Using the Cross Domain Rel Canonical as an SEO Weapon

We’ve known since 2009 that Google fully supports the cross domain rel=canonical and more recently it has transpired that the canonical may be faster and more effective than a 301, the traditional way for SEO’s to point the right link juice at the right places.

Seriously, there are a number of ways this can be used to boost SEO efforts and deliver the right signals to the right pages.

Getting Social Signals To Boring Pages

If you run an ecommerce site selling ‘dog leads’ you are likely going to struggle to get any social attention, however now Twitter and Facebook links are part of the algo, and from what we are seeing a pretty significant factor, you really want to be leveraging this to boost your rankings, so what do you do?

Well, start by making sure you have a blog with all the usual social buttons, write a post, something catchy with lot’s of images, ‘5 most expensive dog leads’… maybe.

Push this around your social power accounts, share it on Twitter, Facebook, Stumble etc…… Now this post has plenty of social POW, all helping it rank 🙂

But hold on, the page we really want to rank higher is our ‘Premium Leads’ range 🙁

So…. We simply use the canonical tag to pass on all that lovely social juice! The User get’s the quirky content but Google credits your premium range.

Now this could be considered a little bit ‘grey hat’ but you could put things in place to minimise any risk, ‘This post was written on the back of research by our Premium Leads department’… I think you know what I am getting at.

Building Links Before Products Hit

My fellow SEO and colleague at Branded3 gave a great presentation on getting the most out of SEO specifically for Ecommerce sites, part of the presentation focussed on building links to blog posts targeting products that you know are coming to the market place but not yet released.

When it comes to new product releases Google seem to have a ‘first past the post’ rule, if you get the best page up and linked to the quickest then you win in the long run.

So you optimise and link to the blog posts months before it is launched and then 301 once the actual product page is live! Geniuous and works well, trust me.

However the user loses that smashing post on the blog, well they do if you 301 but if the canonical works better, hey presto!


Of course this leaves the door wide open to manipulation and there are many who would consider the above, grey if not black hat, however the fact remains it works well and Google allow it, at least for now.

SEO’s have been buying canonical links for ages, however with this recent research you can bet it is going to become more and more common. Are Google going to start punishing sites that buy canonical links 🙂


Tim Grice is the CEO of Branded3, a search marketing agency in the UK. Tim has over a decade of experience in search and regularly speaks at key events and conferences.

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17 Replies to “Using the Cross Domain Rel Canonical as an SEO Weapon”

  1. Great post Tim,
    I never thought of implementing this strategy! By the way, I am getting to the point where I have an extreme number of web hosting, seo, affiliate, twitter, youtube accounts… Do you have any suggestions on what I should do to help manage everything? Do you know of any management software that would help me keep everything straight? – currently I am getting overwhelmed ):
    Thanks 🙂

  2. Interesting post, and I’m going to give it a try as we’ve got loads of dry content (solicitors!)

    So in the example you’d add to the blog post – is that correct?

  3. sorry, it stripped the code out…

    Meta link rel=canonical “http://mainsite/premiumleadspage”

    Would you add the above to the blog post? Do you need to add anything to the ‘target’ page?

  4. Just do exactly that, build up a link worthy post and simply switch once it has enough authority, acts just like a 301 from a link juice point of view.

  5. the first point is a nice idea but if it does work I can imagine Google will start clamping down on it if it happens en masse. their commentary on the canonical tag in the past is that it should be used on pages with “very similar or identical content” (paraphrased). I think what you’re describing is basically low level link juice cloaking! still, if it works… 😀

  6. Ye it is a little like cloaking, however if you want to do a product review before it’s Released I think don’t think there could be anything more natural than redirecting it when it’s ready for sale, the social stuff is a little less defensible but it works 🙂

  7. Interesting concept, but I aggree it falls into the “building one page for the search engine and another for users” category and I am surethat at some point, Google will find a way to regulate this. Its better to start off right, than to have to fix everything once Google does regulate it.

  8. I think google will eventually jump on this, however I don’t think there will be anything to clean up, the worst thing that can happen is google preventing link juice passing through the canonical

  9. Hello Tim. I’d like to know the % of link juice (estimated) passed by a cross domain canonical. I’ve read that 301 passed about 90/99% of link juice. What about cross domain canonical?
    Thank you in advance.

  10. There is no way of knowing but I would tend to agree with the above, most of the authority and rankings pass, the only issues we have seen is that sometimes anchor text benefit doesn’t pass.

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