When it comes to best practices for local SEO, when is it good to canonicalize?
To Canonicalize or Not to Canonicalize. That Is The Question
Below, I’ll report on what John Mueller, who’s a Search Advocate at Google said, but for now, let me give you a bit of a technical context so that you can better understand what John said.
Let’s begin with Google.
Google likes to have unique pages in it’s index. If you have...say...10 pages on your site, Google wants to see 10 unique pages. Not necessarily duplicate pages, but ideally, unique pages.
Now, what if 2 of those pages are extremely similar, as in the case of some local sites that may offer the same thing, but just in different cities or suburbs.
Well, if 2 pages are 99% identical, with the exception that the mention different cities, then Google might see those pages as duplicates, or the same.
And worse, those pages may even compete against each other in the search engines.
So, instead of having a page that strongly ranks for City Name, you have 2 pages competing for City Name: City Name-sub A, and City Name-sub B.
That’s why some find that it’s good to use canonicalization, which is a method of hypothetically saying, “Hey...the real content for this page is here, at the page for City Name.”
When Canonicalization Can Be Brushed Aside
Now, let’s say that the pages for City Name, City Name sub-A, and City Name-sub B were truly unique. Maybe each one had a different piano teacher, or a different style of music, or different hours or...some meaningful differentiation.
Then, you can opt to not use canonicalization, as long as each page had truly unique content.
During the English Google SEO Office-Hours From November 19, 2021, someone asked Google’s John Muller about this.
The video below has been queued to the 28-minute, 7-second mark, which is when the question was asked.
The participant’s question (which I’ve edited for clarity), was:
“We have a client having almost identical pages per location: piano course Birmingham and piano course London. The only difference in those pages is the location.
“Shall I canonicalize those pages? What would be the best practice?
John’s responses (which I’ve also edited for clarity), were:
“If you have a handful of pages, it's something where, purely from a doorway page point of view, I wouldn’t really worry about that.
“If you have these two pages with two locations, the general best practice here is really to make sure that you're providing something unique and valuable on those individual pages.
“So if you have something that you're offering in one city and you're offering it in another city as well, then give some information about why you have these pages separately. And make it so that when people are searching for it, they really find something that matches that, not just like, ‘Oh, piano courses in the UK’, and like a handful of city pages there.
“So that's one approach there.
“The other approach is canonicalizing and just picking one of those pages to show.
“I think if you have something distinct that you want to provide, then having multiple pages is perfectly fine.”
(What John means is that, if you have 2 locations where something meaningfully different is offered--different instructors, style of teaching, grand piano vs digital keyboard, etc--then each page can be distinct, with distinct content. No canonicalization would be necessary here.)
“If it's something where you're just offering variations of the same thing, then sometimes folding them together is a better strategy. The advantage of folding them together is that you make a little bit of a stronger page rather than two pages that are kind of like...okay-ish from a strength point of view.”
(Okay, so as I said above with the example of having 2 pages competing for slight variations of the same thing, I’ll paraphrase what John said: it’s better to “fold them together.”)
“And the general idea here is that Google has some information about your website. And if you kind of dilute that across a whole bunch of pages, then each of those pages individually will be a little bit less value than if you concentrate everything on fewer pages.
“So if you think you can make a really strong page, just [for] piano courses, then that might be a good approach, especially if there is a competitive market there.”
(So, if there’s a competitive market, it’s better to “fold”/canonicalize, so that you effectively have one strong page. In this case, even if you have 2 or more non-unique pages, the canonicalization, or “folding” into one page makes that one page a stronger candidate)
“If, on the other hand, you think that these individual locations are distinct enough that you want to have individual pages, such as maybe you have really physical addresses in these locations, or different opening hours, or different kinds of teachers in these locations, then [it] definitely makes sense to keep [these pages] separate, because you're providing something unique that people can find value on there.”
(Again, more of what I said before.)
“So that's kind of the approach I would take there.
“It's not that there is one answer that works for all websites here. For some, it makes sense to fold together. For some, it makes sense to keep separate.
“Depending on the website, sometimes you even combine that. So if you have an e-commerce site, you might say, ‘Well, this model shoe is all the same model of shoe’, but you have maybe one unique size that really kind of stands out, or unique color variation that really stands out.
“Maybe you'll split that off into a separate page.
“So those are kind of the thoughts behind that.”
I hope this article has given you a clear-cut understanding of this key best practice of local SEO.