Posted to Ben Finklea's blog on February 23rd, 2009

How To Talk To Your Search Engine

In life, communicate is key. You need to have good communication in friendships and relationships of all kinds. Whether it be with a life partner or the guy you share an office with, it is very important to communicate in order to maintain good balance and keep your quarters out of the pet peeve change jar. That’s your feel good tip of the day. With that being said, digital communication and technology are no difference. It is very important to have good communications between online search engines and your website. In general, search engines don’t like to find the same content on several pages. Their spiders get irritated and confused and your web site might end up like a certain Sting-wielding hobbit. If you have several versions of the same page or many pages with the same content, you should tell the search engines about it with a canonical tag. That way the spiders aren’t confused while trying to determine what is the “primary” page, or most important version, for people to link to first.

A canonical tag is a new feature that you can add to specify your preferred version of a URL found on your web site. Add this tag to all versions of the same content inside the targeted pages' code. The canonical tag only works for pages on the same domain and across subdomains, but not across domains. If you want to migrate to a different domain, permanent 301 redirects are most appropriate for this action. This tag also won’t necessarily increase your rankings if you are using it for an article that is published on various sites and you aren’t in complete control over all of their locations. In that case, search engines will determine their preference based on publication dates and the authority of the sites in question.

The new canonical tag has been approved and agreed to by “the big three”, as they are called at many cocktail parties. Google says that although they are not obligated to follow your canonical tag, they will take it very seriously. Yahoo says they will treat the tag similarly to a 301 direct, in terms of transferring link references and other effects to the canonical form of the page. The third had no comment. Even with digital technology and communications, there are still arguments. Everyone has their own opinion about how things should and will be done. Fortunately for the big three, their spiders are very big and influential. However, if you talk nice to them, they will make it worth your while.

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