Canonical URLs vs dynamic URLs: what’s the difference?
URL format and quality can heavily impact your search engine optimization efforts, as well as what pages searchers find when they query your target keywords. While static URLs are crucial, you also need to understand the difference between canonical URLs vs dynamic URLs and how to use them. Read on for the answers to these questions.
A canonical URL is an HTML element primarily used to prevent duplicate content from appearing in the SERPs or being indexed by Google. A canonical URL tells a search engine that one document, rather than another similar one, is preferable or “canonical.”
For example, imagine that you have two very similar web pages for your online store. The web pages showcase the same product, except for one difference: the product’s price when it’s on discount. To prevent a search engine like Google from producing the discounted product all the time, you would set the first page (dubbed Page A or something similar) to be “canonicalized.”
In some sense, a canonical URL is the “official” version of a URL that may have several similar variations. Canonical URLs may be called canonical tags, canonical links, or similar names.
Creating strong canonical URLs can be tricky if you don’t know where to start, so you should consider hiring a professional if you’re not confident in your skills. You can expect to pay a freelance web developer at least $80 an hour for work of this kind. That said, generating canonical URLs is pretty straightforward.
Some good tips to make quality canonical URLs include:
- Always use absolute or full URLs, including the HTTP or HTTPS codes.
- Only set one canonical URL per web page to prevent confusion and repeat indexing.
- Place a canonical URL in the <head> section of the code or the HTTP header section.
- Always point your canonical URLs to an indexable page, not something you don’t intend to be indexed by Google in the first place.
- When building a site map, include the preferred or canonical version of a web page in your XML document. This will prevent mishaps from occurring if you have to share this information with your team, plus prevent someone from sending another canonical URL for a web page that has already been canonicalized.
When in doubt, remember that canonical URLs should be unique, attached to one web page, and designed for longevity/comprehensiveness above all else.
The primary purpose of a canonical URL is to stop duplicate content internally and externally. Internal duplicate content may occur within your own website or server. External duplicate content occurs whenever duplicate or similar content exists across different domains.
Setting a canonical URL stops duplicate content issues from affecting your site. A canonical URL can “talk” to Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines and act as a switch to tell them what pages to show and which to hide. Although search engines can ignore canonical URLs, these tools still give you, a website owner, better control over your online presence across the web.
There are lots of situations in which you should use canonical URLs.
For example, if you only have one version of a page, the canonical URL should be self-referencing. It tells search engines that that version of the page is the only one in existence, and it should be indexed appropriately.
However, you should also use a canonical URL if multiple versions of the same page exist. The canonical URL should be set to reference the page you prefer, such as the page with the best text, so it’s indexed by search engines instead of duplicates or similar variations.
Here are some use cases for canonical URLs:
- With site security a growing concern among search engines and marketers alike, every website should use HTTPS as the default and preferred protocol. To use HTTPS with your domain name, you need to install an SSL or TLS certificate on your site. An SSL certificate will help protect your website, verify domain ownership, and keep user data secure. However, if you don't configure your server correctly, it can lead to duplicate content issues. You can use the canonical URL to ask the search engines to only index the secure (HTTPS) version of your website.
- Fix duplicate content issues, like when query parameters are necessary for a URL. This can occur if someone uses a search bar on your website. Such a URL may look like this: www.example.com/shirts/brand?lang=uk&id101. The characters “UK” tell the browser that you want the British English version of the page to be produced for a searcher.
- Duplicate content issues may also occur if you have many slightly different pages (sometimes called near duplicates) or when you intentionally create multiple versions of the same page for testing purposes.
- When there are separate desktop and mobile pages for the same content, it’s a good idea to set a canonical URL and an alternate URL so you can communicate which of the two pages should be preferred. This is important because some website pages may be designed for mobile browsers or devices with different screen elements, faster loading times, etc.
- If there are cross-domain issues, a canonical URL can be utilized to stop duplicate content across multiple websites from popping up or messing with your SEO intentions.
A dynamic URL is a URL produced by a site at the moment when a user submits a search query into a search bar. They are contrasted with static URLs, which don’t allow the contents of a web page to change unless those changes are coded into HTML.
Dynamic URLs are always generated from specific search queries to databases. In this way, dynamic URLs represent template pages that display query results rather than hard-coded or canonical content. Importantly, dynamic URLs are not stored on relevant servers or databases. Instead, they are generated with stored data from an application and server.
The main difference between a dynamic and static URL lies in URL parameters. Individual search queries determine which parameters will be used in a static or dynamic URL. Dynamic URLs usually have characters such as “?”, “&,” “+,” and “.cgi.” Here’s an example of a dynamic URL:
This example dynamic URL shows that content from a specific page category is being displayed and in UK English rather than other language possibilities. As noted above, the URL is created the moment a user submits a relevant search query.
Dynamic URLs are primarily important for search engine optimization. In fact, they are often thought of as elements of SEO best practices.
For example, dynamic URLs prevent products that aren’t available at an online store from being displayed to searchers. In this way, online shoppers aren’t inconvenienced by being shown products that aren’t available.
That said, there are a couple of potential issues with dynamic URLs that may require you to use canonical URLs.
- For starters, dynamic URLs may lead to the production of a wide range of duplicate content. Thus, you’ll need to set a canonical URL tag to prevent that duplicate content from being indexed improperly.
- Dynamic URLs usually don’t have as high click-through rates as static or canonical URLs on SERPs. However, this may change as search engines evolve and become more sophisticated.
- Dynamic URLs can’t be described with keywords, so it can be trickier to write them for maximum SEO results.
- Dynamic URLs must be avoided for certain applications, such as footer links, menus, and navigation links.
Generally, dynamic URLs are leveraged for product lists, interactive websites, application sessions, or web forms.
To summarize, the main difference between canonical and dynamic URLs is:
- Canonical URLs are set, static, and denote the “primary” or “preferred” version of a web page.
- Dynamic URLs are never generated ahead of time (though their templates can be). Instead, they are generated organically each time a searcher inputs a search query.
Canonical URLs can help to offset the web page glut created by dynamic URLs. For example, you may create dynamic URLs to produce unique web pages whenever searchers look for products on your online store.
To stop Google from indexing all of those temporarily created pages, you can set a canonical URL for every product page. That way, Google only indexes the canonical version of a given product page.
Ultimately, canonical and dynamic URLs are both important tools when optimizing your website for search engines, providing the most robust and responsive experience for your users and ensuring that your pages are indexed as quickly as possible. You can learn more about URLs, plus discover quality domains, on EuroDNS today.