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Use Canonical or Noindex/Nofollow for Content Experiment Variations

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Use a canonical tag or apply noindex/nofollow to Content Experiment variations to prevent duplicate-content issues.

While your Content Experiment is running, you should prevent the page variations from being indexed in the search engines to avoid any duplicate-content issues that could hinder your SEO efforts. Even though the search engine spiders may not be able to execute the JavaScript that redirects from the original page to a page variation in a Content Experiment, the spiders still may find the variations (and certainly will if the variation URLs receive any external links).

You can take two approaches: canonical or noindex/nofollow.

The advantage of rel=”canonical” is that any link equity from external links to the variation URLs will be transferred to the original URL. The disadvantage is that Bing/Yahoo may not recognize the canonical tag.

Noindex/nofollow, applied either as a page tag or in robots.txt, is universally recognized, but will negate any link equity from external links to the variation pages.

You can decide which of the two approaches would work best for you. In either case, these can serve as temporary measures, since you can (and should) apply hard 301 redirects to your content experiment pages once a test concludes and you have moved the winning variation to the original URL.

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3 thoughts on “Use Canonical or Noindex/Nofollow for Content Experiment Variations

  1. Hi Eric,

    How I do it is have folder for variations, tests, etc. and disallow that folder in the robot txt so it won’t get crawled.

    Then I just have the page updated with the winning content, image, etc. No problem with loosing link equity to the original page that way.

    Take care, Mary Kay

    • Hi, Mary Kay -

      The risk actually is not in losing link equity for any links that are already pointing to your original URL but those links that you might acquire to your variation pages that you during testing. If someone links to mysite.com/variationB.html while you’re running your test, canonical will transfer link equity to the original URL, while with noindex/nofollow, you would lose the benefit.

  2. Yes a canonical works great in that situation, its personal preference on my part, I just don’t want my test variations ending up in any search engine index. I want to control the page that gets indexed.

    Mary Kay

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