Ever heard of canonical tags? If not, don’t sweat it.
They’ve been around since 2009, but they’re still a mystery to many.
These little snippets of HTML code were a joint invention by the big three – Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Their mission? To give website owners a simple solution to the headache of duplicate content. And guess what? They work like a charm… if you know how to use them, that is!
In this guide, we’re going to demystify canonical tags, with a special focus on their role in eCommerce. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What is a canonical tag?
- What a canonical tag looks like for eCommerce?
- Why are canonical tags important for eCommerce?
- Canonicalisation best practices for eCommerce
- How to implement canonical tags in Shopify
- How to implement canonical tags in Adobe Commerce (ex Magento 2)
- How to implement canonical tags in WooCommerce (WordPress)
- How to find and fix canonicalisation issues for eCommerce
- How to avoid common canonicalisation mistakes in eCommerce
What is a Canonical Tag?
So, what’s a canonical tag? In simple terms, it’s a way of telling search engines that a specific URL is the “master copy” of a page.
Think of it as a way of saying, “Hey Google, out of all these similar pages, this is the one.”
It’s a solution to the problem of duplicate content appearing on multiple URLs.
What a Canonical Tag Looks Like for eCommerce?
In the world of eCommerce SEO, canonical tags come in handy when the same product appears under different categories or URLs. Let’s say you’re selling a pair of snazzy sneakers that are listed under both “Footwear” and “Summer Collection”.
Without a canonical tag, search engines might see these as two separate pages with duplicate content. But with a canonical tag, you can tell search engines which of these product pages is the main one.
Here’s what a canonical tag might look like in your HTML:
In this example, even if there are multiple URLs where the product appears, the URL specified is considered the “canonical” or authoritative version.
It’s like saying, “This is the real deal, the rest are just imitations.”
Ever wondered why your eCommerce site isn’t ranking as well as you’d like?
Duplicate content could be your culprit.
Search engines, like our friend Google, aren’t fans of seeing the same content popping up under different URLs. It’s like being told the same joke over and over again – it gets a bit tiresome, doesn’t it?
In the world of eCommerce, duplicate content is a common issue.
Think about it.
Your products might appear in multiple categories, under different tags, or even in various languages. Each time, they’re likely to have a unique URL. To a search engine, these look like separate pages with identical content. Not ideal, right?
That’s where canonical tags come to the rescue. By using them, you’re giving search engines a nudge and saying, “Hey, this is the main page. The rest are just duplicates.” This helps search engines understand which page they should be focusing on and ranking. It’s a bit like putting a spotlight on your star product amidst a sea of similar items.
Canonicalisation: Best Practices for eCommerce
Now that we’ve established the importance of canonical tags let’s talk about how to use them effectively.
Here are some best practices for canonicalisation in eCommerce:
1. Choose Your Canonical URLs Wisely
The first step is to decide which URLs you want to be the canonical versions. These should be the most comprehensive and user-friendly versions of your product pages.
For instance, if you have a product page that’s accessible via both a ‘New Arrivals‘ category and a ‘Best Sellers‘ category, you might choose the ‘Best Sellers‘ URL as the canonical one, as it may be more relevant to users in the long run.
2. Be Consistent
Once you’ve chosen your canonical URLs, stick to them. Use these URLs consistently across your site, whether in your internal linking or your sitemap.
For example, if you’ve chosen ‘https://www.yourwebsite.com/best-sellers/your-product/‘ as your canonical URL, make sure all internal links to this product use this URL, not the ‘New Arrivals‘ version.
3. Avoid Canonical Chains
A canonical chain is when Page A points to Page B as the canonical version, but then Page B points to Page C, and so on. It’s like a never-ending game of tag.
Instead, each page should point directly to the final canonical version.
For example, if you have three URLs for the same product due to tracking parameters, don’t have URL A point to URL B, and URL B point to URL C. Instead, both URL A and URL B should point directly to URL C.
4. Use Absolute URLs
When specifying your canonical tags, use the absolute URL (including the http:// or https:// part) as recommended by Google’s John Mueller. This leaves no room for confusion.
For example, instead of using:
Each canonical page should also have a canonical tag pointing to itself.
It’s a bit like giving yourself a pat on the back and saying “Yes, I’m the main page.”
For example, the page at ‘https://www.yourwebsite.com/best-sellers/your-product/‘ should have a canonical tag that points to that same URL.
Remember, canonical tags are not a magic wand. They’re a tool to help search engines understand your site better. So, use them wisely, and you’ll be on your way to a more SEO-friendly eCommerce site.
Ready to start using canonical tags in Shopify? Brilliant! Shopify actually automatically generates canonical tags for your product pages, which is a bit of a lifesaver. But it’s still good to know where to find them and how they work.
To see the canonical tag for a product page, you’ll need to view the page’s HTML. Right-click on the page, select “View Page Source” or “Inspect Element“, and then search for ‘canonical‘.
You should see a line of code that looks something like this:
This is Shopify telling search engines, “This is the main page for this product, no matter where else it might appear on the site.”
If you want to customise these tags, you can use Shopify Apps like Canonical Tag URL Wizard ($39 one-time charge) or Yoast SEO for Shopify ($19/month). If you want to go ahead with Yoast SEO, here are the steps to change the canonical tag for a specific page:
- Log in to your Shopify website and go to the page for which you want to change the canonical URL.
