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What on earth is canonicalization?

Recently we were helping a client that had two domain names for their site.  Google saw them both and indexed a few pages from each domain.  As a result, neither domain gained very much authority and they could never rank very well in the search engines.  Part of the solution was to pick one domain to be the “main” one and redirect the other over to it.  This is known as canonicalization.

You can see it in action on this site.  Try going to any of the following addresses:


As soon as you hit [enter], you’ll instantly end up on  That is the only address that Google needs to know about, and the rest are just there to handle typos.

It doesn’t have to be www

While we’ve chosen to keep the www prefix in front of our domain, you don’t have to do it that way.  The key is to choose one of them (www or not?) and stick to it.  Our friend Cliff Seal does the opposite; go to and watch the w’s magically vanish.  Either way is fine with Google as long as you force one or the other.

How do I do it?

It takes a bit of server work, typically by editing your .htaccess file.  If you don’t know what that is, talk to your web person and they should be able to help.  Here is a snippet from ours:

RewriteEngine On

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^(www.)?$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$$1 [R=301,L]

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^$ [NC]
RewriteRule (.*)$1 [R=301,L]

The first line makes sure the “RewriteEngine” is enabled on our server.  The next two lines take “” and redirects it to our main domain.  The final two lines make sure that “www” is always in there.  We have additional lines in ours to handle all of the other domain names as well.

You can also set your “preferred domain” in Google Webmaster Tools to make sure Google is aware of your decision.

Ultimately, ranking well in Google really just comes down to doing three main things:

1 – Write quality content

At the end of the day Google is looking for unique, quality content.  One of the best things you can do is write regular blog posts, and supplement them with original photos and videos.  We enjoy playing with things like canonicalization, but for most sites just getting in there and writing more content is the best thing you can do.

2 – Help Google understand your content

This is where tools like WordPress SEO can really help.  They won’t help you generate great content, but they’ll help Google to understand the content that you have.  Fixing your canonicalization is a small piece of that as well.

3 – Get other people to promote that content

Google largely determines the quality of your content by how many people are talking about it.  Links from other sites, shares on Facebook, mentions on Twitter and all of those kinds of things can go a long way.

It’s more than just domain names

Technically, canonicalization applies to every page on your site, not just your domain name.  The WordPress SEO plugin can help with that quite a bit, and Google has more information about it as well.

At the end of the day, the more easily Google can understand the content on your site, the better you’ll rank!

About the Author

Mickey Mellen

Co-Founder and Technical Director

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