Domain Canonicalization: Good for A Quick Boost in Link Popularity
It’s a hard word to pronounce and a hard concept to wrap your arms around, but an important one worth understanding. With little effort you can immediately boost your PageRank and link popularity- thereby increasing your rankings. According to Google, “Canonicalization is the process of picking the best URL when there are several choices, and it usually refers to home pages.” Even though most people would consider the following URLs to be the same, they are actually different.
Even though most people type in URLs like example.com, they are often redirected to one of the above examples. Let’s take a look; Coca Cola is a large brand with worldwide recognition so we’ll use them as an example. A good guess at their URL would be something along the lines of cocacola.com, but if you type that into your browser you’ll see that you are redirected to http://www.coca-cola.com/index.jsp. The same goes for coke.com, but unless you’re looking at the navigation bar, you wouldn’t notice this.
Most people tend to favor using www and have redirects set up for example.com to redirect to www.example.com. Try typing blinemarketing.com in to your browser, see how you’re redirected to the www.blinemarketing.com URL? Originally, the www was used to differentiate between a private network and a public website. Often times the www domain would resolve to different content from the sans-www domain. Although often times both are the same website, it is not required that they are. The best way to test which one you want to use is to go to Yahoo Site Explorer and see which url has more ‘inlinks’ or back links pointing to it. The URL with the most back links should be the ‘canonical’ or chosen main URL.
To make sure that Google is finding the URL you prefer, you should be using that specific one consistently and setting the preferred domain in Google’s webmaster Central. You can set your preferred main domain. Simply go into site configuration, settings and then preferred domain then select which option you want. Here’s how Google says they handle the domain going forward:
“Once you tell us your preferred domain name, we use that information for all future crawls of your site and indexing refreshes. For instance, if you specify your preferred domain as http://www.example.com and we find a link to your site that is formatted as http://example.com, we follow that link as http://www.example.com instead. In addition, we’ll take your preference into account when displaying the URLs. If you don’t specify a preferred domain, we may treat the www and non-www versions of the domain as separate references to separate pages.”
All of your links should point to the same URL, either with or without “www” and format your internal linking structure accordingly. When link building, use the same URL for all of your hyperlinks. You’ll also want to make sure that the URL you don’t want to be using has a permanent 301 redirect that points to the one you do want. The 301 redirects both users and robots to the correct URL. So if your preference were http://www.example.com, then http://example.com would have the redirect. This will help Google understand which URL should be canonical. Remember that any pages that have moved should also have permanent redirects. This way, if visitors have bookmarked pages on your site that have moved, they will be redirected to the new URL. It helps prevent error pages and confusion, bettering your website’s usability.
One thing you want to be careful of is that if you prefer www.example.com you don’t use a URL removal tool to get rid of example.com because you run the risk of your entire domain being removed.