Should You Use Noindex or Rel Canonical for Duplicate Content Issues?

how can you improve your SEO content strategy

A person recently asked Google's John Mueller in a Google SEO office-hours hangout for advice on their SEO content strategy. Specifically, they wanted to know if they should use the noindex or rel canonical tag to handle thin or duplicate content on their e-commerce site. Mueller discussed the difference between the two methods before proposing an alternative way to deal with such SEO content.

The Noindex Meta Tag is a Directive

Noindex is a directive, meaning that Google must follow it. The noindex tag prevents the page and its content from appearing in Google's search engine results pages (SERPs) altogether.

According to Google's official documentation, a site owner may stop their content from appearing in Google's search results by adding a noindex meta tag or header to the HTTP response. When Googlebot finds the tag or header during the crawling process, it will remove the page entirely from the search results, regardless of whether or not other sites link to it.

What is a Rel Canonical?

In contrast to the noindex tag, the rel=canonical tag is a hint and not a directive. It offers webmasters the chance to suggest to Google the URL that they want to show in the SERPs.

This is particularly useful when a site has many similar pages. An example is when a shopping CMS creates many different pages for the same product with the sole exception of something minor, like the colour.

According to Google's official rel canonical documentation, a canonical URL is the URL that Google believes is most representative of a set of duplicate web pages on a website. Suppose a site owner has URLs for the same page, such as example.com/skirts/1234 and example.com?skirts=1234. Google will then only pick one as canonical.

The rel canonical is an excellent way to solve duplicate and thin content because it collects all of the relevance and link signals back to the main web page that a site owner wants to show in the search results. But since Google treats the rel canonical tag as a hint, there is no assurance that Google will follow it, and its algorithm might show another web page in the SERPs.

Noindex vs. Rel Canonical

The person who asked the question wanted to know if it was advisable to use canonicalisation or noindex. Since both methods may be used for thin and duplicate content, it's not surprising that some SEOs are confused.

The person shared that they have an e-commerce store with numerous product variants that either had thin or duplicate content. They made a list of all the URLs they wanted Google to index or keep, and created a list of all the URLs they didn't want Google to index. As they were working on the task, they asked themselves whether to use noindexing or canonicalisation, admitting that they did not know which was better.

Mueller responded, saying that there isn't always an easy answer for whether to use noindex or rel canonical for a page; it's something offhand. Almost all SEO experts have trouble deciding which one to use, which usually means that both methods are fine.

So, in most cases, the first thing one should look at is what they are truly passionate about. And if they prefer to hide a specific piece of SEO content from Google's search results, then using the noindex tag is the best way to go. On the other hand, if the publisher wishes to have everything combined into a single web page, then using a rel canonical is better.

The page likely won't be included in the search results with a rel canonical. With noindex, it definitely will not appear in the SERPs.

An Alternative Way to Solve Thin and Duplicate Pages

Next, Mueller said that one could combine the rel canonical and noindex tags to reap the advantages of both. For instance, if external links are directed to a particular page, using both methods helps Google understand that the publisher does not want the page to be indexed and specified another one. So, Google could perhaps forward some of the signals along.

Combining Rel Canonical and Noindex isn't a popular technique. However, according to Mueller, it's a viable way to deal with duplicate and thin content.

In the end, it's up to the site owner whether they want to consolidate relevance and link signals or ensure that the page does not appear in the search results, depending on their desired outcome.

Reasons for a Website to Contain Similar or Duplicate Pages

Although duplicate or thin content issues should usually be addressed, there are several valid reasons why a website may contain multiple URLs that redirect to the same web page, duplicates, or very similar pages with different URLs. Below are some of the most common reasons:

  • to support a variety of device types
  • to allow dynamic URLs for session IDs or search parameters
  • the blog system automatically saves several URLs as the same posts are positioned under multiple sections
  • the server is configured to serve the same page for non-www/www https/http variants
  • the content the site owner published on a blog for syndication to other websites is replicated in full or in part of those domains

Handle Content Issues with Position1SEO

Position1SEO is a UK-based SEO company that can provide your website with fresh, relevant content. We make sure to resolve any thin or duplicate content issues that your website may have. Moreover, we can also work to optimise your headings, meta tags, titles and other site elements.

We are experts in the latest SEO content strategies, and with our help, we can prepare your website for Google to crawl and index so that you rank higher in search engines.

Our SEO process has three stages. Stage 1 includes an in-depth SEO audit where we check your backlinks, site load speed, malware and blacklisting, etc., followed by a discussion of the issues highlighted in the report in a free phone consultation. In Stage 2, we work on your Google Search Console, Site performance, and more. Lastly, Stage 3 focuses on ongoing User Engagement that to help you retain site users and customers for the long term.

Quality SEO services do not have to be expensive. With our help, you can rest assured that you will get the results you want without breaking the bank. Call us today for more information about our affordable SEO packages.

how can you improve your SEO content strategy min
Author: Jason Ferry
Jason Ferry is an SEO specialist based in the United Kingdom. Taking pride in his many years of experience in the search engine optimisation industry, he has honed his skills in various digital marketing processes. From keyword marketing, website auditing, and link building campaigns, to social media monitoring, he is well-versed in all of them. Jason Ferry’s excellent skills in SEO, combined with his vast experience, makes him one of the best professionals to work with in the industry today. Not only does he guarantee outstanding output for everyone he works with, but also values a deep relationship with them as well.

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