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Link Header Tag to Fix Internal Website Duplication in Google, Yahoo, and MSN

Internal website duplication has been one of the more common issues with client SEO audit reports. Websites that are prone to identical, or very close to identical, content that can be found on one or multiple pages can benefit from the new <link rel="canonical"> tag to help solve duplication problems. Here's a quick example of how this new tag works.

Let's say you have an ecommerce website with sorting capabilities for product sizes, colors, etc. The same content might appear on these three different URLs:

  • 123example.com/products?itemid=bluewidget
  • 123example.com/products?itemid=bluewidget&sort=123
  • 123example.com/products/bluewidget

Now, you can simply add the <link rel="canonical"> tag to specify your preferred version such as:

<link rel="canonical" href="hxxp://www.123example.com/products/bluewidget" />. You would place this inside the <head> section of all of the duplicate content URLs, such as:

  • 123example.com/products?itemid=bluewidget; and
  • 123example.com/products?itemid=bluewidget&sort=123

Google will understand that the duplicates all refer to only the canonical URL: 123example.com/products/bluewidget. Further, any additional URL properties, such as PageRank and related values, are transferred as well.

Prior to this tag the only real way to ensure that internal duplication problems are not occurring within your website was to add a META noindex, nofollow or noindex, follow to possible duplicated pages.

You can read more about implementing the <link> tag at Yahoo, Google, and MSN. If you're using Drupal, WordPress, or Magento as your CMS, you can also check out Joost de Valk's page on canonical links. He has included a plugin or module to add the <links> tag within your Drupal, WP, or Magento website.


Anonymous's picture

Joomla Development (not verified)

February 27th, 2009

very intresting article some thing to take for our SEO team

Anonymous's picture

BenSky (not verified)

March 8th, 2009

I had recently been wondering about this, would this work for pages that are masked using .htaccess too?

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Richard Cummings (not verified)

March 17th, 2009

This is a great tag for online store. For my blogs, I often use the features of the SEO All In One Plugin which also allow you to prevent duplicate content. Great info. Thanks, Richard

Anonymous's picture

Rahul (not verified)

March 21st, 2009

Hey Brian,

Thanks for the wonderful information. This would surely save me some sleepless nights in trying to figure out what to with the problem you have pointed out here :)

But what are your thoughts on URL Mode Re-writing / 301 Redirection. Cause, I faced a similar problem with one of my projects and we used the above two techniques to over come it.

The solution provided by you is surely much more simple to understand and implement and addresses the reasons for which we used both the above techniques. But still wanted to know your thoughts on the above.

Anonymous's picture

Rahul (not verified)

March 21st, 2009

Just twitted about this post :) ..

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Richard (not verified)

April 16th, 2009

permanent solution can be achieved by changing the secure pages linking strategy to “Absolute Referencing” and/or implement a meta robots tag to nofollow and noindex the secure pages in question.

Anonymous's picture

Iphone battery (not verified)

May 26th, 2009

Hi.. I had experience real problems in ecommerce sites having almost similar content in more than one pages now I feel with this tag one can control and tell Google that they are duplicate and only index one of them.. thanks for the interesting post

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Randy (not verified)

June 9th, 2009

I have posted a lot of landing pages for our site for each city and state. I have a template they are all pulled from in an xslt format. I am going to have to play with this one. Thanks for the awesome post!

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Anonymous (not verified)

July 6th, 2009

This is great as when I have a site that needs optimising for many areas I build area pages which is your main key words mixed with the different arrears, you kind of need to write the same script over and over with of slight variations in text to avoid duplicate content.

Anonymous's picture

SpiderLoop (not verified)

August 10th, 2009

Actually ran across this post accidently but it completely reminded me about this tag and several plans I had for it. Thanks for the reminder.

Anonymous's picture

Natalya (not verified)

September 17th, 2009

I wonder if after anybody would be willing to share of real-life experiences after having implemented the rel="canonical" tag for some weeks...

Does it help/hurt?

Has your indexed content changed?

Do the engines adhere to the tag?

Anonymous's picture

seo25 (not verified)

October 14th, 2009

Without canonical tag, ppl had to use complicated 301 redirects..I think its a great addition to webmaster world...thanks for the nice info..keep posting.

Anonymous's picture

Benard (not verified)

November 18th, 2009

Thanks dude, it was really helpful for ASP websites where we can't directly have an .htaccess file.

Anonymous's picture

Rutujacreation (not verified)

September 15th, 2011

This is a great tag for online store. For my blogs, I often use the features of the SEO All In One Plugin which also allow you to prevent duplicate content. Great info. Thanks, Richard