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Canonical Tag - Can Be Misused?


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15 replies to this topic

#1 Andrew Gates

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Posted 29 June 2010 - 09:04 PM

Hi, I have many pages with very similar content and thinking about canonical tag to tell google which page is the best. The problem is that some pages are different in terms of page structure, footers and some navigation, but the topic is very similar to the main page. For example page about specific laptop, but there are 10 other pages with different laptop configurations (RAM, HDD, etc).
The reason is why I'm going to do it is that google shows our pages in search results in unpredictable way, very often shows page which is not relevant for visitor and therefore conversion rate is much lower for such products.

Can I use canonical tag on pages with different configurations? And point to main page of this product? Is it correct or possible misuse of canonical tag? The content is similar, but not identical.

#2 Jill

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Posted 29 June 2010 - 09:38 PM

Yep you definitely can if you don't mind the other pages not being indexed.

#3 qwerty

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Posted 29 June 2010 - 10:10 PM

If you don't want those alternate configuration pages to be found via search, just use the robots exclusion protocol.

#4 Andrew Gates

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Posted 29 June 2010 - 11:04 PM

QUOTE(qwerty @ Jun 30 2010, 01:10 PM) View Post
If you don't want those alternate configuration pages to be found via search, just use the robots exclusion protocol.


Those pages have some incoming links from different sites (mostly forums and blogs) because customers found them in Google. I believe if I block it in robots, link power could be lost.

1. Is canonical have similar effect as robots.txt?
2. are incoming links to such pages counts?
3. do google index content of these pages?

Thank you for answers

#5 Jill

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Posted 30 June 2010 - 07:44 AM

QUOTE
1. Is canonical have similar effect as robots.txt?


No, it's more similar to a 301 redirect.

QUOTE
2. are incoming links to such pages counts?


Yes, they would be passed as if it were a 301 redirect.

QUOTE
3. do google index content of these pages?


No, that's the point of the canonical link element. They would only index the referenced URL and its contents.



#6 qwerty

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Posted 30 June 2010 - 09:50 AM

Jill is right that the PR from the non-canonical pages should be transferred to the canonical one, but I'm not convinced that these pages are similar enough for rel="canonical". Have a look at what the Webmaster Central blog had to say about it early last year:
QUOTE
Is it okay if the canonical is not an exact duplicate of the content?
We allow slight differences, e.g., in the sort order of a table of products. We also recognize that we may crawl the canonical and the duplicate pages at different points in time, so we may occasionally see different versions of your content. All of that is okay with us.

The differences you're describing are quite a bit bigger than the same words in a different order. I'm not suggesting you're going to get into any sort of trouble by declaring that all of these pages are similar enough that one of them should be treated as canonical. I just don't think this is really what the code is intended to accomplish.


#7 Andrew Gates

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Posted 30 June 2010 - 08:55 PM

thanks Jill and qwerty,

Yes, it was my original question. If pages are similar but not identical, it's probably misusing to add canonical tag to these pages? Qwerty. you said that it could be some kind of trouble, what do you think may google do? Drop of ranking for all such pages?

below is example of product titles for such similar pages:
Toshiba Satellite L500 2GB RAM 250GB HD
Toshiba Satellite L500 4GB RAM 320GB HD
Toshiba Satellite L500 4GB RAM 250GB HD
etc..
And I have the main page which combine all products and have links to all other pages for toshiba L500
Title: Toshiba Satellite L500
canonical will be pointed to the above page

As I said before the problem is that when you search in google for toshiba l500, google shows randomly very specific configuration page, but not the main page. And conversion is low, because main page is providing much better user experience.

Edited by Andrew Gates, 30 June 2010 - 09:06 PM.


#8 qwerty

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Posted 30 June 2010 - 10:40 PM

QUOTE
Qwerty. you said that it could be some kind of trouble

No, quite the opposite. I said
QUOTE
I'm not suggesting you're going to get into any sort of trouble

"Trouble" isn't really the issue. The question is what's going to work best for you and your customers. You think these pages are similar enough that you don't have control over which one shows up in search results. I think you can control which one comes up in the results by telling the search engines not to index the others. If you use a robots meta tag of "noindex,follow" I believe (someone please correct me if I'm wrong) the links from the nonindexed pages will still count, and you can be certain that they won't come up in search results.

Or you can go the rel="canonical" route. I think it's less control, since it's treated by Google as a strong recommendation rather than an absolute rule (I leave it up to you to decide how much weaker than an absolute rule a strong recommendation really is) and it's not clear to me how strong a recommendation it's viewed as by Yahoo and Bing.

And then there's a third option: you could get rid of all of those other pages and put the various options onto a single page. If you can do that in a user-friendly way, I think that might be preferable. If I was shopping for a new computer, I'd want to see the various customization options all on one page. How a page like that would be treated by search engines is another question, however.

#9 Andrew Gates

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Posted 01 July 2010 - 11:07 PM

thanks qwerty. I try to focus on best user experience and having all configurations on one page will be too messy. I've got links to each configuration on main page and full description, pictures, specs on specific product page.
This is situation when design for user is not good for google. I found many posts on this forum and other sites saying that think about your users and search engines will follow and like it. From my experience it's true in about 50-70% of times. There are many situations when it' not. Above problem with many pages is one example, another example is page with sorted by price products, google think this is duplicate content and i have to add canonical tag to convince google that it's not spam, it's for user convenience.

#10 qwerty

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Posted 02 July 2010 - 09:19 AM

That's fine, but the canonical tag isn't for saying "this isn't spam." It's more for saying, "I know these pages offer up pretty much the same content, so it's likely you [the search engine] are only going to pay attention to one of them. Please make that this one."

Duplicate content (at least duplicate content on a single domain) isn't spam from a search engine's perspective. It's simply a waste of resources.

#11 Andrew Gates

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Posted 05 July 2010 - 03:00 AM

I thought about qwerty suggestion to combine all pages about the same product, but different configuration and made a simple experiment. And now I see the results.
What I did: 4 days ago I changed name of one laptop from specific configuration to general name and made 301 redirect from other pages to this page. All content I moved to main page. Total 8 redirects.
What I see now: the main page is disappeared from first 10 pages in google results.( i didnt check other pages)
Is 301 redirect is not a good idea for this? It looks like page is banned by google.

#12 Jill

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Posted 05 July 2010 - 10:30 AM

You are making a big mistake to make major changes to your site based on information you're receiving at a forum from people who haven't even looked at your website.

The information provided here is very general and may or may not apply to your specific situation.

If you really need help you might consider hiring someone to actually look at your site so that they can provide you with information that will work for you.

Be careful with redirects and anything else. It's not something to play around with if you don't know what you're doing.

#13 qwerty

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Posted 05 July 2010 - 11:21 AM

I thought you had decided that combining the pages would make for a bad user experience.

Anyway, I can't believe Google would have any reason to ban a page like this (although as Jill says, we haven't actually seen the page), but you can certainly switch things back to the way they were.

#14 Andrew Gates

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Posted 16 July 2010 - 01:05 AM

Just a quick update: I removed redirects and the main page is ranking again. Looks like 301 redirect is not a safe option if you redirect many pages to one page.

qwerty: I still believe that combining pages will create a bad user experience, but experiments is my main tool to find how everything works with google.

#15 Dominic108

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Posted 22 September 2011 - 09:57 PM

Andrew, are you sure that 4 days is enough to see the effect of 301 redirects? Unless you changed your canonical page significantly, it does not seem logical that it went down permanently. It might have been only a temporary effect. Google might not had the time to process all aspects of these 301 redirects. I heard that it can take up to three weeks. Can someone confirms that?




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