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Major Search Engines Agree On New Canonical Tag


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#1 iamlost

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Posted 12 February 2009 - 07:42 PM

The SEs have agreed on a new canonical tag to assist sites with certain duplicate content issues.

Google, Yahoo & Microsoft Unite On “Canonical Tag” To Reduct Duplicate Content Clutter, Vanessa Fox, searchengineland.

The web is full of duplicate content. Search engines try to index and display the original or “canonical” version. Searchers only want to see one version in results. And site owners worry that if search engines find multiple versions of a page, their link credit will be diluted and they’ll lose ranking.

Today, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft (links are to their separate announcements) have united to offer a way to reduce duplicate content clutter and make things easier for everyone.

...

Specify the canonical version using a tag in the head section of the page as follows:

<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.c...swedish-fish"/>

That’s it!

* You can only use the tag on pages within a single site (subdomains and subfolders are fine).
* You can use relative or absolute links, but the search engines recommend absolute links.

This tag will operate in a similar way to a 301 redirect for all URLs that display the page with this tag.

* Links to all URLs will be consolidated to the one specified as canonical.
* Search engines will consider this URL a “strong hint” as to the one to crawl and index.


Canonical URL links, Joost de Valk, yoast.
Joost includes links to Canonical plug-ins for WordPress, Magento, and Drupal.

Live Coverage of Ask The Search Engines at SMX West, Barry Schwartz/Keri Morgret, seroundtable

#2 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 12 February 2009 - 08:17 PM

This is very cool. I hope that it doesn't result in sloppy practices in the normal practice of canonicalization; since that still has other values outside of search engine optimization (like good logic, for example), but this certainly will make fixing canonicalization problems a lot easier!

#3 cre8pc

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Posted 12 February 2009 - 09:44 PM

So. Anyone know what would prevent spammers from using it for their splogs and other instances of ripped off original content?

#4 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 12 February 2009 - 10:33 PM

I'm not sure what you mean - how would spammers cause a problem that way? The only relevant situation I can imagine is not particularly a problem...

If a spam blog stole content from Cre8tive Flow, for example, and used OUR canonical URL element, they'd have this on their spam blog:

<link rel="canonical" href="http://blog.cre8asite.net/archives/389" />

As a result, Google would trip by their site and say: Ooh, look - this site (http://spam.thisissp.../archives/40876) should really be indexed at http://blog.cre8asite.net/archives/389. Well, guess I'll de-index this page and grab the other one!

Even if this situation did end up in the 1% edge case where they didn't use the canonic suggestion, you wouldn't be any worse off than you were before.

#5 cre8pc

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Posted 12 February 2009 - 10:42 PM

I was thinking of those who reprint orig content and make it look like they wrote it. They don't reference the original in any way or if they do, don't link. I've seen my stuff in so many different forms I've lost track :)

Thanks for that info.

#6 DonnaFontenot

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Posted 12 February 2009 - 10:49 PM

Kim, I'm not sure I understand how this new tag would have any impact of those scraper sites. They already do it. How would adding a tag help them in any way? Not saying it won't...just saying I'm not understanding.

#7 cre8pc

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Posted 12 February 2009 - 11:02 PM

If I were a scraper site, I would want to claim to be original wouldn't I? That's what I was thinking they'd do.
But it could be me being paranoid and not trying it out first. :disco2:

Ah!

From the article:

Can this be abused by spammers? They might try, but Matt Cutts of Google told me that the same safeguards that prevent abuse by other methods (such as redirects) are in place here as well, and that Google reserves the right to take action on sites that are using the tag to manipulate search engines and violate search engine guidelines. For instance, this tag will only work with very similar or identical content, so you can’t use it to send all of the link value from the less important pages of your site to the more important ones.


Also, this seems to be more for ecommerce. I was hoping for a way to indicate original content like articles and blog posts. Am I right in that this solution is not for those situations?

#8 iamlost

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Posted 12 February 2009 - 11:26 PM

I was hoping for a way to indicate original content like articles and blog posts. Am I right in that this solution is not for those situations?

Right. Not meant for that.

Kim, this does not 'claim' content, rather it associates content within a particular site.

The common examples are ecommerce and analytics test pages with differing parameters but actually the same or almost the same content. This is a method of telling the SEs for example that
[ ./product.php?item=widget&colour=blue&size=12" ] and [ ./product.php?item=widget&colour=red&size=6" ] are not to be indexed as separate URLs rather that both should be seen as refering to [ ./product.php?item=widget ].

