The phrase "canonical tag" appears regularly in SEO discussions, possibly even more so when engaging with cross-functional partners like engineering, analytics, and so forth.
It may appear frightening at first glance, especially if you are new to the SEO industry.
But there's good news: in this tutorial, we'll go through what a canonical tag is, why it matters, what it looks like in the wild, where it goes, and other details.
What's a canonical anyway?
First and foremost, before we even construct a canonical tag, if you remember just one thing from this article, make it this: Canonical tags are not directives like the Robots.txt file.
This suggests that Google considers canonical tags to be a strong suggestion, but at the end of the day, it weighs several signals before deciding whether to honor them.
The HTML tag itself on a page is a canonical tag, but the "canonical" - that's a bit different.
There are two straightforward approaches to define canonical variations: user-defined canonical and Google-defined canonical.
- User-declared canonical: This is exactly what it sounds like; it is the canonical stated in the canonical tag.
- Google-declared canonical: This is the URL that Google has designated as the canonical.
If you have access to Google Search Console, you may use the URL Inspection Tool to see both of the canonical types listed above.
In an ideal world, they would match - but what if they don't?
How Google chooses a canonical URL
When Google crawls and indexes a site, it examines the page's principal content. (Hint: Don't mix content with only written stuff.)
During this scan, it will most likely locate comparable pages, and Google will then select the page that it believes is the finest representation of what the page is attempting to convey to users as the canonical.
Because, as previously said, a canonical tag is not a directive, Google examines additional signals in addition to the canonical tag itself - therefore be consistent!
Internal and external links are just two of the additional elements Google examines when determining a canonical tag.