Yesterday Google announced that it is now supporting the rel=”canonical” link element (sometimes referred to as the canonical URL tag) across different domains. This means that in addition to using the tag to help sort of duplicate content issues on a single domain, it can also be used in dealing with duplicate content on more than one domain. (If you’re not familiar with rel=”canonical” see Publishers: Solve Tracking Code, Duplicate Content Issues with the Canonical URL Tag).
In the Q&A in Google’s announcement, one question in particular caught my eye:
Q: I’m offering my content / product descriptions for syndication. Do my publishers need to use rel=”canonical”?
A: We leave this up to you and your publishers. If the content is similar enough, it might make sense to use rel=”canonical”, if both parties agree.
At Define we work with a lot of newspaper and magazine sites, many of which have syndication deals with multiple partners. “How can we prevent our syndication partners from outranking us for our own content?” is one of the most common consulting questions we get.
As I covered in my post on syndication best practices, to some extent publishers have to except that they can’t have their cake and eat it too; if you allow your content to be published on other sites there is always a chance that they will outrank you for that content. Since most syndication partners will not agree to block their duplicate versions from search engines, the current best practices are built around reducing the risk of being outranked as opposed to eliminating it.
Now cross-domain support of rel=”canonical” is the best available option to publishers for dealing with duplicate content caused by syndication and establishing the content on their sites as the original source.
It will be interesting to see if publishers are able to get a rel=”canonical” requirement added to future syndication contracts. Most likely the partners will push back, but if you can get them to agree to it you absolutely should. Though it is important to note that Yahoo and Bing are not yet supporting rel=”canonical” across domains, so this solution only applies to Google.
As you can see from the Q&A above Google is going out of its way to avoid offering a specific recommendation on this matter. I guess in the current climate they want to avoid telling news sites how to run their businesses. But they certainly recognize the tag’s value in helping to sort out duplicate content issues caused by syndication.
UNRELATED SIDE NOTE
Right after I published this post I noticed a mistake with the URL, so I immediately re-published with a different URL. Unfortunately that seems to have interfered with the ability for the TweetMeme button to register retweets of this post. I tried testing and playing around with it but I couldn’t sort it out. Anyone ever have this issue? It’s obviously not that big a deal but that zero doesn’t look so hot.