Messy SEO Part 2: The importance of canonicalization
How we began cleaning up canonical tags after the MarTech site consolidation migration.
Messy SEO is a column covering the nitty-gritty, unpolished tasks involved in the auditing, planning, and optimization of websites, using MarTech’s new domain as a case study.
This second installment for “Messy SEO” details my process of rectifying the canonicalization issues that arose following the MarTech website consolidation. In Part 1 we discussed fixes for duplicate content issues—redirects. Fixing these issues is expected to address our site’s issue with diluted rankings and a decreased crawl budget.
During this process, we discovered some instances where another factor needed to be addressed—canonicalization. Virtually all of the articles on MarTech contained canonical tags pointing to now non-existent URLs.
Unlike redirection—which improves user experience while simultaneously sending ranking signals to search engines—canonicalization addresses the algorithm side of the equation. Specifying which version of a page we want to rank for helps dictate what shows up for your potential site visitors.
Proper page canonicalization ultimately serves the searcher in the long run. It makes it easier for them to find the content we’ve created that best meets their needs.
A crowd of canonicals
As mentioned in our introductory “Messy SEO” article, the new MarTech site was born from the consolidation of Marketing Land and MarTech Today. And between the hundreds of pages between each property, there was a large number of canonical URLs. What’s more, they were pointing to now non-existent pages.
At a first glance, marketers may not see the excess amount of erroneous canonical as a severe issue. After all, only bots can see these tags at a glance, and they don’t direct people to new pages like redirects. Google and other search engines rely on them to ensure the search results are up to date and meet searcher needs. And this is precisely why we in the SEO business must make sure these are set correctly (especially after site consolidations and migrations).
In our site’s situation, the pages that used to be housed on Marketing Land and MarTech Today more often than not contained canonical tags pointing to their previous iterations. So, when Google and other search engines crawl these pages they will receive a signal stating that the canonical version of the content lies on non-existent domains. This won’t add more non-existent URLs into the index, but it will make it take longer to remove the versions that are still listed in the SERPS (of which there are many).
This is why we decided to fix the canonical tag issues alongside the duplicate content consolidation efforts. Aligning our new consolidated URLs with the correct canonical versions will help search engines show the right URL in the results.
To do this, we analyzed the URLs set on each consolidated page via the Yoast SEO plugin. These would be replaced with the new URL version.
What happens to the old URLs?
So, we’ve decided what to do about the current canonical tags. We’re going to be replacing the MarTech Today and Marketing Land URLs with the newly consolidated MarTech URLs. This leaves many URLs out there, both in the SERPS and on the MarTech site itself.
Fortunately, the Third Door Media team already put in redirects from these domains to the new MarTech site, sending a pretty strong signal to search engines. But with a domain as large as ours, it’s taken months for the index to cull the old URLs. We suspect part of this delay has to do with the many articles pointing to the old canonical pages.
Our ultimate goal is to remove the signals on our site pointing to the old URLs, and the canonical tags play a major role in this. But we want to be sure the other types of links on our site are consistent as well. This means we’ll be updating outdated internal links in articles, main pages, sitemaps, and other areas.
In short, we’re going to be getting even messier with our SEO tactics.
That’s it for the second installment of “Messy SEO.” We’ll continue to go through the steps taken toward cleaning up the messiness of our post-site consolidation.
Have you had canonical tag issues on your sites? Did find any major improvements after rectifying the issue? Email me at email@example.com with the subject line Messy SEO Part 2 to let me know.