Get Canonical! Part 2 – Domains

What is a Canonical Domain?

Most of the time the WWW and non-WWW version of a domain are treated as separate websites, unless you manually specify which version to use.

A canonical domain is one that specifies to the search engines and browsers which version to use.

A similar but separate issue is URL canonicalization, but in this post we will focus on canonical domains.

What’s Wrong with a Non-Canonical Domain?

One of the biggest problems with a non-canonical domain is that some people link to your site using WWW, and some without. This splits the power of your backlinks between the two since the search engines see them as two separate sites, effectively splitting your link juice in half.

A quick and easy way to check your domain is to type in both version and see if one redirects. Or to see it in action just type in google.com without the WWW and you will be redirected to www.google.com.

This affects not only yourdomain.com, but any subpages as well. If half of your incoming links for yourdomain.com/my-page.htm are using WWW, and half are not, the link metrics for that page will be split.

How to fix canonical domain name issues

So what do you do if you don’t have a canonical domain? Here are a three methods you can use to fix domain canonicalization issues.

Method 1 – Edit the .htaccess file

This is the most technical method and you can easily crash your site by doing this, so be careful and make a backup of the .htaccess file!

With this method you will add an Apache re-write rule  to your .htaccess file. In order to do so you will need an FTP client to edit it and you may need to change the settings in your client to show hidden or system files.

You can choose to direct all traffic to the WWW or non-WWW version of your site.

Here is the code to redirect the non-WWW to the WWW version of your site:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^domain.com$
RewriteRule (.*) http://www.domain.com/$1 [R=301,L]

Here is the code to redirect to the non-WWW version:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^domain2.com$
RewriteRule (.*) http://domain2.com/$1 [R=301,L]

Method 2 – Web Hosting

Another way to do it is through your web host. Not all hosts offer the option, but some do. I prefer to use Dreamhost and they have an option in the hosting to redirect to the WWW version, the non-WWW version, or just leave it alone.

This is perhaps the simplest way to make your domain canonical, and it affects all web traffic, unlike the next method.

Method 3 – Google Webmasters Tools

Yet another way is to create a Google Webmaster’s Tools account and tell Google which version you prefer. While this is the least effectigoogle webmasters cannonical domainsve method since it does not fix the issue for other search engines, it’s an easy way to start if you aren’t able to use the previous two methods described.

Another, similar issue you should be aware of and take action to correct are canonical urls. You can read about them in Google’s Webmaster’s Tools Help Section.


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