Google’s John Mueller recently said that webmasters/SEOs must not blindly follow the SEO practices of big sites. This topic was raised in a Reddit thread that referenced Google’s advice that canonical pages should point a canonical tag at themselves during pagination. In contrast, big sites point a canonical tag to the first page in a series of pages. The Reddit user wanted to know whether to follow what Google recommends or do as the big sites do.
John Mueller’s response to the Reddit user’s question
John advised against the practice of following what the big sites were doing. He said that many times, these sites get it wrong. Although you may not fare well if you follow them, despite their wrong practices, these big sites may succeed in ranking well.
The thread was published in the r/TechSEO sub-Reddit, wherein Mueller said that technical SEO follows a logical process, and there is a right or a wrong way of getting things done.
“Luckily, a lot of technical SEO is not a matter of blind trust or hope, it’s not a magical black box where you have to believe, there’s no “Person X said Y, therefore Y must always be true.” It’s something that’s very deterministic, and you can logically find the answer, just as you can often test it out for your case. You can do it right, or you can do it wrong (though to be fair, search engines will try to help when you do it wrong, because lots of sites get it wrong).”
John says the page you want indexed should have canonical tags. And if one needs all their pages to get indexed, then a self-referencing canonical tag must be included on every page. If all the pages of a series point to the first page with the canonical tag, then Google will index only the first page.
John Mueller also says that there are advantages and disadvantages of using a self-referencing canonical tag on each page:
“The advantage of a per-page canonical is that you’re sure all links to all items will be found. The disadvantage is that there’s potentially a lot more to crawl, and it’ll be a bit harder for us to understand how to rank the paginated pages (eg, if they’re “running shoes” category pages, which page is the right one to show for a [running shoes] search?).”
Several users of the Reddit thread recommend using self-referencing canonical tags in a paginated series.
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