What is URL Canonicalization… And how do I say it?

subdomain url canonicalization for SEO

Questions answered in this post:
Why is it possible to access pages 2 ways?
How does SSL affect URL Canonicalization and SEO?
If a website is located in the www folder and has SSL, what is the proper URL canonicalization?

URL canonicalization for SEO is a tough issue to pronounce correctly, let alone implement correctly when it comes to SEO. Just like many other aspects of SEO, it’s also become more complicated over the years.

Let’s start with the basics of website URL’s. A lot of every-day internet users don’t realize this, but there are usually at least 2 ways to access a web page via the address bar if no URL canonicalization has been put in place. For example, Kaizen inbound could be typed in the address bar 2 separate ways to get to the homepage. One uses www and the other does not. They are:

301 redirect from non www domain

If you try to go the the 1st version of the URL above, you will be redirected to the second one. This is because a permanent (301) redirect is in place for the 1st version of the URL, pointing to the 2nd version, which you can easily check with a 301 header checker (thank you IM Ninjas). Make sure it’s a 301 redirect, not a 302! Without this, there would be 2 ways to load the URL. This is an issue when it comes to duplicate content as well as the authority of a page being divided between 2 URL’s. This is the reason a 301 redirect is in place. It tells the search engines that the URL is permanently located at http://www.kaizeninbound.com and quickly redirects users before they even notice.

Why is it possible to access pages 2 ways?

The answer to this question is one of those “it’s how the internet works” kind of answers. Basically, a lot of websites are actually located in a folder on the server named “www”. The server is just set up to operate that www folder as a subdomain located at www.example.com. Unless redirects are in place, the www folder will display at the main site location of example.com as well as the location with www at the beginning located at www.example.com. The www folder is a standard practice as the common location of the main website that the majority of traffic will go to. Any additional folder created on a server can also be set to operate as a subdomain at folder.example.com and be used for different purposes.

This is created so that other things can exist at other subdomains on the main domain such as mail.example.com where a webmail interface for the website owners and users can be located. Other examples include things like blog.example.com might be set up if the main (www) site is using one system to run the main site and the blog. subdmain is using another system, such as WordPress, to run a blog. Forums are another great example of a case where subdomains are used to create a separate section on a site such as forums.example.com that is running a separate system for a separate purpose. There are also cases where there are things like a members.example.com subdomain, which would be used for a members only section of a website. All these situations and more are reasons that www was established as the default location for the main public facing website to be located. The choice simply needs to be made to operate the site at www.example.com or just example.com.

It’s important to be consistent with the URL’s that are used on a site and set up redirects to send any users or search engines back to the correct versions of the URL’s if they get off track somehow, which does happen. The internet is a messy place and sometime websites link to other websites in an imperfect way. Another website may link to http://kaizeninbound.com without using the w’s simply because they didn’t realize that Kaizen Inbound uses www in the URL. That’s okay because a redirect is in place that will direct any traffic to the proper URL. Having these redirects in place takes in to account the human element and any improper linking that might happen to a website. It’s always best practice to choose a version of the URL to use and redirect the version not being used.

How does SSL affect URL Canonicalization and SEO?

We can’t forget about SSL anymore when it comes to URL canonicalization since SSL has started to become a standard among more and more websites. SSL means that a website operates over an encrypted secure connection and the URL’s associated with secure connections are always https instead of http. A lot of websites that used to operate using http URL’s have now changed over to secure encrypted connections and are now using https URL’s  on the main website and a large number of sites are continuing to make the change now. This means that all the old website URL’s such as http://www.example.com are now operating at https://www.example.com which is technically a different URL now because of the added “s” at the end of http for secure connections.

If proper redirects are not put in place to redirect old http URL’s to the new https URL’s, multiple versions of the URL’s can be indexed in search engines which 1.) creates duplicate content issues with the website and 2.) dilutes the link authority that the website has. Both of these issues can have negative affects on a website’s SEO and visibility in search engines.

If a website is located in the www folder and has SSL, what is the proper URL canonicalization?

The proper redirects that should be in place for a website that is using the www version and has https versions of URL’s are:

http://example.com –> https://www.example.com

https://example.com –> https://www.example.com

http://www.example.com –> https://www.example.com

Notice how all 3 variations are going to the 4th variation of https://www.example.com. This is the www and secure version of the URL. When Kaizen Inbound finally moves to SSL, this is the format of URL that Kaizen Inbound will be using (we will make the move eventually, it’s good for SEO).

These are sitewide redirects that need to be in place. Need to generate redirects for SSL? Use a .htaccess 301 redirect generator and add the code to your .htaccess via FTP or web hosting file manager. Note: it’s a good idea to back up the .htaccess file before modifying… don’t learn that lesson the hard way 😉

Need help with URL canonicalization? Get in touch with us today!



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