Q and A: Do I need to use rel=canonical to tell Google my preferred domain?

QuestionHello Kalena

I’ve been a reader of your blog for many years but have never submitted a question. Until now!

With Google’s recent changes to the algorithm, we have noticed a drop in traffic and rankings for our site (we sell ready-made crafting kits for kids). I suspect it might be related to duplicate content as I’ve been reading how Google will penalize sites that can be loaded with www and also without www. Our site loads for both addresses and I’m worried this means we have been penalized.

I also read that you can fix this issue by using coding called rel=canonical or something like that? I have looked into this briefly, but to be honest, although I’m responsible for the content of our site, I’m a sales and marketing person, not a programmer and I don’t think I have the coding knowledge to use this tool.

Is there a more simple way I can remove the duplicate pages or have our site load just with the www? Or will I need to pay our original web designers to fix this?

Thanks for any advice

Sally

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Hello Sally

Sorry to hear of your traffic drop, but I highly doubt it is due to your site loading for both www and non-www versions of your domain. The algorithm changes over the past 18 months have been related to more complex issues than domain versions.

Even if Google has indexed both versions of your domain, the algorithm is almost always able to distinguish content that loads on both as one and the same. In this situation, Google will usually choose one version and consistently show that version in the search results.

But if you want to instruct Google which version to use in the search results, you can do this from within your Webmaster Tools account by setting the Preferred Domain (sometimes this is referred to as the canonical domain). The Preferred Domain tool enables you to tell Google if you’d like URLs from your site crawled and indexed using the www version of the domain (http://www.example.com) or the non-www version of the domain (http://example.com).

Simply click on the gear icon at the top right when viewing your Webmaster Tools dashboard and then choose *Site Settings* and the Preferred Domain option will come up as per the image here:

Setting-Preferred-Domain-Screenshot
The recommended use of rel=canonical is on a page by page basis, to indicate to Google which version of a page URL to use, if there are several URLs leading to the same page content.

For example, imagine if these URLs all led to the same page content:

1) http://www.blog.com/blue-suede-shoes/
2) http://www.blog.com/blue-suede-shoes&id=72
3) http://www.blog.com/?p=12890

Now imagine that you only wanted 1) to be shown in Google search results. You could achieve this by adding the rel=canonical link element to the < head > tag of each of those pages, specifying http://www.blog.com/blue-suede-shoes/ as the preferred URL.

However, in your situation, the easiest thing would be to use the Preferred Domain tool in Webmaster Tools.

Hope this helps!

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SMX Sydney 2012 – Anne Kennedy – Duplication, syndication & all that other mess

This is a summary of Anne Kennedy’s presentation at Search Marketing Expo / Online Marketer Conference held in Sydney 1-2 May 2012.Anne Kennedy at SMX Sydney 2012

Anne Kennedy has co-authored the first book on international SEO and PPC, called Global Search Engine Marketing. Anne provides search engine consulting to hundreds of companies worldwide and formed an international online marketing consortium with Nordic eMarketing in Reykjavik, London, Stockholm, Rome and Beijing.

Duplicate content happens, says Anne. URL duplication is a big one. This is where you see several different versions of the same page being indexed and/or linked to. For example:

- http://www.site.com
- http://site.com
- http://www.site.com/index.shtml
- http://iste.com/index.shtml

and so on.

You should always use the Rel=canonical tag to lose the canonical versions of pages and also let Google know in Webmaster Tools which version of your pages to index.

Anne says to watch your crawl budget. Your crawl budget is the percentage of your site that Googlebot will crawl. Googlebot rarely crawls your entire site, so keep your low quality pages out of the index by excluding them from your sitemap and blocking them using robots.txt.

Common Duplication Causes

A very common duplicate content mistake is to have printer-friendly versions of your content. Whatever you do, lose the print friendly versions from your sitemap!

Use 301 redirects on your pages, but only when necessary because not all link value will transfer to your replacement pages. PageRank will not transfer 100 percent over to pages if you 301 redirect them – keep that in mind.

Think about using a separate XML feed for your product pages, says Anne. Separate out your e-commerce or product-specific pages from your main sitemap and create a sitemap just for them. Upload the two sitemaps separately in your Google Webmaster Tools account.

