Domain canonicalization – Why you must ensure that it is done properly!

Domain canonicalization

I’ve been doing a lot of website audits lately and I wanted to reiterate the importance of getting the basics right.

I was recently presented with a website that had a redesign and new website launch, and after the launch of the website, the rankings had taken a massive tumble.

I received the site approximately 3-4 months after the redesign and I was asked to look into any issues that the site may have.

The first thing that came to mind was that the site might have had several broken links or the wrong redirect setup. I found the broken links and resolved the errors, however, the rankings were still negatively affected.

I then looked for any patterns on the site and I ended up finding a large amount of duplication from the website’s template. There was a small content section on the page, however the development team that was responsible for building the site had made more than 60% of the page identical with content across the commercial pages. These included:

  • The USPs of the company
  • Company affiliations
  • Who we are/About us
  • Testimonials
  • Call to actions

Whilst I understand the importance of having these on a landing page, we still need to abide by the rules of Google and avoid presenting Google with duplicated (or templates that appear to be duplicated).

I made requested the change and we started to see a little bit of movement, but still nothing that was overly convincing.

I decided to do a link audit, where I would look into the backlink profile of the site to see if there were any patterns or to see if there was anything that had been overlooked. I was told that there was only an http version of the site (no https) and the site was hosted on a .com.au domain.

As I started to dive in deeper to the link audit, I decided to look for any mentions of the website and I actually came across a .com version of their site.

Mmmmm….me thinks there could be something going on here!

I found the domain and it was an exact match for the name, but the client hadn’t mentioned anything. I decided to use the Wayback Machine to see if the site had been used in the past.

Turned out the domain was almost 17 years old.

I put the domain into the backlink checker on Moz.

Voila – 129 links pointing to this domain.

Now the ultimate test. Do all the versions of this domain point to the correct site?

http://www version = a successful 301 redirect.

http:// version = a DNS hosting page.

Bam! I’m now confident that I’ve identified the source of the problem and all we have to do is add a 301 domain redirect to resolve the issue.

Where did the problem occur?

The issue happened somewhere during the launch. When I spoke with the IT company, I learned that one of the domain name was pointing to the wrong nameserver. This should have been tested and checked at the time.

Secondly, a redirect was meant to have been put in place. When I checked the console, the command was there in the CPanel. But when I checked it with tools to see if the server was providing the 301 response code, it was instead coming up with a 200 OK code. The SEO specialist managing this at the time should have picked up on this error.

Thirdly, the other versions of the web domain were all pointing to the correct version of the site. But the rankings dropped quickly as soon as the new site got launched. Someone should have looked back at the process and the quality assurance checklist to work out what went wrong. (In this case, the rankings completely disappeared, whereas the client was on the first page of Google beforehand).

What should have been done?

I’m that person who always stresses about the attention to detail in any work that’s being done. Small oversights can lead to big consequences. Although the fix was fairly simple, the mistake cost the business thousands in lost revenue because of an oversight. All of the teams should have had quality assurance processes in place to ensure that the domains for the website were being redirected to the correct domain.

How did we resolve the canonicalization issue?

We put a 301 redirect at the domain name server level due to the site having no FTP or web hosting server. Usually, I would configure this in an HTACCESS file with a domain 301 redirect.

Why have I shared this story?

It’s common for domain splitting to occur and for website owners to be completely unaware that they have different versions of the same site, which negatively affects their overall SEO performance. It gets more complex when there are multiple domains, such as different variations of brand name domains, microsites, different country domains and http vs https.

It’s important to have the right domain canonicalization strategy in place and to have a quality assurance process that will ensure that all of the domain versions that your site/company uses contributes wholly to your overall SEO strategy and campaign.

Have you had any experience with domain canonicalization? Share your thoughts and experience in the comments below.

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3 thoughts on “Domain canonicalization – Why you must ensure that it is done properly!”

  1. Thank you for sharing the valuable information…
    The canonical tag is an important tag to hide the content on your webpages from Google Bots because sometimes you may have some duplicate content so, in order to get panalized by Google canonical tag hide the duplicate webpage from site but that content is visible to users.

  2. Thanks for sharing the information, it’s really helpful.
    Canonicalization tag is such an important tag, sometimes we have to use duplicate content so in that situation, As we all know Google doesn’t allow duplicate content in websites so we should use canonicalization tag before using duplicate content.

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