The SEs retain the right to ignore (and possibly to penallise) improper usage. It only applies within a domain itself, as a pseudo 301 within the site. It does not apply between sites as a 301 can. For example, while one can 301 myolddomain.tld/home.html to mynewdomain.tld/home.html one can not use <link rel="canonical" href="http://www.mynewdoma...ain.home.html"> to the head of myolddomain.tld/home.html as they are different domains.

Once again site owners are being asked to do some heavy lifting that has floored the SEs. :)

#9 send2paul

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 01:57 AM

I just foresee more confusion. Everyone tagging everything to associate anything with their site.

Are Google really going to be able to police/control this properly when it comes to disputes over who owns what? I think time will tell.....

#10 yannis

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 03:17 AM

I am confused! :frustration:

You mean, if Wikipedia does not add the tag quickly enough and I scrape their pages and add the 'canonical' my pages will be given preference?

I find the use of the word 'canonical' also confusing! The general definition of 'canonical' is a rule. In this concept, if I understand it properly '.. is original version'. On Scholar pdf results sometimes come out with version 1, version 2, version 3 and the like! In honest situations, it can provide some help to Google and the other engines, in abuse situations I am not too sure!

The only legitimate and useful application of this tag, can be within one's own domain. Is this how the SE's will utilize it?

Perhaps John can add some light? :)

Yannis

PS Like insurance, I will add the tag in the meantime, on new and old content! I will not use it for 'categories', summaries and the like!

Edited by yannis, 13 February 2009 - 03:48 AM.


#11 glyn

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 03:37 AM

Hi Kim,
I hear what you're saying, but everyone else is considering that a spammer would reference Cre8 as the source right, which we know not to be the case. I don't think a spammer could assume the trust of your site but some of those networks are really big aren't they!

Yes you are right and yes I can think of a great way to take advantage of this tag for grey purposes as you've already considered yourself, but I'm not gonna post it here.

What I think is interesting is that all the SE's came together on this. I'm hope to migrate 80% of my traffic away from Search engines by the end of the year, and I hope others follow suit.

G

#12 JohnMu

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 06:24 AM

This "tag" (link element) is not really meant for cross-domain usage. It's not a way to claim ownership of content. It's just meant for all those situations where you run into duplicate URLs within your own site and it's hard to get them sorted with redirects.

Here are some examples where this could be used:
- Web-shops (mutliple URLs depending on how you got to a page)
- Sites that work with Session-IDs within the URL
- Ad-tracking URLs (eg using AdWords + Analytics)
- Affiliate tracking URLs
- News sites with multiple URLs per article
- Forums with multiple URLs per thread/page (eg "&highlight=", etc)

Keep in mind that while it will help to get the right URLs into the index, it will not prevent search engines from crawling the site. So if you have Session-IDs (or anything else that creates infinite URLs) on your site, that may still be a big problem in that we'll end up crawling and crawling and crawling in order to find your content (and even then, we may crawl one "page" with 100's of URLs while missing other "pages" completely). This does not mean that you're now free to keep sloppy URL structures :). Having a well crawlable site is still very important!

John

#13 DonnaFontenot

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 08:55 AM

Right, that's the point most are missing. This is only for "within your own domain" URLs. The easiest way to think of it is if you have several ways of getting to one page, and your page might have several urls (like page.php, page.php?view=print, page.php?refer=joe, page.php?refer=jane) but they are all the same page, you can just tell Google that they are all the same page by setting page.php as the main one. Now, if you have links pointing to each of those urls, that juice will get redirected to the main page, which is what you'd want.

#14 glyn

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 09:14 AM

The spammers are gonna have a field day.
Class of 2002

#15 yannis

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 09:29 AM

The spammers are gonna have a field day.


Glyn, I think John's post made it almost clear that the tag is meant to be within your own domain.

He said:

This "tag" (link element) is not really meant for cross-domain usage...



Yannis

#16 glyn

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 09:38 AM

There is no misunderstanding here, trust me.

#17 DrPete

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 10:11 AM

I think a Google engineer confirmed the point many have made here, that this is only an intra-site tag. I can't just go out and start claiming the whole internet as my own. Unfortunately, can't find the quote at the moment.

Honestly, I think this may have a big impact - it's a lot cleaner solution than using a complex network of nofollows or having to tell Google to block half your site. I deal with dupe content for an e-commerce site where I have to use something like a half-dozen different tactics. Page-based canonicalization may replace half or more of those over time.

#18 cre8pc

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 10:22 AM

Well. I suppose we can thank the SE's for creating more work for SEO's to do. Raise your fees everyone!

