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"Explain It Like I'm Five..." Canonical Links


Picture of a young girl around 5 years old holding a retro telephone pointing up




Imagine you have lots of drawings, but some of them are very similar to each other. You decide to show your friend the best one and tell them:


"This is the drawing I really want you to see."


In the world of websites, sometimes there are pages that are very similar to each other too.


To help search engines like Google know which page is the "best" one that they should show to people searching, websites use something called a "canonical tag."


This tag is like telling Google:


"This is the page I really want you to pay attention to, even though I have other pages that are a lot like it."


It helps make sure people find the best page when they're searching for something online.

Examples of why you might use canonical link Product Variations


Imagine an online store has a product available in different sizes or colours. Each variation might have its own page, but they are essentially the same product. By using a canonical link, the store can tell search engines which version of the product page is the main one to show in search results.


  • Main page: https://www.example.com/product/blue-t-shirt

  • Variations: https://www.example.com/product/blue-t-shirt?size=S, https://www.example.com/product/blue-t-shirt?size=M

  • Canonical link on variations: <link rel="canonical" href="https://www.example.com/product/blue-t-shirt"/>



Print Versions of Web Pages


Some websites provide a printer-friendly version of their articles. These versions are great for printing but duplicate the original content. A canonical tag can be used on the print version to point back to the original web page.


  • Main article: https://www.example.com/news/article-12345

  • Print version: https://www.example.com/news/article-12345?print=true

  • Canonical link on print version: <link rel="canonical" href="https://www.example.com/news/article-12345"/>



Tracking Parameters in URLs


Sometimes, websites add special codes to their URLs to track where visitors come from or how they navigate the site. These URLs can create duplicates of the same page. By using a canonical link, the website can ensure that search engines focus on the main page without the extra parameters.

  • Main page: https://www.example.com/page

  • Tracked URL: https://www.example.com/page?source=newsletter1&campaign=winter

  • Canonical link on tracked URL: <link rel="canonical" href="https://www.example.com/page"/>


WWW vs. Non-WWW and HTTP vs. HTTPS


Websites might be accessible with or without "www" in their address, or through both HTTP and HTTPS. These variations can create duplicates for search engines. A canonical link helps specify the preferred version of the website's URL.

  • Preferred URL (HTTPS and WWW): https://www.example.com

  • Alternative URLs: http://www.example.com, https://example.com, http://example.com

  • Canonical link on all versions: <link rel="canonical" href="https://www.example.com"/>



Session IDs in URLs



Online stores and other websites sometimes add session IDs to URLs to track visitors' sessions. These IDs make URLs unique to each visitor, potentially creating many duplicates of the same page. A canonical tag can point all these URLs back to a single, standard page.


  • Main shopping page: https://www.example.com/store

  • Session-specific URL: https://www.example.com/store?session_id=12345

  • Canonical link on session-specific URL: <link rel="canonical" href="https://www.example.com/store"/>

These examples help manage and consolidate duplicate content, ensuring search engines index and rank the most relevant and authoritative page.




A light skinned black woman with an afro dressed in a yellow jump suit squatting down with a retro radio and throwing up a peace sign.


Overall, canonical links are a fundamental SEO tool for maintaining clean, efficient, and user-friendly navigation of a website, both for users and for search engines' crawlers.

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