Content syndication and site scraping can cause duplicate content headaches. If you are an article syndicator or blogger, make sure you link back to the original article with the title in the anchor text within the article, not the footer, because some syndications sites strip links out of footers. Require syndicators to use the canonical url version or require a no index (exclusion) of the article link in their robots.txt. This will ensure Google finds the original article more easily.

Another trick is to give syndicators a logo or image to go with the article that contains a link to your article and article title in the alt tag of the logo/image. Syndicators will often miss those.

Be sure to update your XML sitemap immediately whenever you publish a new article or blog post – you can use WordPress plugins to update your sitemap automatically for this.

If your article is out of date or no longer accurate and you want it gone from the SERPs for good, use a 410 code to tell Google the article is GONE. This is a more permanent solution than 404.

Dont put your international content on your English TLD. If you want your content to rank well in a particular international market, you should put the content on a related TLD e.g. a German language site should site on site.de or at the very least, de.site.com. Your international content will rank better in regional markets if you have links pointing to it from related TLDs e.g. site.de will rank better in Google.de if it has plenty of .de sites linking to it.

And finally – dont leave it up to the bots! Take control of your content.

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SMX Sydney 2010: Duplicate Content

Up now is Todd Friersen of Position Tech to talk about duplicate content.Todd Frierson

Todd is a *reformed* black hat spammer. Duplicate content was the standard practice back in those days when he used to do SEO for viagra and other pharma web sites. Build 100 websites and slap up duplicate content.

Todd makes the point that duplicate content can happen easily, even with your home page. Showed 5 or 6 examples of homepage and web server configuration issues. Google *may* decide on the right version of the home page, but you should really tell them which one if you can.

Rel=canonical / 301 redirect = your friend to solve this issue

Faceted Navigation

- products exist in many categories e.g. Tigerproducts.com uses it, Dell uses it

- categories are flexible and unordered

- results are in crazy amounts of duplicate content

- problem. Web site ends up with 200K products but 4 million URLs

No need to do worry, Todd says. Create a directory structure that encourages Googlebot to come in via a specific way, but block all the dupe pages out of Google’s index.

Regional Domains

- AU, US, CA, UK etc.

- country.example.com

- example.com/country

- example.com/index.htm?lang=en

- country specific TLDs

This is easy to resolve, says Todd. You can use Rel=canonical or simply login to GG Webmaster Tools and tell Google what country your domain, sub-domain, or folder is associated with. Do this!

Multiple Sites and Microsites

- Keyword Domains. Bleurgh

- Why are you doing this?

- Stop it. Stop it now.

- Consolidate your sites and your effort (and this will concentrate all your link popularity to one site as well).

- Actually, Bing likes microsites. If you have to do it, do it for Bing. They love it.

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Q and A: Will my Foreign Language site be considered Duplicate Content?

Question

Dear Kalena,

We have a website written in English that we like. However, it cannot be seen in China. In order to generate Chinese business, we will have to write a new website, and have it hosted by a Chinese hosting company.

The site will be written in Chinese characters. The layout of the site will be different, as well as the pictures, picture description and alt tags. It will also be done on a template, as is our first website. However, we really do like what the English website content says. We used Google translator on the content of our site, and discovered it gave a very accurate translation of the English site. We would like to use this translation, with a few modification, but really do not want to have a problem with duplicate content on Google. Our intent is just to do business in the Chinese market. Any advice you can give us will be most appreciated.

Best regards, Tony

Hi Tony,

Duplicate content is certainly an issue that website owners need to take into consideration when creating their sites.  Whether content is sourced from third parties (which may often be the case for product based sites), or re-used from another of your own sites (which you have effectively done) care needs to be taken.

There are some specific circumstances where duplicate content will not be a problem – and you have touched upon two of them in your question.

Translated Content

Even though 2 separate pages may be saying exactly the same thing, and the content is effectively “the same”, a Chinese language page, and an English language page will not be considered duplicate content by Search Engines – even if they are on the same domain and hosted on the same server.

As you are probably aware, automatic translation tools are notoriously unreliable, and although they can often give a translation which provides a reasonable understanding of the original content, I’ve rarely seen a perfect translation – some manual adjustment will almost certainly be necessary.  I suggest that you have the content reviewed and updated by a native Chinese speaker before you include it on your Chinese site.