:cheers:

#19 eKstreme

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 10:48 AM

I'm afraid this will be misused and that it will create more confusion. I liked it better when the main message from the SEs was "fix your site to make it more crawlable and make your URLs cleaner". That line has two good side-effects: more user friendly URLs and a strong incentive to fix years of crappy CMS design. Content that is well structured is content that's easy to reflect with clean URLs.

This tag is basically accepting that a lot of crap CMSs are present, that they're not going to go away, and removes any incentive to fix them. Instead, it will have to be supported by CMSs which are already bloated. Where is the innovation here? It's a band-aid solution and a cop-out for lazy web developers who now have no incentive to think about designing good content structures and good websites.

That's not to say it doesn't have a few very specific uses (like consolidating aff links onto one page, but even that, with a good website/CMS design is solvable).

Color me unimpressed.

Pierre

#20 DrPete

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 10:52 AM

I just left an extremely important comment over on SEOmoz about why I feel this is so important. The power to make anything canonical won't just reduce duplicate content, it will change the world as we know it*.

Disclaimer: This comment is not extremely important and rel="canonical" will not change the world as we know it. I'm aggressively avoiding writing a PowerPoint deck and have dedicated the entire morning to spending a lot of time on almost completely pointless comments on various blogs.

#21 eKstreme

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 10:57 AM

Off Topic offtopic

avoiding writing a PowerPoint deck

Well you're not getting off this easily. Consider said PPT deck canonicalized by me. I put a link rel=canonical in my PPT deck pointing to yours. Now that my work is officially worthless, I'm going to have a good weekend :)


#22 glyn

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 11:36 AM

Eks, you also need to have people that know how to use those CMS. So there are two parts to the equation!! :)

#23 eKstreme

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 11:57 AM

Eks, you also need to have people that know how to use those CMS. So there are two parts to the equation!! :)

Yeah, as if giving them yet another field for them to understand and actually use is going to help.

#24 iamlost

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 12:27 PM

What I find most interesting - and quite amusing - is that once again the search engines are admitting failure to properly value links.

First they failed at differentiating useful blog comments with links from spam blog comments with links (yes, it has oozed elsewhere since) and now, apparently, at identifying an intra-domain 'canonical' URL from amidst a crowd of varied URLs with substantially similar content.

Given that links are the nexus of hypertext and thus the web one might consider that the search engines are failing on foundation issues.

Or that, as with rel=nofollow quickly deliberately morphing from 'war on spam links' to 'war on paid links', rel=canonical will prove yet another SE side slipping agenda with an objective not yet revealed.

Wanna give me odds? :)

#25 eKstreme

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 12:31 PM

@iamlost: You cynic. I love it!

Wanna give me odds? :)

How would SEOs do so? PR5+ links from loser to winner?

#26 iamlost

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Posted 13 February 2009 - 12:55 PM

Off Topic offtopic
TBPR? I don't need no stinkin' TBPR...

.....................

Excuse me sir, but did I just hear you offer to bet/barter/sell a link and thus cause the mighty Google to quiver and quake?
I shall have to get out my Mattphone and call the Cutts cave...


#27 glyn

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Posted 16 February 2009 - 04:48 AM

Search engines don't have a chance in stopping spam. I fear for them!

#28 Black_Knight

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Posted 16 February 2009 - 02:23 PM

Already been applying this tag to a couple of clients where it was appropriate.

The first is a fairly predictable use for most SEOs dealing with larger-scale ecommerce clients and wider aspects of internet marketing cross-over campaigns. The client uses a powerful and robust CMS that is also a stock-management solution, ties into all their business, accounting, order management, everything. I mean everything, from contact management to stock management, to ordering management, to shipping and accounting. It is not bespoke, and it isn't as optimised for search performance as we'd like.

The system is shared by several other famous high street names, and only our client is pushing for SEO modifications. That's not great, obviously, but the overall business functionality of the site is way beyond anything else much I've seen out there that is any better optimised. Moving away from this CMS would be akin to severing a limb or two - only applicable to save a life, and not otherwise conceivable.

The company behind the CMS have been very cooperative overall, but they really seem to struggle with some concepts, and anyway, this isn't a simple piece of software, and changes to the code take a while and need to be made very carefully to avoid complications and knock-on effects.

