How to Get More Search Traffic By Using the Canonical Tag

A few years ago, Google made waves in the SEO world by introducing the canonical tag. It was conceived as a way to tell crawlers that pages with this tag are copies of an original, canonical source. You can therefore ensure that search engines give credit to the content’s original source without actually redirecting visitors to a different website. The canonical tag should be placed in your HTML header next to the title attribute and meta description tags. For example, if I wanted to post a duplicate of this blog post on a different domain, I’d add the canonical tag:

<link rel="canonical" href="" />

It isn’t clear how derivative content must be to warrant using a canonical tag. Google has explained that there is some leeway. From Google:

We allow slight differences, e.g., in the sort order of a table of products. We also recognize that we may crawl the canonical and the duplicate pages at different points in time, so we may occasionally see different versions of your content. All of that is okay with us.

Since the canonical tag keeps visitors on your site, it presents some obvious and less obvious advantages to a 301 redirect. Content marketers might wish to duplicate their content across multiple URLs without redirecting visitors to a new site. By using canonical tags, you can share the duplicate content without bouncing a visitor from your site. In addition to the obvious, new data suggests that there are additional SEO benefits to using the canonical tag. Tony Adam, CEO of Visible Factors, posted the results of an experiment that indicates that a cross-domain canonical tag has a more instantaneous effect on SERPs than a 301 redirect. If your goal is to direct a visitor to a different site, the 301 redirect is still the way to go. If however, you are simply interested in sharing duplicate content without being penalized by search engines, the canonical tag is an option worth considering.

More interestingly, another experiment recently appeared in YOUmoz, SEOmoz’s user-generated blog, which indicates that the canonical tag can be used within a site to get more than one anchor text value. It therefore seems possible that the canonical tag could be used to influence linking metrics. This method could theoretically be used to add SEO juice to any keywords included in the additional anchor text.

The canonical tag is extremely useful to content duplication and aggregation applications. As an SEO-friendly alternative to a 301 redirect, the canonical tag should be an essential addition to any content marketer’s bag of tricks.


About Jesse Davis

Jesse Davis is a content marketing copywriter at DemandResults. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in history. In his free time, he blogs, writes fiction, plays guitar and spends far too much time on social media sites.


  1. How Can I Find Out If I Have Duplicate Content on my Website - November 9, 2011

    [...] It’s the responsibility of webmasters to tell Google which version of the content is canonical. [...]

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