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Imagine a website of a recurring event.
The URL structure is:

  • http://example.org/2022/ - subdirectory about the 2022 edition of the event
  • http://example.org/2021/ - subdirectory about the 2021 edition of the event
  • http://example.org/ - a 302 HTTP redirect to the current year edition, e.g. http://example.org/2022/

This URL strategy allows the users to get to the current year edition anytime just browsing to http://example.org, and to read about the past editions browsing to the other year's subdirectories.

The problem comes when search engines are involved. When I search "Example Org" through a search engine, I would expect to get as first result the freshest edition of the event, namely http://example.org/2022, or http://example.org.

Unfortunately, search engines prefer to show first several past editions, because such content is usually better ranked since it has longer texts, more pages, and across the web there are more links to those rather than to the new edition's ones.

How can I tell search engines that when it comes to my domain I want them to give priority to a certain subdirectory (e.g. http://example.org/2022)?

2 Answers 2

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The best way to deal with this is to have a URL for the latest event that doesn't change. Something like: http://example.org/current/ (Or maybe even just http://example.org/) Then when you create a new event, you archive the pages for the previous event to a subdirectory.

For example, the 2022 event might still be coming up so you would move last year's pages to http://example.org/2021/ and create a link to it, maybe in the "archives" or "previous events" section of your site. If there are pages that are specific to that year's event you could redirect them.

Doing it this way concentrates all your rankings on the pages that matter the most: the new event. Search engines don't have to switch to indexing different pages every year. You will also get much better link juice from external links to your current event because all the links from previous years events will boost it.

This URL strategy is recommend by Google's John Mueller:

Doing it this way will help the generic URL to gain value over the years, while still allowing the older versions to be accessible if someone explicitly looks for them. Another advantage of this setup is that it’s trivial for folks to find and go to the current version.

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  • Thank you Stephen, you are totally right about the advantages I would get, but here I see a major drawback. External resources with links to specific pages of the current year, e.g. http://example.org/current/program, http://example.org/current/staff, http://example.org/current/sponsors and so on, would confuse the users after the "edition shift". Do you have some ideas for an approach without URI changing?
    – etuardu
    Apr 30 at 17:25
  • A user that follows a link to your event's program is very rarely going to be interested in seeing the program for a previous year. Updating the content of those URLs for the current year sounds completely appropriate to me. If you have something very specific for last year like /current/program/talk-on-blue-widgets that isn't going to be part of this year's event it would make sense to redirect that URL to archive when the content is moved. Apr 30 at 19:52
  • I'd stick to the "cool URIs don't change" philosophy. Amongst others, for this reason: we use to open the registration for the next year edition quite early. During several months, people are able to register to both the current edition and the next year one. If we would do like so, in 2022 we would have links to /current/registration (current edition, 2022) and to /2023/registration (next year edition, 2023) all over the web. When 2023 comes and we shift the URIs, the links to /current/registration would suddenly point to the former /2023/registration. I think it would be confusing.
    – etuardu
    May 2 at 16:21
  • I registration link like /2021/registration makes no sense at all, you can't register for past events. So maybe you need /current/registration that allows you to register for more than one event or separate /current/registration and /upcoming/registration URLs for this year and next year. May 2 at 16:25
  • It wouldn't solve the issue. We would likely have social medias or external websites advertising the next year edition, with specific info about the place, the program etc., linking to /upcoming/. After the URI shift, those links would bring the users to the wrong place. As I said, this is just one of several reasons. My question is, how can we fix SEO keepking our URI strategy (and our URIs) unchanged.
    – etuardu
    May 2 at 16:41
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While I'm not convinced that your URI strategy is optimized for maximum SEO, you should be able to accomplish your objective of telling search engines to prioritize the pages in a given subdirectory (e.g. /2022/ instead of /2021/) with canonical links.

The only drawback would be since you can only add canonical links to pages and not the whole directory, you would have to place a canonical link on each of the pages from the previous years and point them to their current counterpart. If any pages in previous versions have been done away with, they would still appear in the search results since there is no fresh content.

diagram illustrating the use of canonicals for the years 2020-2022

Remember that canonicals are used to point duplicate content to the most relevant version; they should not be nested. So although your URI structure would not change, the canonical links would have to be added to the new pages and adjusted on all the other pages each year.

Depending on the number of pages/yr and how long your event has existed, this might be simple or overwhelming. But this is the only way to achieve your goal without changing your URIs.

Assuming you can access the HTML directly without needing a plugin, creating a canonical tag for /2021/events and pointing it to /2022/events would require adding this to the document head.

<link rel="canonical" href="http://example.org/2022/events" />

If you decide to use this method, I have provided below a good reference on canonical links to explain more thoroughly and help avoid any costly mistakes.

Canonical URLs – Best Practices, Common Mistakes & Their Impact on SEO

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  • Hi killshot, thank you for this very detailed answer! If I understand well, if /2021/venue (London edition) had a canonical link to /2022/venue (New York edition), then the search engines would consider the first page as duplicated content and remove it from the search results, right? This is not desired because people may want to search "Example Event in London" to read about such edition. In other words, it seems to me that canonical urls are a way to replace a URI with another (from the search engine's viewpoint) instead of prioritizing. Am I right?
    – etuardu
    May 3 at 13:24
  • As far as the search engine is concerned, it would cause the new content to appear in place of the old. However, this is much gentler than, for example, a 301 or 302 redirect. A real-world example would be if an online store sells three different colors of a shirt, two URIs can be set as canonical, but the customer still sees the option to pick a color and selects their preference. You would have to rely primarily on backlinks and internal links from the previous year. So the URI would not pop up directly in the search results, but no hardcoded links to /2021/venue would be broken or lost.
    – killshot13
    May 4 at 1:29
  • Also, you would retain all of your SEO 'link juice' since it would be channeled to the most current version of the event. I realize this is not the simplest or most direct approach, but if this is not a sufficient method, I'm inclined to agree with Stephen. What you are trying to achieve may be impossible given the constraints.
    – killshot13
    May 4 at 1:37

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