Rel Canonical Link Tag Element Update

by Matthew Diehl on May 6, 2010

I recently came across a major canonicalization issue with a client. There website was quickly losing rankings in both Google and Bing and it was being directly cannibalized by a temp site URL that was setup during their site development that was never taken down.

This temp URL was causing major havoc not only in the search engines but was impacting branding, analytics and reporting.

The perfect solution was to get the design/hosting company to 301 redirect all the pages of the temp URL to their primary URL. This was going to take some technical heavy lifting because of their current server configurations and my client really couldn’t wait around for this. Why? They had already lost 70+ listing in Google and 50+ listings in Bing. Yahoo! did not seem to be seriously impacted by the issue but had always hovered about 100 listings less than both Google & Bing totals.

So, I opted to grunt it out and implement the rel canonical link element across the site (manually). The good news is the temp URL and the primary URL were both pulling from the same CMS code base so they were generating identical pages based on the same set of data. This made it really easy to canonicalize across domains and within the same domain.

I implemented the rel canonical link tags in February and continued to see a downward trend through March. Finally, in April the changes had been crawled and the indexes updated. Here is what I discovered:

Google
The rel canonical link element works like a charm! From March to April the site was an increase of 50+ listings and the temp URL has been all but removed from the SERPs (except for 4 listings).

Bing
The rel canonical link element did not work very effectively. This could be because of one of three things:

  • Bing still does not fully support the element in cross-domain canonicalization
  • Bing is just slow on the crawling and evaluation of the rel canonical link element
  • Bing is not placing enough emphasis on the canonical element, they have said they use it as a “hint” but I think it should really be upgraded to more of a suggestion because how it is implemented in the code

Yahoo!
This was actually the surprising outcome of the implementation. I was really expecting no real change here because the site has always lagged behind in Yahoo. However, from March to April we say an increase of 80+ listings in Yahoo for the primary URL. Apparently, Yahoo was really struggling between the temp URL and the primary URL and which to show in the SERPs. The canonical link element cleared that right up for them.

So, as of the beginning of May 2010 the rel canonical link element is fully operation in both Google and Yahoo but is still lacking in its impact on the Bing index.

Anyone else using/tried to use the rel canonical link element and want to share their experience?

{ 4 comments… read them below or join the discussion }

Bill Marshall May 7, 2010 at 8:25 am

Interesting result Matthew, particularly with Yahoo which compares with their apparent inability to handle 301s. I often see pages appearing in their index which have been 301′nd for months and sometimes years.

I suspect Bing is just slow at spidering – their index took far longer than expected to mature after they took over from MSN/Live and changes seem to take ages to appear. Geo-location also seems to be a problem for them.

Haven’t been a big fan of the canonical tag as I prefer to fix things structurally when possible, but good to know that Google seems to be making good use of it.

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Andy @ FirstFound May 7, 2010 at 8:48 am

Why do people use Bing? It’s just another indication that they don’t really know what they’re doing.

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matthewdiehl May 7, 2010 at 9:29 am

@Bill – Agreed. Comparing Bing’s indexing speed to Google’s is like comparing the tortoise to the hare (except the moral will not work out in Bing’s favor this time). I will give Bing some more time to get caught up. Then I will update the post if/when they pick up on the rel canonical link tags.

@Andy – Not really sure who is using Bing… but we have to be cognitive of what is going on there b/c of the major powered by Bing in Yahoo results coming at year end.

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Tyler May 11, 2010 at 8:17 am

Hi Matt,

I did a post a couple of weeks ago on how to easily implement cross domain canonical link tags with PHP here: http://www.tylernichols.com/seo/dynamic-url-canonicalization

It’s nice to be able use this method when 301′s are not possible

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