Yesterday I received this question about Facebook pages from my girlfriend:
Could you tell me which URL, if any, take you directly to the page (make sure you’re not logged in):
Why doesn’t Facebook make things like this easier?
This got me thinking. The short answer was actually none of the above. You can strip all the parameters and # tags out of Facebook urls to give the ‘canonical’ url – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Adventureland/100397302070.
So I wondered with all the links going to Facebook pages (and groups, profiles etc) which amount to about 800 million according to Site Explorer how many people are blindly copy pasting urls with tracking variables like the ?ref=mf attached?
About 13 million by all accounts. And thats just Facebook business pages with 1 tracking variable attached to the end of it. I’d suspect if we looked at links to groups and profiles and all the possible url variables which Facebook churns out we’d be looking at hundreds of millions of non-canonical urls being indexed by Google from Facebook.
Facebook are clearly aware of this issue because they’ve implemented the rel=canonical tag on all of their pages which, in theory, should resolve this duplication. Although that doesn’t seem to be working for them at the moment. For example:
The I ♥ COLLEGE page is indexed with the url:
despite the canonical tag:
<link rel=“canonical” href=“http://www.facebook.com/pages/I-COLLEGE/80075224204” />
Interestingly there doesn’t actually seem to be a huge amount of duplicate page entries, rather Google is using the non-canonical version instead of the canonical. This isn’t a problem for Facebook really because their url variables are just tracking code but imagine if the ?ref=mf referred to an affiliate tracking id and instead of returning the canonical versions Google was only returning the affiliate links. The affiliate mf would be laughing!
So what can Facebook do if the canonical tag isn’t working?
- Making it easier to link to Facebook pages would be a good idea. Google maps provide a ‘link’ button which gives a linkable url for users to share. The same thing could work for Facebook, it might also encourage users to share more links…
- Also Facebook are rolling out vanity urls (usernames) which should clean up the longer page names but won’t help the url variable issues.
- Moving away from using url variables for tracking internal links would be a better long term solution
Personally we’ve found a few uses for the canonical tag with some mixed results, albeit on a much smaller scale than Facebook’s 550 million indexed pages. I know others are questioning whether its working at the moment. Has anyone got rel=canonical to work properly on big sites yet?