When Should I Use a Canonical vs. a 301 Redirect?

Search engine optimization is a long-term effect. Having a proper SEO helps your website to rank better in search engine results.

Search engine optimization is a long-term effect. Having a proper SEO helps your website to rank better in search engine results. However, there can be a decrease in ranking if the search crawlers of the search engine find that your website has duplicate content.

This is the reason why you must have proper SEO strategies to gain higher rankings on the SERP. Your website may have very old content and you only want to upgrade your content so that your target audience can engage with the help of new content. In such cases, you can inform the search engines which web pages you want them to crawl and which to skip. To set up SEO for your website, you can either use Canonical or a 301 redirect.

What is a canonical tag?

The canonical tag is quite difficult for many people to understand. Many users are having a difficult time understanding how canonical tags can be used to improve the SEO of the website. Canonical tags help the web crawlers to know that the content of the given web page is not original and has been taken from a different web page.

You need to include the URL of the original web content in the canonical tag.

Example of canonical tag: <link href=”www.canonicalexample.com” rel=”Canonical” />

In the HREF attribute, you need to include the URL of the original web page.

By including a canonical tag, you are telling the web crawlers that the content in the web page is taken from a different URL. Due to this, the web crawler will index your web page and will even show in the search results. Even if the content is copied, your web page will show in the results if you use canonical tags.

What is a 301 redirect?

As the name suggests, 301 redirect takes the user to a different URL than the one they asked for. The user will type in a URL of a website but will be redirected to a different website as set by the owner of the website. It comes in use when the website owner does want you to view the content of the web page. So, the owner will place a 301 redirect so that when a user clicks on the link, the user will be taken to a different web page.

By doing so, the web crawlers of the search engines will also crawl only the web pages they are redirected. This allows you to hide any web page that you don’t want your users to interact with.

Canonical tag vs 301 redirect – Which one you should use?

Both the canonical tag and 301 redirects are completely different from each other in terms of features. However, both are used for improving the SEO of the website.

The canonical tag is used to interact with the web robots that the content in the web page is taken from the URL that is included in the canonical tag. On the other hand, 301 redirect simply redirects the web crawlers from the original URL to a predefined URL.

If you are confused as to which one you should use, then here are some conditions to keep in mind:

  • If the content of your web page is similar to that of another web page, then you should use the canonical tag.
  • If you want your viewers to visit a new web page, then you can use 301 redirects to send them to the new web page.
  • If one of your web pages is not working or not available, then you should use 301 redirects.
  • If you have multiple pages that are identical to each other, then you can use canonical tags.

If you want to redirect the users to a new website temporarily, then you should not use 301 redirects as it can be quite difficult to undo it. 

On the other hand, you need to be careful while using canonical tags as they need to be written in the head section of the HTML code. Thus, you will have to upload the entire code again if you want to make changes in the canonical tag.

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