- Scroll down to the Search engine listing preview section and click on Edit website SEO.
- Enter the full canonical URL, including http/s and www or non-www, in the Canonical URL field under the Advanced settings.
- Save your changes.
The last option you have (not recommended) is to dive into your site’s theme code and edit the template (.liquid). There is a great thread about it that gives you more information about how to do so.
Be careful though, it’s a bit like performing surgery – one wrong move and things can go pear-shaped! If you’re not comfortable with this, it might be best to get a developer involved.
Adobe Commerce, formerly known as Magento 2, also supports canonical tags. To set them up, you’ll need to navigate through the back end of your site.
Here’s a step-by-step guide:
- Log in to your Adobe Commerce admin panel.
- Go to ‘Stores’ > ‘Configuration’.
- Under the ‘Catalog’ tab, click on ‘Catalog’.
- Expand the ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ section.
- Here, you’ll find options to ‘Use Canonical Link Meta Tag For Categories’ and ‘Use Canonical Link Meta Tag For Products’. Set these to ‘Yes’.
- Click ‘Save Config’ to apply the changes.
And voila! Adobe Commerce will now automatically add canonical tags to your product and category pages.
But what about other pages on the site like the homepage, contact, blog and CMS pages?
WooCommerce, the popular eCommerce plugin for WordPress, doesn’t automatically add canonical tags. But don’t fret! There are several SEO plugins available that can handle this for you. One of the most popular is Yoast SEO.
Once you’ve installed and activated Yoast SEO, it will automatically add canonical tags to your pages. To check this, view the page source of a product page and search for ‘canonical‘.
You should see something like this:
If you need to set a canonical URL for a specific product manually, you can do this in the Yoast SEO meta box on the product editing screen.
How to Find and Fix Canonicalisation Issues for eCommerce
So, you’ve got your canonical tags set up. But how do you know if they’re working properly? Well, my friend, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and do a bit of detective work.
One of the best tools for this job is Google Search Console. It’s like a window into how Google sees your site. To check for canonicalisation issues, follow these steps:
- Log in to Google Search Console and select your website.
- Go to ‘Coverage’ to see if there are any ‘Duplicate without user-selected canonical’ errors (this means Google has found duplicate content on your site, but can’t find a canonical tag telling it which version to focus on)
- Click on the error to see the affected URLs.
Once you’ve identified the problem pages, you can go back to your website and fix the canonical tags. Remember, the canonical tag should point to the version of the page you want Google to focus on.
How to Avoid Common Canonicalisation Mistakes in eCommerce
Now that you’re a canonical tag pro, let’s talk about some common mistakes to avoid. After all, prevention is better than cure, right?
1. Avoid Mixed Signals
Make sure your canonical tags don’t contradict other signals on your site.
For example, if a page has a canonical tag pointing to Page A, but it’s also in the sitemap or has internal links pointing to Page B, search engines will get confused.
It’s like being given directions to two different places at the same time!
Also, if your Page A has a canonical tag to a Page B that has a noindex tag in it, Google might get confused. This practice should be avoided, as recommended by Google’s John Mueller.
2. Don't Canonicalise Paginated Pages to the First Page
If you have a product category with multiple pages, don’t set the canonical tag to the first page for all pages, as stated on Reddit by Google’s John Mueller. This could lead to the other pages being ignored by search engines.
Instead, each paginated page should have its own canonical tag.
3. Don't Rely Solely on Canonical Tags for Duplicate Content
Canonical tags are a great tool, but they’re not a silver bullet for duplicate content and sometimes they get ignored. It’s still important to manage your site structure and content to minimise duplication.
You should also use a 301 redirection to your preferred page if you think the duplicate content is not needed. This will ensure that Google will 100% index the page you want them to.
4. Don't Forget About Mobile
If you have separate desktop and mobile sites, make sure to set up canonical and alternate tags correctly between them.
The mobile page’s canonical tag should point to the desktop version, and the desktop page should have an ‘alternate‘ tag pointing to the mobile version.
5. Avoid Multiple Canonical Tags
Specify no more than one rel=canonical for a page. When more than one is specified, all rel=canonical links will be ignored.
Any benefit that a legitimate rel=canonical might have offered will be lost.
6. Place Canonical Tags Correctly
The rel=canonical link tag should only appear in the <head> of an HTML document. Additionally, to avoid HTML parsing issues, it’s good to include the rel=canonical as early as possible in the <head>.
When a rel=canonical designation is encountered in the <body>, it’s disregarded by search engines like Google.
Remember, canonical tags are a powerful tool in your SEO toolkit, but they need to be used correctly. Keep these best practices in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to a well-optimised eCommerce site.
Need a Hand with Your Canonical Tags?
Navigating the world of eCommerce SEO can feel a bit like wandering through a maze. There are so many twists and turns, and just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, you stumble upon another complex concept like canonical tags. But don’t worry, you’re not alone in this journey.
Whether you’re just starting out with your online store or looking to optimise an existing one, I’re here to help. With my 8-years experience in eCommerce SEO and Shopify SEO, I can guide you through the maze, ensuring your site is fully optimised, user-friendly, and most importantly, visible to your customers in search engine results.
From setting up canonical tags to crafting a comprehensive SEO strategy, I’ve got you covered. So why not save yourself the headache and let me take care of the SEO?
Get in touch today and let’s take your eCommerce site to the next level!