min read

What Happens If Google Pick The Wrong Canonical URL?

Search engines can be informed that a specific URL is the original version of a page through the use of a canonical tag. As your website grows, pages might end up being duplicates or near-duplicates of each other. This duplication can lead to confusion.
Written by
Josselin Liebe
Published on
August 7, 2023
Updated on
August 7, 2023
Readers rating

Search engines can be informed that a particular URL is the original version of a page by using a canonical tag. Pages will inevitably duplicate or be close to duplicates of one another as your website grows. A mess may result from the many page duplication. The search engine crawlers are unable to determine which URL to send visitors to if you have several pages that are comparable and each deserving of ranking for the same keywords.

What Exactly Is a Canonical?

If faceted navigation is present in the e-commerce site, this is very crucial. A canonical instructs Google to only index the appropriate canonical page and to ignore the lengthy parameter URL (usually characters following the question mark). Respectfully, search engines are aware that among the duplicate pages on the same website and even external sites, that page is your "preferred" page to send visitors to.

The master page is decided by the canonical link, often known as rel="canonical". It is an HTML component that aids webmasters in avoiding problems with duplicating material.

Canonical URLs were created to protect your website from the issues brought on by "duplicate content." But if Google selects the incorrect canonical URL, they frequently become an SEO nightmare.

If you've found that some of your pages are no longer showing up in Google's search results even if you match all of Google's requirements, it's possible that Google is mistakenly linking one URL to a totally unrelated canonical URL. This might be annoying, especially if you want them to go to a certain page on your website.

If you're searching for an answer to the question of why Google doesn't select the ideal dominant URL for your website, this piece answers all your worries and offers workable remedies. Find the finest solutions to this problem by reading on.

Making Use of a Canonical as a Strong Tool

As your website grows, a canonical is a fantastic tool that you, as an SEO, can use. Canonicals can be your route to better SEO and solve many link duplication concerns you have if you remain on top of it and conduct regular URL and analytic audits.

You must learn how to use it carefully, though, just like any other tool. You can be more proactive and boost your SEO more successfully by adhering to the best practices, recognizing when to employ a redirect, and comprehending when and why to apply a canonical.

Why is Google not showing the right URL?

The reason is why google isn't showing the right URL for our website is one of the most frequent queries we receive. Usually, the use of canonical tags holds the key to the solution. Let's quickly review canonical tags to better grasp it.

Search engines can be informed via canonical tags which version of a page should be regarded as the "master" or primary version. They can be used to address issues with duplicate content, to instruct search engines which version of a page to index when there are many versions accessible, and to assist guarantee that the right URL is shown in search results.

Incorrect use of canonical tags can result in a variety of issues, including the incorrect URL being displayed in search results. The most typical canonical tag errors and how to correct them are covered in this section.

  • Completely avoiding canonical tags : The absence of canonical tags is one of the most frequent errors we observe. This frequently occurs as a result of a lack of knowledge about them and how they operate. Use canonical tags to notify search engines which page of your website should be regarded as the primary version if you have identical or extremely similar content on many pages. Without canonical tags, search engines will have to choose which page to index on their own, which can cause issues. Search engines will have to decide which URL to index and show in search results if you don't use canonical tags. Users may click on the incorrect URL as a result and get on a website that is unrelated to what they were looking for, which might cause confusion. Additionally, it can harm your website's SEO because search engines may distribute the link equity between the two pages rather than giving it to just one. Use canonical tags on all of your pages with the same or related content to prevent these issues. Search engines will be able to index the proper page and users won't be confused as a result.
  • Canonical tags that make use of relative URLs : The usage of relative URLs in canonical tags is another error we frequently notice. A relative URL, such as /blog-post or /category/blog-post, is one that omits the complete domain name. The issue with utilizing relative URLs in canonical tags is that various browsers and servers may interpret them differently. Once more, this might result in the erroneous URL becoming canonized. Use absolute URLs in your canonical tags to prevent this. The entire domain name is included in an absolute URL. This will guarantee that, regardless of how many browsers and servers read it, the right URL is always canonized.
  • Canonical tags with parameters : We also frequently observe the use of parameters in canonical tags. The parts of a URL that follow the question mark are called parameters and include things like: ?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=spring-sale. Although they can be used for other purposes, such as content sorting and filtering, parameters are frequently utilized for tracking purposes. The issue with utilizing parameters in canonical tags is that they can cause the wrong page to be canonized and alter the meaning of the URL. Always use the canonical URL without any parameters to prevent this. This will make sure that the right page gets canonized and that tracking and other website features are working properly.
  • Canonical tags with hashtags in them : Another cause of issues is the inclusion of hashtags in canonical tags. The elements of a URL that follow the pound symbol, such as #blog-post or #category, are known as hashtags.

In addition to being used to link to specific parts of a website, hashtags can also be used to filter and sort material. They have the ability to alter the URL's intended meaning when used with canonical tags.

How do you prevent this? To make sure that the right page gets labeled and that there are no issues with linking or other site functionality, always use the canonical URL without any hashtags.

Page titles that refer to the incorrect canonicals: Sometimes the 'titles' are the true culprits behind all these mistakes. When deciding which page to highlight, Google is confused by titles that hint at incorrect URLs.

Your page titles use company names.TLD, which is a perplexing aspect of this. This indicates that although the title, the URL displayed is version. By just using the Company name in the page names, you may correct it.

If you're dealing with many ccTLDs, John Mueller advises just attempting to keep the domain extension out of the page titles.

Common Canonical Errors to Avoid

The worst outcome of using a canonical error is that your page will completely vanish from search results. To help you understand what to avoid, let's go over some common errors people make while using canonicals.