This client of ours runs a couple of affiliate programs through third-parties such as Affiliate Window, and these affiliate programs are managed by another specialist agency. Affiliate links to the site go through the affiliate company tracking and redirect, so are not entirely sure to pass any PageRank anyway, but even so, they eventually land the visitor at the site via a URL something like www.example.com/default.htm?src=awin

The classic advice was always to have the server detect such a URL request, and serve a cookie with the referrer info, and redirect to a cleaner, canonical URL without a referrer in, like www.example.com

But of course, not everyone has cookie support enabled. So the classic solution of serving a cookie and a redirect can fail to track those users. In some sites, I've seen anything upto 15% of visitors have disabled cookies. So, that throws the whole tracking off, and can make the client's affiliate program a lot less valuable and desirable to potential affiliates - most especially those who know the most and are the best performers.

Using the Canonical Link tag (i.e. the Link tag with a relationship attribute set to specify the preferred canonical version of multiform URL - lets not start calling it a Canonical Tag, its only an attribute use of an existing LINK tag) offers an alternate solution. Let the referrer parameter remain in the URL, and use the ability to specify the correct canonical version prevent indexing, and pass the link value if any.

Personally, I'd still choose a 301 redirect and cookies in most cases, because otherwise visitors who arrive from an affiliate link may copy and paste the URL elsewhere, causing you to pay an affiliate more than you really needed to, but hey, it is the client's choice to make. My job is simply to present best practice guidance and good solid options.

Case 2 is a little less predictable for now, but you'll see it more and more once a few people catch on. Lots of sites offer a range of ways to view a list of products within a category. There's the most common such as listed by price (high to low and low to high), by popularity (most reviewed, highest rated, best selling), maybe with variable amounts of products per page (15, 25, 50, 100). You might also have viewing options such as with or without ratings, or with or without any other kind of funky added thing. I have personally seen sites that had scores of different ways of looking at the same list of products, and in some cases that included only image changes.

I can't use a 301 redirect for this because I want browsers to have all those view options. I might have spent months on thinking up every viewing option I could to enhance the personalisation and personal-usability of the site. 301 redirecting everyone back to the vanilla view is not an option. Here, the Canonical Link tag is about the only solution other than simply trying to weight the PR, or losing links in a complex set of NOFOLLOW link-pop sculpting.

This new ability to specify and suggest the correct canonical version of a page to index, and still carry all the link pop from any alternate versions is spot-on perfect for this second use.

There are many cases where the use of the Canonical Link tag would be slapping a band-aid on a broken leg, but there are also cases where using a 301 would be like applying a splint and plaster-cast to a graze.

#29 Jem

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 07:15 AM

It's a band-aid solution and a cop-out for lazy web developers who now have no incentive to think about designing good content structures and good websites.

I disagree. I can think of several bespoke systems I've created that rely on differing URLs (but actually point to the same place) and I'm not a "lazy web developer" who likes a "cop-out".

I can immediately think of one of my client's websites where this would come in handy. We have a product customiser that allows the customer to select options for the product they wish to buy. This generates a different URL on each step but in Google's eyes, duplicates contents. If I understand this right, I can now put this canonical doodaa in the head so that Google sees that the first page is what needs indexing, not step 1, 2, 3 etc which hold no useful content, just tickboxes (effectively)

#30 DonnaFontenot

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 08:25 AM

I agree, Jem. I can also imagine lots of uses for it even beyond your example (which is a good one), including the inability to change a client's duplicate-happy CMS.

#31 eKstreme

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 09:35 AM

This generates a different URL on each step

Is this really the best technical implementation? I don't know the details of the set up of course, so please don't take this as me being judgmental: are there better ways to deal with this kind of scenario web apps? Shopping carts with unique IDs that are stored on the server? Sessions (cookies)? Information stored on the server that's associated with a user profile?

that the first page is what needs indexing, not step 1, 2, 3 etc which hold no useful content, just tickboxes (effectively)

Why is a user-specific customization indexed? A product with multiple options can have a very strong SE presence with a well designed set of pages detailing the various checkboxes without resorting to indexing every single buyer's customizations. Why should a page with "no useful content" be indexed? Will such a page gain powerful links that need to be channeled to an index page?

including the inability to change a client's duplicate-happy CMS.

You'd still need to alter the code of the CMS to include link tag management. Definitely easier than changing the whole thing though.

Another question relating to all this: why not have better support for <link rel="index" .../> or rel="start" or rel="contents"? The second scenario that Ammon described sounds like the textbook case for how these are described by the W3C:

Start: Refers to the first document in a collection of documents. This link type tells search engines which document is considered by the author to be the starting point of the collection.
Contents: Refers to a document serving as a table of contents. Some user agents also support the synonym ToC (from "Table of Contents").
Index: Refers to a document providing an index for the current document.

Why did we need a new relationship type?

