Despite your best efforts to implement canonical tags, Google will not always choose the same URL to display in search results. How can this be resolved?
This topic is covered by Google Search Advocate John Mueller in a Reddit thread on the r/TechSEO forum.
An individual asks why Google is displaying the wrong URL in search results when trying to tell which page should be displayed.
In addition to canonical tags, this individual uses hreflang tags and sitemaps, and has the correct settings configured in Google Search Console.
Google keeps showing a different URL in search results.
Mueller first explains why Google isn’t showing the intended URL and describes what can be done to get Google to show a different page.
Canonical tags: Why isn’t Google displaying the correct URL?
A canonical tag sends a signal to Google indicating which URL is the correct one to display in search results when you have similar pieces of content.
In this particular example, the Reddit user notes that they are dealing with a brand’s website that has multiple country code top-level domains (ccTLDs).
Instead of displaying brand-name.ca in Canadian search results, for example, Google displays brand-name.co.uk In place.
There are several reasons why this happens.
Duplicate content leading to bad canonicals
The Reddit user thinks the pages across domains are different enough not to be considered duplicate content. However, Mueller informs him otherwise.
Mueller says Google sees the pages as duplicates and only indexes one version in search results, removing others from its index.
“What’s happening here is that these pages are broadly substantially similar, so Google de-duplicates them by indexing a canonical version. However, with hreflang annotations, the correct URL is still shown in search results. (at least where the hreflang is recognized, etc.).
It’s interesting to learn hreflang, it’s what helped to ensure that the correct URL was displayed in some cases.
Page titles leading to bad canonicals
Mueller notes that the way the Reddit user writes their page titles could be confusing to Google.
When it comes to a website that has multiple ccTLDs, Mueller suggests keeping the domain extension out of page titles.
“A confusing part here is that your page titles are using companyname.TLD. This means that the URL displayed is the .com.au version, but the title includes .co.uk. You can fix this by changing the titles pages to use only the name of the company.
How do I fix a problem with bad canonicals?
There is no easy solution to this one. It’s not just about adding more tags or changing page titles.
If you want to prevent Google from de-dupplicating your pages in search results, you need to render the content significantly different.
Mueller states in the Reddit thread:
“If you wanted to change the indexing/canonicalization here, you need to make sure the pages are noticeably different, not just a little bit different.”
Is this a major problem?
While it can be a pain to see Google showing the wrong URL in search results, Mueller says it’s not a pressing issue.
There are no downsides when it comes to search rankings, and Google Search Console reports are the same as if your preferred URL was selected.
“Despite what Search Console says, the position, impressions, and clicks of these URLs will be fine. They will appear the same as if the actual URL were also selected as canonical. There is no ranking disadvantage things get indexed that way – and there’s a benefit that there are fewer URLs that need to be crawled and refreshed on your sites (faster inventory updates, etc. ).
To be clear, the statement above applies to domain properties you own.
If you want Google to index and display your chosen canonical URL, the solution is to differentiate the page content that Google chooses to display instead.
When it comes to solving the problem, Mueller suggests it might not be worth it.
“Since the search results would be essentially the same, I don’t know if it’s really worth it to you – at least it probably wouldn’t be an urgent problem to solve.”
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