Country Specific Domains / Hosting

It’s a surprisingly little known fact that sites with different domains and hosted in different countries, are unlikely to incur duplicate content penalties – even though they may contain the same content.  At SMX Sydney last year – this was confirmed by both Google and Microsoft.

So even if your Chinese hosted site with a Chinese specific domain was in English, you would be unlikely to encounter any duplicate content issues.

So, in the circumstances that you describe – i.e. a translated site, with a separate domain and hosted in a separate country, you will be quite safe and will not incur any duplicate content penalties.

Andy Henderson
Ireckon Web Marketing

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Q and A: Why aren’t our franchisee websites being found in search results?

Question

Hi Kalena,

I have just encountered something I am not sure about and I really need some advice on this. The site I am working on has the following issue;

It is a business with 100 franchises. The franchisees are complaining they do not come up in any searches. I have checked it and they don’t. Not even when you type in their exact URL into the search engine.

The URL structure for the business’s franchises work like this;
www.clientsite.com/studio/location (actual URL provided)

A related problem may be that there are 3 separate XML sitemaps:
1) www.clientsite.com/sitemap/sitemap.xml
2) www.clientsite.com/sitemap/location(Alpha)sitemap.xml
3) www.clientsite.com/sitemap/location(postcodes)sitemap.xml

The first is their MAIN sitemap. The other two are sitemaps for all the locations of their franchises (100 in total) These locations and their URLS are not included in the MAIN sitemap. Is having multiple sitemaps detrimental to the SEO.?

Yen

Hi Yen,

You may be surprised, but this is a VERY common issue for franchise websites that are based on a template structure, and you’ll realise that the reason the franchisee pages are not being found in search results is actually pretty simple… But first, I’ll address your sitemap query.

Multiple Sitemaps

Using multiple sitemaps is not the problem here.  If you do a search for  site:clientsite.com in Google you will see that the pages in question are actually indexed – which means that the search engines have found and crawled them.

I think though that it is probably unnecessary for your site (with just a couple of thousand pages) to have multiple sitemaps.  Multiple sitemaps are recommended (and in fact required) for very large sites, but there is a specific protocol involving a sitemaps index file (that you do not seem to be using).  You can find out more about it, with clear instructions and examples on how to correctly use sitemaps at sitemaps.org.

So the issue with your site is not indexing – it is ranking.  You don’t specify what search queries you would hope/expect the pages to be found for, but for all the examples I tried, the franchisees pages did come up for a query of their business name itself – which is more evidence that the pages are indexed OK.  From what I could see, all your franchisees seem to have a single page  of content – based on a standard template, with just the business name and contact details changed.  So in effect each franchisees page is one of 100 essentially “identical” pages on the site.

Website Templates

This is a clear issue of duplicate content which is very common for franchise sites based upon standard templates (which provide templated content rather than just the structure or design).  In this instance, each franchisee has just a single page within the same root domain (1 of 100 almost identical pages), with relatively little keyword rich content, so I am not surprised (and neither should you be) that it does not rank at all for general keyword phrases.  In fact if each franchisee had their own individual domains, with multiple pages of optimised keyword rich content – if they were based on the same template, they still would not rank any better.

I get asked about this type of issue a lot.  Excited and enthusiastic new franchisees (and multi level marketers) have setup their website using a template provided by “the business” and pretty soon begin to wonder why the eagerly anticipated enquiries and sales aren’t flooding in from their websites.

Quality, Keyword Rich, Unique Content

One of the very first things that most SEOs learn is that to get good rankings you need quality, keyword rich and UNIQUE content.  Using a templated approach is clearly NOT a strategy you should follow to get unique content.  For a graphic example try this search query : “incalculable numbers of real people”  – which is snippet of text taken from a website template for a well known international “We are Not Multi Level Marketing” organisation (probably not the one you are thinking of).

The above, fairly specific, and you might expect, “unique” query returns over 40,000 results. Is it any wonder that most of these sites will never be found through organic search?

That’s not to say that there is no value in these templated systems – many have been setup to very cleverly guide people through to the signup process – but if you “own” one of these sites you will need to use other methods to get traffic to it (PPC, Advertising, etc) and not rely on organic search traffic.

So Yen,  back to your question… If your franchisees want to be found for generic keyword searches, I suggest that they register their own domains, and create their own unique, keyword rich content rather than depending on the corporate “template”.

Andy Henderson
WebConsulting

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