In an episode of Ask Google Webmasters, John Mueller discusses how Google Search chooses a canonical URL from similar or duplicate pages.
It’s quite common for a website to have multiple unique URLs that lead to the same content. A really common one is when the dub dub dub version of a site shows the same content as the non dub dub dub version of the Website. Most Websites are set up in this way.
Another common configuration is when the home page is accessible as index.html or when upper and lowercase in URLs leads to the same pages. Ideally, Google wouldn’t even run across any of these alternate versions which is why Google recommend picking one URL format and using it consistently across your Website. In practice, life is rarely perfect and Google discover all sorts of URLs leading to the same content.
For search, it doesn’t make much sense to index and show all of these versions, so Google try to pick one and focus on that. But how does Google pick the chosen one, the canonical URL?
1. Site’s preference
When it comes to the site’s preference, Google look at a number of things that includes:
- Link rel canonical annotation
- Internal linking
- URL in the sitemap file
- Https URLs
- “Nicer” looking URLs
2. User’s preference
For all these, Google consider the factors involved for each potential canonical URL and then pick the one where more things come together. So, if you’re a site owner and you have a strong preference regarding URLs that you want to have shown to users in search, first of all, you should make sure that you use those preferences consistently across your website.
Ideally, search engines wouldn’t even be able to stumble across any of those alternatives if you have a preference and stick to it. Along that line, make sure that all of the canonicalization factors that Google mentioned are similarly aligned. Make sure that internal links use your preferred URL format, make sure that sitemap files only lists preferred URLs, make sure that the rel-canonical link elements on these pages match.
The more you can be consistent, the more likely Google systems will follow your lead and use those, too. But what happens when a different URL is chosen? Simply put, it’s just the URL that’s shown in search.
If Google systems pick a different URL as a canonical, it’ll rank just the same in search. In the end, it really just comes down to your preference. If you have a preference regarding the URLs, then let’s search engines know unmistakeably, but if not, that’s fine too. And if a different URL happens to be chosen from time to time, that’s not going to negatively affect the site either.
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