Q: What is a canonical url? Do you have to use such a weird word, anyway?
A: Sorry that it’s a strange word; that’s what we call it around Google. Canonicalization is the process of picking the best url when there are several choices, and it usually refers to home pages. For example, most people would consider these the same urls:
But technically all of these urls are different. A web server could return completely different content for all the urls above. When Google “canonicalizes” a url, we try to pick the url that seems like the best representative from that set.
Q: So how do I make sure that Google picks the url that I want?
A: One thing that helps is to pick the url that you want and use that url consistently across your entire site. For example, don’t make half of your links go to http://example.com/ and the other half go to http://www.example.com/ . Instead, pick the url you prefer and always use that format for your internal links.
Q: Is there anything else I can do?
A: Yes. Suppose you want your default url to be http://www.example.com/ . You can make your webserver so that if someone requests http://example.com/, it does a 301 (permanent) redirect to http://www.example.com/ . That helps Google know which url you prefer to be canonical. Adding a 301 redirect can be an especially good idea if your site changes often (e.g. dynamic content, a blog, etc.).