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August 20, 2008

URL Canonicalization – Should You Do It?

Canonicalization was a big topic a few years back,
which had concerned webmasters worried they were dividing
or diluting their Google PageRank. Should you still use
it or not? Read to find out…

URL Canonicalization – Should You Do It?

Canonicalization was a big topic a few years back, at
least in SEO circles, which had concerned webmasters
worried they were dividing or diluting their Google PageRank.
Was their site’s PR and Link Popularity being messed up by
the old ( vs. argument – search
engines were reading those URLs as separate domains although
they were pointing to the same site and content.

Basically, canonicalization was a somewhat strange word
attached to this discussion and process of directing all
your PR/links to one URL – most webmasters prefer the model, although it doesn’t matter as
long as you pick one and stick to it in all your link
building and site construction. Wikipedia uses the words
URL normalization as a way to “determine if two
syntactically different URLs are equivalent.”

Since, unfortunately, we sometimes don’t have control
over how other sites link back to us… many webmasters,
including myself, found they have a lot of backlinks and
PR pointing back to their site’s URL in many formats.
This was not only confusing to the search engines but
the main concern was PageRank dilution. Was this causing
a lower PR rating in that all-important Google Index and
ranking system?

Important question with serious outcomes for those
professional webmasters earning a full-time living
from the web where missteps can prove very costly.

Enter Matt Cutts stage left!

Most readers of this blog will know Matt Cutts is a
Google spokesperson on many SEO issues and canonicalization
is no different. He posted a very informative blog post
on the subject here: Matt Cutts SEO Advice On Url Canonicalization

In a nutshell, if I can be so bold as to summarize such
an enlightened one:

For those webmasters who want all their “ducks in a row”
they should use one style of writing their URL and consistently
sticking to it on all their pages and links. Now if you pick as your “preferred root page” – then you should
make sure you do a permanent (301) redirect for to
the preferred

Matt Cutts points you to Michael Nguyen for how to do redirects
in Apache: Cleaning-Up-Canonical-Urls-With-Redirects/

And to Beyond Ink for 301 redirect in several other platforms.

Matt Cutts also suggests if you want to be extra safe,
you should use the Google’s webmaster console in Webmaster’s
Tools to specify your preferred root page of your domain
either or

Check with the sites listed above to find the full instructions
on how to properly do “.htaccess redirects.” But a simple way
to do this is to add the following code to your site’s .htaccess file:

Options +FollowSymLinks
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^ [NC] RewriteRule ^(.*)$$1 [R=301,L]

You’re basically telling the search engines to “rewrite”
or “redirect” all your links to;
the [NC] tells them your url is not case sensitive.

Be extremely careful about changing your .htaccess file;
if you’re unsure of what you’re doing – get your webhost
to do it for you or leave it alone.

Mainly because there is a big question – should you use
canonicalization at all? Should you redirect your URLs
to one perferred

As a webmaster with many profitable Google Keywords,
I thought long and hard on this issue. You don’t want
to mess with something that’s working for you – why
change it?

It was also extremely puzzling why Matt Cutts, who
discussed this whole canonicalization issue in detail,
does NOT redirect his site: like he’s
suggesting other webmasters should do if they want to
“make sure that all their webmaster ducks are in a row.”

You can check this out for yourself by testing the
following URLs:

The the same when you type
it into your browser. No canonicalization.

Matt Cutts said he may use canonicalization at a later
date but is there really a need? If you do a Google search
you will find only 384 listings (not necessarily live
links) for “” and 13,000 for

Likewise, 453 for “”
and 45,400 for “”

Yahoo! gives different results but we won’t go there!

In any case, results for a PageRank check doesn’t show
any difference in URL formats: PR6 PR6 PR7 PR7

You should probably check your own site to see how many
links are pointing to the different URLs of your site.
If there’s a large number you might want to consider

For me it is not a matter of PageRank, but I have several high
ranked keywords in Google which are bouncing from the 1st and
2nd spots – most of my competitors are not using canonical URLs
so I want to test to see if using it will give my home pages a
slight advantage. No test, no glory.

I am gradually switching all my domains to “redirect” to the
www versions. There is no marked difference (one way or the
other) yet in my other keyword/PR rankings but it’s probably
too early to tell. Will keep you posted on the outcomes of
these URL canonicalizations…