The canonical URL used for a question currently includes the title, e.g.


That means if the title of the question ever changed, the canonical URL would change... which doesn't feel quite right to me. It feels a bit like trying to change a primary key.

Wouldn't it make more sense to use the non-changing part as the canonical URL, like this?


That way however often the title is changed, search engines will always see the same URL as the canonical way of addressing the same question. Admittedly that URL won't have any keyword matches in, but I would hope that matches in other URLs which have the same canonical URL are taken into consideration. (Before anyone asks, I've never seen any of the Google indexing code, and would certainly refuse to answer any questions on it even if I could.)

The same suggestion applies for user pages of course.

EDIT: I emailed Matt Cutts about this, and here's his reply (with permission):

Tough call. Normally we'd say to use rel=canonical to prune out any unneeded parameters. In this case, that would prune out the keywords. Dropping the keywords is cleaner from a theoretic standpoint, but standardizing on the url with the keywords would work better for SEO and probably for user clicks. It can work either way. As long as the keywords/title are almost always unchanging, I'd probably recommend the latter. But if the title changes a fair fraction of the time, then it might be better to stick with the numeric identifier alone.

The ideal case would if the title words were the key, not the numeric number. That's what WordPress can do and that's what I do on my blog, for example, e.g. http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/detect-page-changes/ .

So I guess it depends on how often the title changes - in my experience the title may often change within the first hour (while the question is being edited) but not after that. Changing the canonical URL based on time would be somewhat strange though :)

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    <obligatory_skeet_joke>I'm sure the Google indexing code is just an interface into Jon's mind</obligatory_skeet_joke> Jan 25 '10 at 15:37

While I see your point, the title of a question does not change nearly enough to warrant such a drastic change.

The price of not including proper keywords in the canonical title would be rather severe, as URLs with keywords in the title do much, much better in search results.

Example from dozba's twitter stream

Wow, Foursquare fails hard at SEO: "http://foursquare.com/venue/11707" vs. "http://www.yelp.com/biz/university-coffee-cafe-palo-alto"

  • @Jeff: Are you sure that it's only the canonical URL which is taken into account there? As I said to balpha, I'll mail Matt Cutts and see if he has any advice.
    – Jon Skeet
    Jan 25 '10 at 18:59
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    Maybe you can consider "freezing" the URL after first save? That is, the post's title may change, but URL stays the same.
    – naivists
    Jan 25 '10 at 19:11

According to the blog post you link to, the canonical tag is used to

specify your preferred version of a URL

So if the preference changes (because the title changes), what's wrong with telling google so?

Using the URL with the title in it was based on the assumption that a keyword match in the URL is of high value, SEO-wise.

You say you "would hope" that it would be taken into consideration -- but you don't know. Since the current way of handling it might have advantages (the above mentioned assumption!), but shouldn't have any disadvantages (besides your gut feeling), I'd vote against changing anything.

  • I wouldn't be surprised if search engines had some sort of penalty for pages which regularly changed their canonical URL. I'll email Matt Cutts to see what he recommends...
    – Jon Skeet
    Jan 25 '10 at 17:02

I prefer to see the question title when I see a link, even on these sites. The titles rarely change, and in fact are nothing more than window dressing, as you can put anything in the 'title' part and the link will go to the same place.

Further, titles don't change that often. Is this really a problem? Can you quantify it?

But they are convenient window dressing, even if the URL itself isn't shown, I'll mouse over it and check it out in my browser's status bar so I know where I'm heading if I choose to read it.

  • This wouldn't affect the links that browsers went to - it would just affect what the page told search engines to treat as the canonical URL for that page.
    – Jon Skeet
    Jan 25 '10 at 16:22
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    The words in the URL are heavily weighted in the search engine. I suspect that the effect of dropping them is worse than the problem you specify. But until we can quantify the effect of changing the canonical URL (ie, the problem) vs the effect of losing the keywords in the URL, I don't know that a decision can be made. Right now all the SEO sites put "keywords in URL" very near the top of the list, if not #1, for things people should do to enhance their SEO results.
    – Pollyanna
    Jan 25 '10 at 17:26

I don't know, I like have some help text available in the url. I think maybe what we should do is just keep the canonical url fixed at the original title, no matter how bad it is.

  • Do you care about what's shown in your browser, or what the search engine considers to be canonical? I haven't suggested any changes except to the rel="canonical" link.
    – Jon Skeet
    Jan 25 '10 at 17:01

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