As an SEO company, we run into questions like, “Should you use a rel=canonical or a 301 redirect” all of the time. While we are quite versed in answering these topics, it is always nice to hear information straight from Google. In this video, we hear Matt Cutts, head of WebSpam at Google, address the difference between rel=canonical and 301 redirect.
301 Redirect vs. rel=canonical for SEO
As mentioned in the video, you only loose a tiny bit of link juice if you do a 301 redirect. Google has configured the 301 redirect this way because if you didn’t loose any link juice, webmasters would implement many more 301 redirects opposed to internal links. It is also mentioned that link weight from a 301 redirect does not change over time.
Google actually prefers 301 redirects vs. rel=canonical. Now we understand this is not always the best solution, as it is dependent on the particular issue affecting the website, however, 301 redirects are more widely supported and the user will be carried along with the 301 redirect. The rel=canonical is recommended by Google in the case that you cannot get to the server headers.
Now there are of course other situations when you’ll want to use a rel=canonical. For instance, maybe you have poor tracking code on your URL that cannot be removed, or you cannot implement 301s properly. In this case you will still need to use rel=canonical. Heck, in some cases robots.txt may be the right solution.
301 redirects and rel=canonicals certainly have their own distinct place in the SEO world. If you have questions about the search engine optimization methods ask below.