Dumb SEO Questions

(Entry was posted by Trey Collier on this post in the Dumb SEO Questions community on Facebook, Thursday, February 15, 2018).

Canonical Faux Pas

Canonical Faux Pas

A small eCommerce website where they have Category (~100) pages and sub product pages and canonicals were set pointing correctly to their actual URL (Canonical was same as URL)

They implemented a new product snippet via JSON LD. During the implementation of the "header tags" section of the code of the page as this would be the location of the Product JSON-LD code too, they also unknowingly introduced a new undocumented feature (also known as error or bug) that went unnoticed for 8-12 months. This new implementation of product snippets was added and tested (albeit only on the product pages) fine. The snippet was correct, Google could read it, and the canonical stayed the same. The new "feature" was that the primary Catagory`s canonical now pointed to the root domain and not to its actual URL (Eg canonical pointed to the home page instead of thedomain.com/catagory.htm ). This IS the faux pas.

During those months of the canonical faux pas, the traffic and SERP rankings increased 20-40%, many new 1st page rankings achieved, etc. Yes, many other things were being done too, such as improved content, link structure, 301 redirects of discontinued products/categories, etc, etc. So to pinpoint anything specific would be difficult, to say the least.

The home page linked to most of the category pages with the bad canonical, so it at least had related text. All the product categories are different but are "Theme" related. This leads to the question, How "Bad" was this? It seems that the canonical tag may have been ignored and treated like a hint/directive rather than an absolute. (Time will tell more as the bug was fixed in last 24hrs) Thoughts?

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Selected answers from the Dumb SEO Questions G+ community.

  • Ammon Johns: Canonical is indeed a hint or suggestion, as too many fuck it up to treat it as perfect
  • Dave Elliott: Canonical tags ARE directives and Google frequently ignores them. if rankings improved for the pages and Google didn`t unindex them it almost certainly ignored them....that said fix it! They got lucky.
  • Alan Bleiweiss: Canonicals are directives. Robots.txt files are directives. Google has no fucks to give though. Because too many site owners make mistakes with those directives. So Google make their own rules about whether to respect them or not.
  • Micah Fisher-Kirshner: Do note that just because you mess the canonicals up, doesn`t mean Google will ignore your mistake. I`ve been in the situation where an extra parameter was left in for a large scale site effectively creating new urls.... That did not go well.
  • Tony McCreath: The new GSC report should tell you if Google ignored the canonicals. I put a beer on that they did.

View original question in the Dumb SEO Questions community on G+, Thursday, February 15, 2018).

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