Selecting The Incorrect Page

A paginated archive should not be canonicalized to another page. For instance, page 1 should be the page that is referenced by rel="canonical" rather than page 2. If you point to the incorrect page, search engines won't index the links on those deeper archive pages.

Ambiguous Canonical Links

The canonical ought to be really specific. Websites utilize protocol-relative links, which include the HTTP/HTTPS bit in the URL, for a variety of reasons. Be clear about the link that is appropriate for your site when establishing your canonicals.

Several rel="Canonical" Links On A Single Page

Search engines will become confused if a page contains many rel=canonical tags because they won't be able to tell which canonical is the correct one. Furthermore, Google will just disregard each and every rel=canonical tag.

Google-Selected Canonical vs. User-Declared Canonical

Your website should see and create a canonical first. Canonicals that reference themselves are generally created by WordPress by default. Shopify does the same and, often, when done correctly, when specific filters are applied (i.e. faceted navigation), automatically has canonicals on category or collection pages.

Now, when you submit or examine a URL in the Google Search Console, you might be able to see what Google identifies as canonical, whether it's a user-declared or a Google-selected canonical.

As long as it is already established, Google doesn't update the canonical very frequently. However, Google might pick one if you haven't yet specified the canonical.

For instance, we frequently work with clients who have Javascript or bespoke CMS without a canonical/canonical tag. If there is no canonical set, Google will pick the canonical if it discovers duplicate content. This is visible in the search console.

Depending on the website, you can ask for indexing when you go to test the live page. In the worst situation, Google may take a few days or even a few weeks to index your URL and canonical.

How Can a Canonical Be Modified?

By changing the URL or using an SEO plugin, you can change the canonical in WordPress and Shopify.

You should be able to declare or change the canonical right there if you navigate to the SEO settings on the plugin of your choice.

Typically, you follow these steps to modify your canonical:

  • Enter your account information to access the dashboard.
  • Navigate to the page, post, or taxonomy that needs to be changed. Choose the category of content you wish to update the canonical for from the menu on the left.
  • For the meta box on posts and pages, scroll down. It might be necessary to select "advanced" from the SEO menu.
  • Be sure to put the whole canonical URL in the "canonical URL" section.  
  • To save changes, update the post.

What Justifies the Need for Canonicalization?

Generally speaking, the topic of duplicate material is complex. It can be detrimental to SEO when search engines crawl many URLs with the same or very similar content.

Having several URLs can firstly result in fewer organic visitors. Google doesn't want to rank pages that are similar to other pages in its index, which is a relatively simple concept.  Google is unable to determine which page is the original or master copy when there are three URLs pointing to the same resource. All three URL search ranks suffer as a result.  

Receiving a demotion for this is incredibly uncommon, though. It's typically given out when a website deliberately steals content from other sources while claiming authorship. Therefore, you probably don't need to be concerned about this penalty if you have a lot of distinct URLs leading to the same page. However, it's always a good idea to remember.

Finally, duplicate material results in fewer pages being indexed. This is crucial for websites like e-commerce sites that have a lot of pages. Google may occasionally fully refuse to index your pages rather than just devaluing them.  

Guidelines for Canonical Tags

Always Refer to Yourself Canonicalize Your Home Page

Since people connect to your homepage in numerous different ways (which you can't control), homepage duplicates are highly prevalent. As a result, canonicalizing your home page as soon as possible will help you prevent having too many duplicate pages.

If there is no duplicate content, the usual practice is to self-reference. For instance, when we publish new posts on WordPress, we rarely verify the canonical cause since we typically assume that we are creating a brand-new page, therefore it is not required.

Examine Your Canonical Tags

  • A website may frequently create different canonical tags for each version of the URL due to bad programming.
  • Totally omitting the canonical tag's entire purpose.
  • It is crucial to regularly examine your canonical tags to make sure they are still fulfilling their intended function. This mainly applies to websites powered by a CMS and that have a large number of comparable product pages.
  • It also applies to websites created using Javascript or other non-CMS technologies like Gatsby, Shopify, or WP. It's possible that they lack canonicals in general.

Choose the Proper Domain Protocol

Make sure to use this as your canonical URL if your website uses the HTTPS protocol. It's simple to miss this, so pay close attention to the specifics. If not, it might become a problem.

Canonicalize Domain-Wide Duplicates

Using the canonical tag between domains is permitted if you are the owner of both websites. As an illustration, imagine that you frequently post the same content as a guest blogger on several websites. Just one of those sites will improve your rating if you use the canonical tag. This could aid in avoiding problems with duplicating content.

Using the canonical tag, keep in mind, will prevent the other websites from ranking.

Utilize absolute URLs.

To ensure that canonical tags are properly interpreted, references to them should be made using absolute URLs rather than relative ones.

A good example of an absolute URL is shown below:

Link: "link rel="canonical" href="">

An example of a relative URL that you should not use is shown below:

Link: "/page-a/"; canonical: "canonical";

FlashSERP API indexing dashboard
Avoid Wrong Canonical URL
Discover FlashSERP, the all-in-one API indexing tool. Sign up now and enjoy an exclusive 7-day free trial, giving you full access to our premium features and tools.⚡

Take a look at our blog posts

Interviews, tips, guides, industry best practices and news.
Google Indexing : Learn Everything About It
min read

Google Indexing : Learn Everything About It

Dive into the world of Google Indexing and understand how Google's search index operates.
Read post
Marketing Budget in 6 Essential Steps for 2024
min read

Marketing Budget in 6 Essential Steps for 2024

Discover how to finalize your marketing budget for 2024 with our detailed guide...
Read post
28 Stupid Mistakes Sabotaging Your SEO
min read

28 Stupid Mistakes Sabotaging Your SEO

Don't let these common errors undermine your content's effectiveness.
Read post