Is it okay to put the canonical tag on every page? Putting the canonical tag on every page also means you’ll have the tag on the actual canonical page itself. Does it make sense to point the canonical tag at itself? It depends on who you ask. Google and Bing have different recommendations when it comes to properly using the canonical tag.

Earlier today, I read a really interesting article by Duane Forrester on how Bing handles 301 redirects, 302 redirects and the canonical tag. What immediately stuck out to me was this statement:

 A lot of websites have rel=canonicals in place as placeholders within their page code.  Its best to leave them blank rather than point them at themselves.  Pointing a rel=canonical at the page it is installed in essentially tells us “this page is a copy of itself.  Please pass any value from itself to itself.”  No need for that.

We do understand that doing work at scale requires some compromises, as it’s not easy to implement anything on a large site page by page.  In such cases, leave the rel=canonical blank until needed. (source)

He seems to be warning against using the canonical tag on the actual canonical page. He states that it is better to leave it blank. Preceding the quote above, Duane writes, “To be clear, using the rel=canonical doesn’t really hurt you.  But, it doesn’t help us trust the signal when you use it incorrectly across thousands of pages, yet correctly across a few others on your website.” Does pointing the canonical tag at itself make Bing lose the trust of the other canonical tags on your site? The ones that point articles with URL parameters on the end at versions with nice clean URLs?

I thought this was really interesting because I remember seeing a Google Webmaster Help video on the same subject. Matt Cutts answered the question, “Will setting the rel=”canonical” attribute of a page to itself cause a loop?” and his response differs from that of Duane Forrester and Bing.

Watch the video below:

In the video, Matt states:

 ”We built in support to make sure that that doesn’t cause any sort of problem. So I can’t speak for other search engines, but it’s definitely a very common case. Imagine if you had to check every single URL and then do a self check to see whether you were on that URL. If you were then you couldn’t have a rel=canonical tag. That would be a lot of work to generate all those tags. So for our part, we said you know what? Go ahead and you can put a rel canonical on every single page on your site if you want to. And then if it points back to itself, that’s no problem at all. We handle that just fine.” (copied from YouTube captions)

Google is clearly OK with you using the canonical tag on every page on your site.  Even when the tag points directly back to the actual URL you are currently on. Bing recommends only using the canonical tag only when necessary and avoiding it when it’s not needed. When Cutts clarifies that he “can’t speak for other search engines,” it almost seems as though he is taking a slight dig at the sophistication of their technology and their ability to handle something as simple as a canonical tag implementation.

canonical tag in use for google or bingWhat makes this topic so interesting, is that we are all trying to optimize our websites to the best of our abilities for ALL of the search engines. We want quality organic traffic from all of the engines. When the two main engines give us contradictory advice, it makes you pause for a moment and reconsider what you are doing.

How are you using the canonical tag? Do you have the tag on pages that points to themselves? I do.

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4 Responses to Canonical Tag On Every Page: A Tale of Two Engines

  1. Malin Hermansson says:

    Hi Anthony,

    I’ve never really fully understood why you would ever actually want a rel canonical pointing to itself? What Duane says makes sense. The fact that Google (say they) can handle them is all well and good, but surely then best practice to cover yourself for both engines is to follow Bing’s advice and not implement when pointing to itself?

    Thanks for the interesting post.

  2. Hi Malin,

    I agree with what you are saying. The major problem comes when working on large scale sites with thousands and thousands of pages. You are often left with the decision of using it or not using it.

    I also want to note that Duane’s article makes it sound as if you won’t be punished for using the canonical tag to point at itself, but if you do it may result in your other canonical tags receiving less trust from the engine and therefore possibly not effectively doing their job.

  3. Malin Hermansson says:

    Hi Anthony, thanks for that. It’s certainly interesting, and I wonder whether this could perhaps (in part) account for the numerous reports of the canonical not working as expected (including Google).

    • Hi Malin, that is a great assumption. Most of the time, we find that the primary search engines are in agreement with each other.

      When they disagree, even slightly, I think it makes for an extremely interesting topic.

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