- When should a rel=canonical tag be used instead of a 301?
- What could be the bounce backs if a rel canonical tag is used?
- When should a canonical tag not be used?
Let’s start with a 301 redirect and see when and how it should be used?
When a piece of content has been moved to a new location, a 301 redirect is used to help users to search for the content. This would mean that the content has been moved permanently.
What it does for users
The use of a 301 Redirect helps in automatically rerouting the user to the new location without even letting the user notice the change. This would only involve a small change in the address bar, causing no inconvenience to the user at all.
What it does for the search engines
The search engines follow the 301 Redirect and index the new page and are supposed to remove the old page from their search index. All the links from the old page are also passed on to the new page and all anchor text is passed on too, but it is not guaranteed.
When to use a 301
When a site has moved or expired:
Google gives clear instructions about when a site needs to use a 301 Redirect. In this situation when a site has moved because of some valid reasons and you do not want the customers to go to the old site, but want them to go to the new site without any trouble, a 301 Redirect is a good choice.
A 301 can also be used when the content on a site has expired and does not contain information which is relevant to the users any more.
- Old content might get traffic
- Get the user to another site which has similar content that is relevant
- Before removing old content, consider if the content would be useful in future or not?
Where a 301 may not be possible a rel=canonical tag may be used.
This involves only making a simple adjustment to the <Head? Tag of the page. This tag is fairly new and can be used in places where 301 Redirects do not fit in well.
These tags can be used when there is multiple ways of navigation to a page.
When dynamic URL’s are being used
When a dynamic URL is created based on how the user has reached the site, it is not possible to add a 301 here. However, this is only achievable by using a rel=canonical.
When a Rel=Canonical should not be used
On New Websites
New websites should have fresh contents and the question of duplicate content should not arise. Hence the Rel=Canonical or 301 should not be used here.
Across your entire site to one page
Canonical tags should not be used across the website and directed one particular page, eg: the home page. This would result in the whole website getting de-indexed.
While these tags are useful, great precaution must be taken while making use of them.