The Role Web Hosting Plays In Canonicalization Issues

Web Hosting plays a very important role in search engine optimization, which many seem to be ignorant of or neglect when choosing web hosting providers. Here we’ll discuss the role web hosting plays in canonicalization issues and how to save you from the hazards.

Sometimes search engines run into some duplicate content challenges when their bots crawl websites. Duplicate pages happen when a given web page has many URLs that point to it.

Here are some examples:

http://yourdomain.com – A site owner may consider this as his/her authoritative or canonical URL for the site’s homepage.

http://www.yourdomain.com – When you add the “www” prefix to the website, you will still get to the same homepage.

http://yourdomain.com/index.html – You can as well add the specific file name associated with the homepage and get to that same page.

http://yourdomain.com/?track=123 – This scenario happens when a site uses parameters to track sales or other matters of interest. Most sites that implement affiliate programs use this type of URLs to ascertain the originating sites where their customers come from.

All the above-mentioned URLs have the same content, posing great challenges for search bots to decide which of the URLs is most authoritative of them all. Some search engines like Google and Yahoo will most likely index all the URLs, and consequently split the link juice among them. This dilutes the benefits the homepages gets from the external sites that link to it. Bing on the other hand tends to index the non-www version, if there’s no outright directive given with regards to the canonical URL.

Google, Bing and Yahoo all support a tag attribute that helps website owners to identify the single a canonical URL for a given web page.  Here is an example of the rel canonical tag attribute that can be placed in the source code of web pages between the <head> and </head> tags:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.yourdomain.com”/>

Google fully recognizes this rel canonical tag, while Bing views it as a hint and not a command. So, chances are that it might still not work with Bing.

So, the problem still remains! And this is where web hosting comes into play. Many web hosts offer their clients the flexibility to manipulate the .htaccess file, while others don’t. A canonicalization issue can be easily solved by choosing the most authoritative URL from the bunch and redirect the others using a 301 redirect. If you’re using a Linux web hosting service that allows you to edit your site’s .htaccess file, open the file in a text editor and insert the following code:

RewriteEngine on

<Files 403.shtml>

order allow,deny

allow from all

</Files>

Rewritecond %{HTTP_HOST} ^yourdomain.com [nc]

Rewriterule ^(.*)$ http://www.yourdomain.com/$1 [r=301,nc]

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^yourdomain.com$ [OR]

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.yourdomain.com$

RewriteRule ^index\.html?$ “http\:\/\/www\.yourdomain\.com\/” [R=301,L]

Don’t forget to change “yourdomain” to your actual domain name, “.html” to the actual file name associated with the site’s homepage, and “.com” to the actual domain extension. Finally save the file. That’s it, your site doesn’t have any canonicalization issue!

If you’re using a Windows IIS hosting, unfortunately you cannot implement a 301 redirect through .htaccess. In this scenario, only the server administrator can configure it. So, contact your web host and let them do it for you.

On the other hand, if you use a web host that doesn’t permit you to edit the .htaccess and doesn’t implement the 301 redirect for you, then you’re stuck and left at the mercy of search engines. Your only option is to change to a web hosting company that offers you the flexibility to manipulate the .htaccess file as you like.

In conclusion, it is wise to make sure you choose a web host that provides customers flexibility ways of eliminating duplicate content issues caused by canonicalization.