301 vs. rel="canonical"

December 09, 2012

Ever since transitioning this site early last year to hypertext.net from justinblanton.com, I’ve used an Apache virtual host configuration to effectively forward every request made to justinblanton.com to its corresponding hypertext.net URI, using the following rule:

RewriteRule ^(.*) http://hypertext.net$1 [R=301]

Easy-peasy. This has served me very well for a year and a half—requests to justinblanton.com are automatically converted into corresponding hypertext.net requests and the URI shown in the address bar is subsequently rewritten into the hypertext.net version.

Now that I’m on the verge of moving this site off a VPS and to another service (likely Squarespace, and not Octopress)–OK, fine, I’ve been on the verge for months, but I’m busy!–I’m having to give some thought as to how to approach the aforementioned domain-wide redirection.

I’ve been told that Squarespace can do the rel="canonical" thing pretty well, and that with multiple domains you can simply specify a default domain to which all requests will be redirected. This may be a perfectly fine solution, though I have some SEO concerns given that, essentially, two mirrored versions of my site will exist on the web.

Another option is to find the absolute cheapest hosting service I can that will let me do the kind of redirection I require, and use it for only that. I’d rather stay away from this method if only to keep the number of accounts/services I rely on to a minimum.

Another potential option (or so I thought) that has recently become available is Amazon’s Web Page Redirect. Just a couple of months ago, when I first began looking at Amazon S3 as an option for hosting Octopress files (see this piece I wrote about getting two Octopress installations to play nice with a single S3 bucket), there was no .htaccess-type support, which I thought was really odd.

Since then, they’ve announced their redirection feature, and it seems like it would give me exactly what I need—almost—and very likely for a price that would be much less than any hosting service, especially given that I wouldn’t actually be doing anything but redirection (i.e., no actual hosting). The issue, though, is that it seems there’s no way to “wildcard” the redirection—i.e., each of my thousands of posts would need an individual redirect rule. This, obviously, is a non-starter.

If you’ve any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

You should follow me on Twitter here