Could Dual Identities Be Hurting Your Site’s Ranking?

Don't hurt your site's rakings!SEO pros know that if Google sees two addresses for your website, your page rankings could be split. In SEO circles this is called the Canonical issue. While that does sound like a $10 word, the impacts on your sites ranking can be substantial.

And yet there is a very simple fix that is easy to do and is even Google recommended. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first some background.

Background

A bit of history behind this whole canonical issue is that when the Internet was just getting started, websites were placed in the “www” folder on the webserver. This created the www. Subdomain. As the Internet has evolved, webmasters were not consistent with this practice and at times placed the website files in the root directory.

This created the “Canonical Issue” with websites. At least that is what Google calls it. According to Google’s Matt Cutts:

Canonicalization is the process of picking the best url when there are several choices, and it usually refers to home pages. For example, most people would consider these the same urls:

  • www.example.com
  • example.com/
  • www.example.com/index.html
  • example.com/home.asp

But technically all of these urls are different. A web server could return completely different content for all the urls above. When Google “canonicalizes” a url, we try to pick the url that seems like the best representative from that set.

To help Google and other the search engines know which site (URL) you want as your site’s primary URL, you need to do two things.

1.     When linking to your site, especially internally, use the URL of choice and be consistent. There is no “better” choice between the two, but pick one.

2.     Create a 301 Redirect or permanent redirect from the URL you do not want to use to the URL you do. For example if you want to use http://MyAwesomeCoolSite.com in place of http://www.MyAwesomeCoolSite.com because is it shorter, then you would want to create a 301 redirect from the www version to http://MyAwesomeCoolSite.com

Does My Site Have a Dual Identity?

Many WordPress installations or SEO friendly themes automatically correct this Canonical issue for you. The easiest way to check if your site has a dual identity is to type both URLs in a browser address bar and see what is there as the page loads.

For example if you type in http://www.myawesomecoolsite.com and after the page loads you see the same thing (with the www) then your site is recognizing that URL and it is not being redirected. Then type in http://myawesomecoolsite.com and see if the www was added in or not after the page loads (technically it’s right before the page loads, but who needs to be technical??). If the www is shown then your site is redirecting to the www URL. If it does not show the www then the non www URL is viewed as a valid site address.

If these two tests do not resolve to the same URL address, then your site has dual identities and should be corrected using the 301 Redirect.

You could call your hosting company or your developer/web designer and tell them to take care of it for you (they should have done this in the first place, but that is another story).

If you want to make the change yourself

For Linux servers where the Apache Mod-Rewrite module is enabled, you can create an .htaccess file to ensure that all requests to www.mycoolsite.com will redirect to mycoolsite.com, where “mycoolsite.com” is your domain name.

Now before you get all freaked out, an .htaccess file is a simple text file that can be created in your favorite text editor. If your text editor complains about saving a file that begins with a dot (or a period if you prefer), then just save it as htaccess and then rename it before you move it to your website.

Save the .htaccess file in your website’s root directory, which is the same directory as your index file.  You can create a .htaccess file with the following code:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^ myawesomecoolsite.com \.com$
RewriteRule (.*) http:// myawesomecoolsite.com.com/$1 [R=301,L]

This will redirect any links to http://www.MyAwesomeCoolSite.com to http://MyAwesomeCoolSite.com

I’d love to hear if you have any stories about Dual Identities or other ways that you have overcome the Canonical challenge.

Here’s to Safe Surfing and High Rankings!

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About Art Remnet

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Comments

  1. Very informative – and impressively concise for such a complex topic. Thanks for the post!

    As a non-programmer working with free web templates for the first two versions of my website, I’ve dealt with my share of dual web identities. My first site was built on an iWeb template, and the homepage URL was http://www.example.com/home.html, with no canonical tags or redirects. Since there was no redirect from http://www.example.com (and I didn’t have the $$ or know-how to fix it), I used the /home.html URL in some of my link building efforts, which was a big bummer when I upgraded the site to a proper platform. I still get a lot of page errors to the /home.html URL.

    My site is now on a wordpress.org template with plenty of SEO plugins and, as you mentioned Art, all the canonical issues are resolved (just one more reason why WordPress is an SEO’s best friend). I still lost a lot of links to the old URL – moral of the story: make your URLs canonical from the start!

  2. Jacqueline says:

    Thanks for the post Art especially your advice on renaming the .htaccess file. When I first starting using .htaccess it took me a while to figure out the renaming part and hopefully your advice will save folks some time.

  3. You know I’ve heard of the word canonicalization for years and never could grasp it. Thanks for the clearest explanation thus far, Art!

  4. Glad I could help Jacqueline.

  5. Thanks for sharing Connie. It’s a confusing subject especially for people new to websites and WordPress.

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