engine ranking, canonical tags are a must-know tool. You may be wondering what canonical tags do or why they’re important. Canonical tags are the cherry on top of your ranking strategy. They are essentially an effective way to make sure your web pages are not duplications.

Why is it important your webpage isn’t similar to the competition or a duplicate canonical tag? Let’s break it down. Canonical tags are a way search engines recognize URLs concerning their master pages. By having a good canonical tag, you can prevent other web pages from ranking similarly to yours. A duplicated URL among competitive web pages could be what’s holding your webpage back from being the top suggestion for your topic. 

Don’t let your hard work go to waste! Avoid sabotaging your hard work by dismissing canonical tags. Today we’re going into detail about what canonical tags vs canonical URLs are and how to use both properly.


Canonical Definition

Search engines are a great tool when utilized to maximum ability. Canonical tags are in the URL that links to your webpage. Most competitive sites have similar URLs. This is a big problem for competitive web pages.

These tags are often referred to as “rel=canonical” because that’s how it’s identified in coding. Using this tag prevents duplicates of your webpage’s URL.

Canonical Tags vs Canonical URL

Now that we’ve addressed what a canonical tag is in code: “rel=canonical”, let’s talk about how it is different from canonical URLs.

The terms are often used interchangeably. Here’s why:

Canonical tags (rel=canonical) are placed within URL links. Links with these tags are considered canonical URLs or canonical links. Canonical URLs create the launch to your master web page directly. In essence, canonical URLs and canonical links are the same things. Tricky, right?

Why Is It Important to Know the Difference?

You want to be the preferred webpage among thousands of competing sites. In brief, Google states that the canonical URL used is the webpage the engine finds most representative of duplicate pages. Duplicate URLs on Google are competitive in comparison to canonicalized webpages. If there is a duplicate web page, using canonical tags could boost your ranking. 

Overall, canonical tags and URLs are technical SEO tools. Technical SEO is the icing on the cake and is not to be mistaken for the cake itself. The cake is the basics of SEO that brings authority to your site. Regardless of if you use a canonical URL compared to another similar webpage also using a canonical URL, the one that has better authority will be ranked highest.

canonical tag

Why Do Duplicate Web Page URLs Exist?

No one wants a duplicate webpage, but they do exist. Duplicate web pages exist due to content management systems programming when the programs create launch URLs for new web pages. Similar or “duplicate” web pages can look identical. All versions launch users to the master webpage. How are just a few examples of duplicate web page URLs:

  • http://www.yourwebsite.com/product-a/
  • https://www.yourwebsite.com/product-a/
  • https://www.yourwebsite.com/product-a
  • https://www.yourwebsite.com/product-A/

Notice in these few examples how similar URLs can be, yet they’re all different launching URLs. It’s extremely useful to use canonical tags for e-commerce businesses to rank. Here are a few reasons why there are variations that are useful to content management systems:

  • Products need to be available on HTTP:// and HTTPS://
  • Products can be recognized in lowercase and uppercase
  • URL is a subdomain to fit mobile versions 
  • Products are saved with and without direct product names

Canonical URLs are unique and set web pages apart from all their duplicates that the competition also has. Something to keep in mind is Google likes to differentiate URLs when picking top-ranking web pages. The less competition there is, the higher your webpage is going to be visible.

How Do I Know My Page is Canonicalized?

This is a great question! Meta tags are where you can identify the code needed to create a canonical URL. Sites can be generally canonicalized with a canonical tag without being optimized. Now that we have a general understanding of duplicate pages and why they exist, let’s discuss how to canonicalize and optimize your site! 

The general understanding of canonicalization is that the meta tags contain code to launch aspects of a webpage. This code contains a segment of code that when inserted with the canonical tag (rel=canonical), canonicalize your site. However, just because a meta description has a canonical tag doesn’t mean it is fully optimized. Yes, it is confusing! Below is more information on how you can fully optimize your canonical URL yourself!

what are canonical tags

Best Practices

The following are the best tactics to use when first starting out:

  • Only specify one canonical URL per webpage: Always make sure your header and URLs include one tag. Otherwise, all your other tags will be ignored by the algorithm. Google only recognizes one canonical tag in a URL.
  • Use Absolute URLs: Absolute canonical URLs are essential. Below is an example of how to make your canonical tag an absolute URL:

  Before: link< rel= “canonical” href= “https://page-a/” / >

 After: link< rel=”canonical hrefs= “https://www.yourwebsite.com/page-a/” / >

  • Use self-referencing canonical tags: Always make sure your tags and URLs reference your webpage for clarity.
  • Setting canonicals in sitemaps: Google doesn’t set canonicals as sitemaps. Instead, sitemaps are encouraged by Google to create canonical tags for sites. Canonical tags are preferred in the Google algorithm

Mistakes to Avoid

When testing out your first canonical tag, you want to avoid the following mistakes. A bad tag can hurt the hard work you put into your webpage and your whole site. Here are the following mistakes to avoid:

  • Avoid 301 redirects: Be conscious that your canonicalized link isn’t redirecting. You want a clean and direct link to your master page. This clean direct link to your master webpage also helps to shorten page loading time! 
  • Setting multiple canonical tags: Be careful to not use more than one canonical tag. It should be relevant to your page and specific. Only one canonical tag should be within the meta tag of: <head>. More than one tag can make your webpage lose domain authority or confuse the algorithm.

Auditing Canonical Tags

  • No redirects with HTTP to HTTPS: If your site can be accessed on both HTTP and HTTPS, you will have a flagged audit for having duplicate content. You want to have no redirects with your URL. You can access the 301 redirects to fix this issue.
  • Pages having multiple canonical URLs: You should remove duplicate tags. Pages with multiple canonical URLs aren’t specified and will not be optimized.
  • Broken or incomplete canonical URLs: It is necessary to have a working canonical URL. There’s no point in optimizing your site if the canonical URL is broken. If that is the case, the page often redirects to a site that doesn’t exist. This is easily fixable by replacing code with a working tag.
  • Internal links: A secondary technical SEO tool is search engines prefer HTTPS over HTTP. Include only HTTPS links within your article and URL links.

These are just a couple of tactics to use when you are self-auditing your website. Think of it as a quick checklist! If you can confidently say your canonical tag is working without redirects, then you’ve aced it!

canonical definition

Final Tips

We hope you feel like a growing expert on technical SEO tools like canonical tags that we discussed today. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. We can relate that technical SEO mechanics can be tricky. We highly recommend consulting with an SEO agency about what the next best step is. Keep researching and keep in contact with an agency. Agency assistance is the most assured guarantee for smooth sailing SEO!


  • Are canonical tags important for SEO?
  • What are canonical tags?
  • What is a canonical URL?
  • How can you check canonicalization?
  • What are best practices for canonical tags?

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