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Is Google Obeying Your Canonical Tag Directives?

May 21st, 2009 | | Advanced SEO Tips, Nuts & Bolts of Optimization

So I was cruising through my Twitter feed this morning and ran across links to Stephan Spencer’s latest blog post.  Glad I clicked through, too.  Stephan posits that Google isn’t 100% up-to-speed in following or is simply not obeying the new canonical tag directives.  In a nutshell:

The lesson here: I wouldn’t bet my business on the canonical tag being obeyed by Google.

In his post, Stephan references a specific example of Google’s “disobedience.”  The site in question has instituted the canonical tag, but the links found in Google’s index are not in line with those instructions.  Further proof lies in the cached date for the referenced pages.  The canonical tags have been in place for over 2 months, and I agree with Stephan that this is more than enough time for Google to catch up!

So, what can we take from this information?  The canonical tag directive was publicly agreed upon by Google, Yahoo! and MSN.  By that token, it should be assumed that the directive will be followed.  But what if Stephan is right, and Google is ignoring it?  Well, stick with 301 redirects.

301s are certainly a more permanent solution, and in some cases can require more hands-on (server-side) work.  But 301s are a more tested solution for telling search engines (and more often, users) what the right/canonical version of your content is.  Stephan recommends the same in his post.  To be perfectly honest, since the new canonical tag was announced in February, I have used it.  But that never kept me from implementing 301 redirects, too.  Just to be safe.  Old habits die hard, I guess.

What has been your experience with the new canonical tag and it’s affect on your indexation with Google?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

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    We have a website that creates urls like this: http://www.domain.com/page.php?id=1236 and we can also give a name for these pages and then the url becomes: http://www.domain.com/page.php?id=page-name.

    Because this means that for every page there are two urls, we have implemented the canonical tag so the page-name version gets preference. All I can say that for us it has done wonders! All the page-name versions of the pages are neatly indexed and we do not have any numeric id links showing up in the search results.

    I guess the effectiveness of the canonical tag depends on its usage and our situation seems to be a perfect usage scenario for it.