How to improve your Google ranking with REL attributes

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I recently had to do some work on REL attributes and along the way, I learned some new things. So whilst it’s fresh in my mind, I thought I’d talk you through some good SEO practices.

What are REL attributes?

REL attributes are designed to assist search engines on what they crawl on your website. Essentially, they explain to the search engines what to crawl and what not to .

The common misconception for many store owners is that you want every page to be crawled on your website because it has more chance of ranking on Google . Wrong!

Why is it bad to let search engines crawl every page?

Search engines really don’t like duplicate (or very similar) content. Whether it’s a page title, a meta description or page content. There are 2 main reasons for this:

  • Search engines can’t work out which page is more relevant for the person searching for the page, therefore ranks the pages lower
  • Search engines think that you might be trying to abuse the system, therefore punish you with lower rankings in the search results

A common scenario where you might find duplicate content

Let’s say I have a shoe shop online. I have created several categories on my website including New Products , Men’s Shoes and What’s Trending . In each of these categories, I have a pair of Black Leather Laced Shoes . Depending on the setup of your eCommerce Platform, this could mean that you have duplicate web pages:

And in the end, search engines don’t know how to prioritise this by default

Another common scenario…

Following on from the above example, you might also sell Red Leather Laced Shoes . Unless you’re really good at writing unique meta descriptions and product content, the only difference of the page might be the colour description. Therefore you could end up with 8 very similar pages!

A final not-so-common scenario

Depending on your eCommerce Platform or web server, when you create a page, it can be accessed 2 different ways. Search engines actually treat this as 2 separate pages, despite the only differences being the trailing slash (“/”).

These are very common problems that I come across when reviewing eCommerce websites. It’s an easy mistake to make if you’re focusing more on running a business than maintaining a website. Hopefully, I’m able to educate you now if you’re about to build an online store or help you improve an existing one. You might also find my article on How to improve your SEO by managing your URL Parameters useful.

How to avoid being penalised for duplicate content

rel=”canonical”

This method is very powerful and will solve all scenarios mentioned above.

Adding canonical attributes to your web pages gives you the ability to explain to search engines what is going on. In the scenario above, we saw 4 pages get created for Black Leather Laced Shoes all with duplicate content. By adding a canonical REL attributes to all 4 pages, we can tell search engines to crawl all of the pages but only refer to the main page (of our choosing) for the information that will want to be crawled. With this method, search engines know not to penalise you for duplicate content or SEO abuse.

Adding canonical REL Attributes to your pages

On each of the 4 pages (yes that includes the page you want to link to), you will want to insert this line between the <head> and </head> of your pages. Ultimately how you achieve this is dependent on what eCommerce Platform you are using.

<head>
    <link rel="canonical" href="https://website.co.uk/black-leather-laced-shows.html" /">
</head>

How to avoid being penalised for linking to bad websites

rel=”nofollow,noindex”

Another really useful REL attribute that you can implement. It can be used to avoid search engines from crawling pages that you don’t want to be found in search results and it can stop search engines from following any specific links or all links on the whole page.

This is especially useful if you’re the pages/links are private or not relevant. On digitalstartup.co.uk I have some Members and Account pages. Although I don’t mind people discovering these pages, there is no point in allowing them to be crawled by search engines. So on these pages, I adopt the follow,noindex rule. This tells search engines that they can crawl the pages and links on the pages, but don’t list them in search results.

Apart from using this REL Attribute to not crawl none-relevant pages, I also use it to avoid some duplicate content. The main SEO goal of this website is for my articles (like this one) to be found organically. So I have to pay particular attention towards my SEO efforts. To avoid some obvious duplicate content, I don’t allow my main blog page (digitalstartup.co.uk/blog) to be indexed but I do allow the links to be followed. This is because the main blog page creates limited extracts of the actual articles I want to rank for, and I don’t want the main blog page and the main article fighting for rankings in search engines.

There are actually 4 variations in total that can be used:

  • nofollow (Don’t follow any links from this page)
  • follow (Follow all links on this page)
  • noindex (Don’t index this page for search results)
  • index (You can index this page for search results)

By default, if you are not using these REL Attributes, search engines will freely index and follow all pages and links.

Adding nofollow,noindex REL Attributes to your links

Let’s say that I’m happy for the page to be indexed and followed by search engines. However, there are specific links on that page that I don’t want indexing or affecting my standing with search engines. Perhaps it’s a link to a private page or a link to an untrusted external website?

All you would do is add rel=”nofollow,noindex” to your link using HTML.

<a href="https://some-website.co.uk" rel="nofollow,noindex">Link</a>

content=”noindex, nofollow”

But what it you want to make changes to the whole page rather than individual links?

Adding nofollow,noindex REL Attributes to your pages

On the pages you wish to apply this to, you will want to insert this line between the <head> and </head> of your pages. Ultimately how you achieve this is dependent on what eCommerce Platform you are using. Don’t forget, unless you specify otherwise, search engines will index and follow all pages.

<head>
    <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex,noindex” >
</head>

How to help Google understand your page structure

rel=”prev/next”

The last think I want to show you in this article is how to explain to search engines how your pages are structured. I recently did some work on this on a website for their Buying Guides and ended up with 4 pages talking about the use of a specific product. What I recently learned was that you can explain to search engines what relationship pages have. These were my pages:

Despite the URL structure, search engines don’t quite understand the relationship that these 4 pages have if any at all. By adding the rel=”prev/next” tag, I’m able to explain that these pages are linked as part of a series. This is achieved by stating what the previous page is in the series and what the next page in the series is.

Adding prev/next REL Attributes to your pages

In this example, I have 4 pages and each of these pages will require a tag. However, the first page will only contain a next tag and the last page will only contain a previous tag. On the pages you wish to apply this to, you will want to insert this line between the <head> and </head> of your pages. Ultimately how you achieve this is dependent on what eCommerce Platform you are using.

https://website.co.uk/buying-guide/product-introduction.html

<head>
    <link rel="next" href="https://website.co.uk/buying-guide/product-good-to-know.html" />
</head>

https://website.co.uk/buying-guide/product-good-to-know.html

<head>
    <link rel="prev" href="https://website.co.uk/buying-guide/product-introduction.html" />
    <link rel="next" href="https://website.co.uk/buying-guide/product-how-to-install.html" />
</head>

https://website.co.uk/buying-guide/product-how-to-install.html

<head>
    <link rel="prev" href="https://website.co.uk/buying-guide/product-good-to-know.html" />
    <link rel="next" href="https://website.co.uk/buying-guide/product-references.html" />
</head>

https://website.co.uk/buying-guide/product-references.html

<head>
    <link rel="prev" href="https://website.co.uk/buying-guide/product-how-to-install.html" />
</head>

Summary

So those are just a few ways how you can improve your Google ranking using REL attributes. The best part about this is that they are relatively easy ways of ranking higher in search results without having to pay a penny for advertising. If you found this article useful, or if I missed anything then please let me know in the comments below.

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