When Should I Use a Canonical vs. a 301 Redirect?

 Before we dive in, we need to understand the differences between a 301 and a canonical tag.

301 Redirects:

A 301 redirect is a way of permanently moving one URL to another.

From a user perspective, they type in one URL and magically get a different one.

No content is loaded on the original URL, it just redirects to the new place.

Most ways of doing this introduce a small delay in load times, but with CDNs and caching and modern technology, it really isn’t something we need to worry about.

There’s a ton of different ways to implement a 301 redirect.

If you’re on Apache you can do them in your .htaccess file.

It’s a bit different on Windows hosting.

You can even use a scripting language to do a redirect in code, although I would prefer to do it at the .htaccess level if possible.

The various ways to do redirects are beyond the scope of this article.

Canonical Tags:

The canonical tag has been around for a long time.

It’s coming up on its 12th birthday, but SEO pros still continue to struggle with using it and non-SEO pros still struggle with pronouncing it.

The main intent behind the canonical tag is to allow the webmaster to specify the preferred URL of a page that’s similar to another page.

Think of a “print version” of a page, or a sort feature on a page.

The canonical tag can be very useful in these situations. More on that later.

A canonical tag lives in the <head> section of the website.

The canonical tag is simple:

<link href="https://example.com" rel="canonical">

I’ve seen some websites put the canonical attribute inside meta tags or other tags.

I’m not sure if that works, or why you’d want to do that, so just do it like above.

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