What’s The Difference Between a 301 redirect and a rel=canonical?

A 301 Redirect vs. a Rel=Canonical

A 301 redirect tells search engines that your page has moved and tells Google to no longer index the page. It permanently redirects from one URL to another.

A rel=canonical tells most search engines that there are multiple versions of the same page and indicates which should be considered the “original version” that should be delivered in the search results.

Redirect options can be confusing, especially when they seem so similar. This article will help you figure out which option is the best for you.

Best options for duplicate content?

Content appearing in more than one place it is considered duplicate content and can be confusing for search engines trying to decide which version is relevant to queries. It can also have a negative impact on your search rankings. 301 redirects and rel=canonical are two of the best solutions for dealing with duplicate content. But you will need to decide which one is most relevant to your situation.     

When to use a 301 redirect

A 301 redirect is the preferred method for redirecting a page. When implemented correctly, you can eventually pass the original page’s relevance and ranking power.  

There are a few instances when you will want to use a 301 redirect:

  • Moving your website to a different domain
  • When there are multiple URLs that people use to access your site
  • If you’re merging two websites and want to redirect users to the correct page

It can also take some time for pages that are 301 redirects to be recognized and then stop being indexed. Typically you may be looking at anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to reindex.

How to set up a 301 redirect

To set up a redirect for a single page add the following line to your .htaccess

Redirect 301 /old-file.html http://www.domain.com/new-file.html

Replace the “old-file” with the file of the page you want to be redirected. Replace the http://domain.com/new-file.html is the URL you want the page to redirect to.   

To set up a redirect for an entire domain add the following:

Redirect 301 / https://www.new-domain.com/

https://www.new-domain.com/ should be replaced with the URL you want to redirect your site to.

Problems with 301 redirects

There can be a few problems when implementing a 301 redirect. As mentioned previously, it could be a while before your new page passes the authority of your old page.

There can also be issues when using a redirection plugin.

A redirect plugin on WordPress can be very resource intensive. When using a site like WordPress that already has CPU usage problems, it can become even more disruptive when adding in plugins.

Another common problem with a 301 redirect is that it can be used incorrectly. Developing a completely new site and using 301 to point all the pages to one specific URL homepage can undermine the relevancy of the search traffic.

301 was not meant to drive traffic from an old site to a new site. If you’re redirecting pages, they each need to have their own 301 redirect to the new relevant page.

When to use a rel=canonical

A rel=canonical alerts search engines to the fact that the content on similar URLs is actually the same. It tells the search engines which page to display.

There are a few instances when you will want to use a rel=canonical:

  • When 301s can’t be implemented
  • When you wish to share content on your website that was produced for another site and want to avoid having it flagged as “duplicate content”
  • When you want to keep multiple pages with the same content active   
  • When you have dynamic pages with multiple URLs. For example, a site that has sorting or tracking options.

Potential Problems with rel=canonical

Along with 301 redirects, one of the biggest problems with rel=canonical is its misuse when it is implemented. The pages need to contain a considerable amount of the same content in order for rel=canonical to be effective. If the pages don’t contain a large percent of the same content, rel=canonical is probably not the way to go.

Another common problem is using the tag with multiple related pages. For example, if you’ve written a blog post and decided to break it into different parts, each of these will have their own unique URL. By using rel=canonical you’re essentially telling Google to only show one of these parts when a user searches for them.

The Best Redirect Option For You

Hopefully, you have a clearer understanding of the difference between a 301 redirect and rel=canonical and which option is best for you. Both options can turn duplicate content into cleaner search results. But before implementing be sure to test on a few small URLs first to make sure you’re using them correctly.     

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