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Google canonical issue in February 2008



3:58 pm on Feb 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

For the last few years, I've used a 301 redirect on my shared windows hosting plan to redirect all requests for example.com to www.example.com to eliminate the Google canonical / duplicate content issue.

However, due to other issues, I'm moving to a new host that does not provide 301 redirects. Therefore, there is no way to do the above redirect.

However, I'm now aware that I can use Google webmaster tools to tell Google directly to use www.example.com which some have argued adequately addresses the issue.

Still, however, when I visit any major site and type in example.com, I'm always redirected to www.example.com.

So, I ask your opinion: In February 2008, do you feel I would be making a mistake to show both example.com and www.example.com (ie no redirect) and just use Google webmaster tools to report that I want to go with www.example.com, or is there some other reason or something I am overlooking whereby I would be better off simply finding another host willing to do the redirect?

[edited by: tedster at 5:45 pm (utc) on Feb. 18, 2008]
[edit reason] switch to example.com - it can never be owned [/edit]


6:36 pm on Feb 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Google has significantly improved their handling of canonical issues recently, but improved does not mean error-free.

If your domain is moving to another host but it has a good current situation with Google's indexing, then by choosing the prefered domain in Webmaster Tools, there's a very good chance that everything will remain on an even keel for you.

A lot depends on how important this domain is for you. When I work a domain that is "mission critical", I always insist on a 301 canonical fix. So if that's your situation, I'd say find a hosting situation where you can do the canonical 301 fix.

Did you notice my weasel words in the second sentence - "a very good chance"? Let's take a look at a statment from Google's Webmaster Tools blog, and be on the lookout for the weasel that may be hiding.

Is the preferred domain feature a filter or a redirect?

...The preferred domain feature is not a filter. When you set a preference, we:
Consider all links that point to the site (whether those links use the www version or the non-www version) to be pointing at the version you prefer. This helps us more accurately determine PageRank for your pages.
Once we know that both versions of a URL point to the same page, we try to select the preferred version for future crawls.

Index pages of your site using the version you prefer. If some pages of your site are indexed using the www version and other pages are indexed using the non-www version, then over time, you should see a shift to the preference you've set.

http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2006/09/setting-preferred-domain.html [googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com]

Let's look at some recommmendations from Matt Cutts:

For the people who want to make sure that all their webmaster ducks are in a row on this topic, here’s my two-minute advice:
- Pick one way of writing all your urls and use that consistently in your pages and your links.

- If you pick (say) www.example.com as your preferred root page, make sure that you have a permanent (301) redirect from pages such as example.com to www.example.com...

- To be extra safe, feel free to use Google’s webmaster console to specify the preferred root page of your domain (www.example.com vs. example.com).

http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/canonicalization-update/ [mattcutts.com]

So consider both the risk factor (dwindling but not gone) and your needs.


5:18 am on Feb 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I was afraid the answer would be filled with just a bit of ambiguity. I've come to agree with your philosophy... for mission critical sites, go with a 301. Bummer, because I really searched long and hard for this new host and thought I had found a winner.


5:35 am on Feb 19, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I once managed to talk a hosting service with almost 1 million domains hosted to add the 301 redirect for me. It turned out that an upper level supervisor had some "special sauce" available for people who really pushed hard. If this hosting service looks good from other angles, you might give the discussion one more try.

[edited by: tedster at 2:31 am (utc) on Feb. 20, 2008]


1:50 am on Feb 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Thanks for the suggestion. I gave it a shot, but they said "No" because they claim that the way their servers are set up all of the accounts would be affected.


2:38 am on Feb 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Several members have tried various on-page 301 approaches for Windows servers when they do not have admin level access. I can't vouch for this because I haven't tested it, but it might be worth a look:

ASP 301 Redirect Question [webmasterworld.com]


2:45 am on Feb 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I would assume that 301s not being allowed means you also have no access to htaccess. There are lots of other features available in htaccess that I find crucial to a well run site, like being able to set up a 410 for "gone" pages so search engines will drop them from their index and 301 redirecting pages when file names are changed and also for setting up a rewrite for competitors, et. al. who write strange URLs directed at your site, i.e., query strings.


2:57 am on Feb 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

The opening post is talking about "shared windows hosting" and .htaccess is Apache. No doubt that Windows Servers can be quite challenging and they just do not offer the easy bells and whistles of Apache. The nicest tool you can add to a Windows IIS server, and this is IF your hosting allows it, would be ISAPI Rewrite. A site search [webmasterworld.com] turns up a couple thousand results.

But alas for our opening poster, if the hosting service will not allow a canonical 301 fix, they're not at all likely to install a new third-party module like ISAPI Rewrite.


4:42 pm on Feb 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


Good news! I tried your approach of contacting an upper level supervisor (for a second time, as they had called me to see why I canceled) and this time they made an exception and allowed the 301. Thanks for the tip.


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