Still, for all my annoyance by it, it is the hand that search engines served us. Whether it gets used properly or not, whether it's a segway into unrelated SE policies we will hear about in due course, or whether it will be a dud due to confusing webmasters that misuse it, only time will tell. You and I can debate all we want, but results (rankings) count the most.

#32 phaithful

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 12:49 PM

I'm curious to know the effects of adding these tags to the page?

I know it's just a "hint" (whatever that means) ... but as far as link "value" from the backlinks, is this viewed as consolidating the link "value"?

[quote name='http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/02/specify-your-canonical.html']What if the rel="canonical" hasn't yet been indexed?
Like all public content on the web, we strive to discover and crawl a designated canonical URL quickly. As soon as we index it, we'll immediately reconsider the rel="canonical" hint.

Can rel="canonical" be a redirect?
Yes, you can specify a URL that redirects as a canonical URL. Google will then process the redirect as usual and try to index it.[/quote]

If I were a hacker and I wanted to obfuscate my attack, couldn't I "rel=canonical" to a local page and that page would 301 redirect to wherever I wanted? and since this is a "bot-only" directive, wouldn't that make it difficult for a webmaster to identify unless s/he performed regular diffs (manual or automatic) on the code?

hmmm ... I also wonder what happens if you put more than one "rel=canonical" ... will the engine follow the first or last, or all?

Also wonder if they'll come out with a http Headers version to allow you to canonicalize PDFs, XML / RSS / mRSS feeds as well.

Edited by phaithful, 18 February 2009 - 12:57 PM.


#33 JohnMu

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 01:00 PM

Hi Eric

If a hacker had access to a website in a way that they could modify existing content and add new content and redirects, then I think the website owner has a big problem regardless of any rel=canonical tags that are added :).

Personally, I don't think hackers would rely on "hints" like that in an attempt to capture "value" (and to be honest, I doubt any search engine would go along with an attack like that). I think there are still similarly sneaky attacks possible with a much more certain payout -- sadly. At any rate, I think the goal should be to keep these hackers out altogether :-).

John

#34 phaithful

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 01:11 PM

If a hacker had access to a website in a way that they could modify existing content and add new content and redirects, then I think the website owner has a big problem regardless of any rel=canonical tags that are added :).

Haha yeah, I know :).

I just wanted to point out that this is the first time that we have a "bot-only" directive that can pass link value as opposed to the previous "bot-only" directive that prevent the flow of link value (e.g. nofollow).

Previously, if you wanted a "bot-only" directive to pass value, you had to "cloak" redirects or come up with some kludge like using the "hash" parameter. So I definitely appreciate the additional tool ... but I can definitely see some shenanigans with things like "PageRank Sculpting" (or whatever they call it).

#35 iamlost

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 01:42 PM

I agree with eKstreme that rel=canonical is a bandaid solution. I just do not believe it is necessary for the problem described. Indeed this 'solution' is heavily weighted to the benefit of larger and 'juicier' sites.

I also agree with eKstreme that there are alternatives for both analytics and ecommerce than how most implement tracking. I would go so far as to say that there are significantly better methods to many common usages. Unfortunately the web is full of less than optimum common behaviours and accepted practices that, through time and popular reuse, became defacto standards.

Thus I also agree with Jem - and the economics of client expectations - that following what is common and accepted is not a cop-out for lazy web developers but a fact of business life.

#36 Jem

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Posted 19 February 2009 - 07:21 AM

Is this really the best technical implementation?

If there had been, I would have gone with the better route. :)

Why is a user-specific customization indexed?

They're not. I think you misunderstand.. it's not about user-specific customisation being indexed. The pages are set up in such a way that the option picked on step 1 dictates options on step 2, and so on. However, if no option is picked (which replicates the behaviour of robots that don't have the capacity to choose & store the cookies going through each step) the default options are shown. A couple of pages with lists of size and colour aren't going to be listed in Google for anything relevant and don't need to be indexed. If I can use the rel="canonical" to suggest that the first page with all the relevant info on is the key, that can only be a good thing.

While this isn't my preferred way to list options, I am the developer & not the client. They knew what they wanted, and that is what they got. The customer is always right, and all that jazz :)

Will such a page gain powerful links that need to be channeled to an index page?

Probably not, but not everything about websites is dictated by the off chance that a powerful link may point to it. Sometimes it's just better to be safe than sorry.

#37 iamlost

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Posted 24 February 2009 - 09:02 PM

Ask Is Going “Canonical”!

Ask is announcing today that we are joining forces with other major search engines in a timely partnership to support a special search index feature called "canonical URL tag". This feature gives webmasters an opportunity to set a "preferred" name for a page.





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