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So I thought I knew what "canonical" was for.

As I understood it (and to be fair, most of the examples on the web) it avoids search engines seeing foo.htm and foo.htm?parameter=1 as duplicate content, by specifying that only one of them is the canonical version.

Therefore it seemed to me to be an issue exclusive to more complex sites (sites with server side processing).

But take a "vanilla" brochure site of say just five pages (Home, AboutUs, ContactUs, OurProducts, Testimonials). That's just five htm files, no server side processing, nothing at all that's going to risk looking like duplicate content.

But a colleague has said we need a rel='canonical' on at least the home page to avoid

http://www.example.com
http://example.com
http://www.example.com/home.htm

looking like duplicate content.

Is he right?

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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Yes and No. The rel="canonical" will avoid the duplicate content issue. However, this particular situation is best resolved with a 301 redirect.

foo.htm and foo.htm?parameter=1 are both legitimate URLs that are used on the site, but foo.htm is probably the preferred (canonical) URL.

Whereas only 1 of www.example.com and example.com should be accessible - so redirect from one to the other

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but have we even got a duplicate content issue? we're not serving duplicate content –  hawbsl Mar 24 '13 at 21:28
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If the same page is accessible by those 3 URLs and you are not redirecting then yes, you potentially have a duplicate content issue. Google will decide which URL to index; it won't index all 3. By specifying the canonical URL (or preferably redirecting) you are deciding which URL Google should index. –  w3d Mar 24 '13 at 21:32
    
+1 beat me too it :p –  bybe Mar 24 '13 at 21:56
    
FWIW Duplicate content by itself isn't a problem (assuming the site is still normally crawlable) - search engines will just pick one URL and use that. If you have preferred URL that should be used, then using rel=canonical is a great way to let them know. –  John Mueller Mar 26 '13 at 20:00
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The fact you only have 5 pages which are static shouldn't really need canonical links used on the pages as w3d has said is correct you can prevent duplicate pages by using 301's. While this is true it doesn't ensure 100% that no duplicates will end up in the search engines but with this said its EXTREMELY! unlikely to happen.

Basically if you have say a page /foo.html and you start gaining lots of backlinks to /foo.html?parameter=21 unless you setup a rewrite conditional to remove ?blahblah from the urls and then that could work too - then these unwanted pages could end up in the index... Highly unlikely mind... Sadly Google is dumb at times and pages that don't even exist can end up in the index from peoples activities off the page.

Personally either method is valid. The fact your not using a CMS which tends to be more prone to making duplicates I'd go with whatever one you feel is better and suited to you.

But with that said for small sites I just use 301's like w3d has mentioned but if your that concerned you could use both 301's to enforce users to the right pages and then canonical just in case, also since you only have 5 pages this would be extremely easy to setup.

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This scenario would only happen if people back linked that parameter which is highly unlikely, and with that said it doesn't necessary mean it'll end up in the index. Sometimes Google can work out duplicate pages without any redirects and canonical links. I'd say in the past 2 years I've seen Google dramatically improve on detecting such pages, I tend to believe that Google now favors the first found, the fact they can detect duplicates in Web Master Tools should indicate that in their algorithm they should be able to as well - but this is just guessing from what I've seen and I may be wrong. –  bybe Mar 24 '13 at 21:40
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