Redirect giving you the old one two? Tips on solving the 301 and rel=”canonical” debacle

301-redirectAt some points in your work with web page redirection, it can feel that you are simply dodging bombs and at your luck will eventually run out. Enter in the 301 redirect, and canonical options. These have been around for years, and yet throughout the industry they continue to bring debate and stir up questions on how to best approach them.

In this article we will be looking at the two main methods to manage both the 301 redirect, as well the canonical attribute. Naturally, we will show you how to better the duplicate content issues, sustain your rankings and lastly how to improve the all important user experience.

Before we dive in, lets make sure we are all on the same page with what the difference between 301 redirects and canonical redirects. In laymen terms:

  • a 301 redirect communicates to search engines that this page is no longer here, and has permanently moved to a new page. Please remove it from your index and pass credit to the new page.
  • a canonical redirect communicates to the search engine that, I have multiple versions of this page, but please only index this version. People can see the other versions, but please do not put them in your index thanks!

301 Redirects

We have all seen the standard 301 HTTP status code that is mean to mange the complete and permanent redirection of page. Once this is established, in theory you will eventually pass the majority of the original page’s link authority relevance as well as its ranking power to the page that you are redirecting to. A 301 redirect informs both the user and Google of this change. However, in realty we know that this can be trying process in which success is measured by increments rather than full authority all at once.

Common issues with the 301

The first issue you may face is that it takes a long time, and I mean you are going to have to take a few turns of the calendar until some search engines will attribute authority to the redirected page. Naturally, this depends on how often your page is crawled by the search engines, but the delay does mean that if the change is on a tight deadline, a 301 is not your best tool.

Another issue is on some pages it is not possible to implement HTTP status codes. The reasons for this are many, including not having FTP access or your web designer told you this is not going to work. It all boils down to if you do not have the ability to have server-side access, the 301 is not going to work, simple as that.

Lastly, 301’s often are used incorrectly, and when this happens it undermines your own relevancy. A 301 is not to be used to redirect all pages during a website shift, this will actual cause a high bounce rate, and your client will simply not be able to get anywhere near the site.

However, when it comes down to a simple page redirect, the 301 is still the king of the court, even with its very complex issues.

When to Use a 301

  • As default
  • When a page has been permanently moved or replaced
  • Domains that are permanently moved during a re-branding or acquisition
  • 404 pages, as well as expired content

rel=Canonical Attribute

To start off, the rel=”canonical” attribute is not a substitute for a 301 redirect, it is merely a tool that is utilized by the search engines. This is because it is a tool when a web page has duplicate content but both pages need to stay active, and is used to avoid the punishment by search engine crawlers for near identical content.

This means that if you have a page with the same content, but that have different URL’s that have a product listed by size, and the other by weight. When Google goes to index both, it will pick which one is more relevant to the search, rather than the actual page that the person is looking for. This can be avoided by simply placing a rel=”canonical” and picking which page will always come back on the search. This lets Google know you realize that there is similar content, but you would prefer the size page to be relevant for instance.

Common Issues with Canonical

The biggest issue with rel=”canonical” is the fact that it is so commonly misused, by industry professionals and amateurs alike. If you are looking to redirect, you really need to go another route. This is only to be used if you have the issue of duplicate content, and that is it.

Yet another issue is when there is a misuse of the tag on multiple pages. When you use this tag, it is telling Google that the first page is what is relevant, while the rest of the content is a duplicate. This might not be your intention, and will actually have the opposite effect than desired as your page will lose visibility. Plus, even if you have made the level of relevance and authority for specific searches, these pages will not show up due to this command. Simply put, unless there is duplicate content do not be lazy and look for other options.

When to use Canonical

  • When 301’s cannot be implemented, or when a time restraint is on the project
  • Duplicate content, and looking to keep both pages live at the same time
  • Dynamic pages that have multiple URL’s on the same page
  • Cross-domain issues when both sites are very similar but are needing to be kept alive

Summary

Although redirect options can first look to be intimidating, they are in fact not. Both of these options will in fact work, but their implementation are for very different circumstances. 301 is still the dominant form and for good reason, however if you are concerned about duplicate content or speed the choice is simply to utilize rel=”canonical.

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