How to fix “Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user”

How to fix “Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user”

“Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user” is the case of Google Search Console. This applies to duplicate pages that Google has not indexed. this means Google ignored your canonical tag and chose to index a different duplicate page instead. To address it, you need to improve your canonical tags, internal links, and sitemap.

Why should you bother with “duplicate, Google chose different canonical pages from user” pages?

“Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user” is a status that explains why some of your pages are not indexed. You may have come across it while investigating the index coverage report for your website (page indexing) in Google Search Console.

Screenshot of Google Search Console showing

The bad news is that you will not get any organic traffic to these pages. Only indexed pages can appear on Google search and help your business grow.

It is normal to have some unindexed pages. But the case “Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user” usually applies to the pages you’re interested in. After all, you marked it as canonical.

Let me walk you through what they mean and why Google has chosen to ignore them.

Causes and solutions for “Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user”

With limited resources, Google needs to crawl the entire web and index valuable pages. Because duplicate pages do not offer much value, they are big SEO offenders. Google avoids crawling and indexing them.

When a site contains multiple pages with very similar content, Google attempts to index only one of them. If you do not control this process, it will happen automatically, and the result may be unfavorable to the website.

The website contains a lot of duplicate content.  Google indexes a randomly selected version.

To avoid this problem, you can use canonical tags. These tags are created so that you can direct Google to the best version of your duplicate page – the canonical URL.

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Canonical tags tell Google which version of a page it considers the most important and appropriate for indexing. Thanks to them, you influence what will be included in the Google index.

The website contains a lot of duplicate content.  Google indexes the version indicated by canonical tags visualized as arrows.

However, you can make mistakes in creating canonical tags that prevent Google from honoring them. The good news is that these errors can be fixed.

Let’s explore what to do in two situations in which you may find yourself.

When Google ignores self-referencing canonical tags

Let’s say you run an e-commerce site that sells shoes. In your case, similarity between product pages is unavoidable. You sell the same models in different sizes, each of which needs a separate URL.

If you use the canonical tag to refer to one type of your shoe, Google will not index all the other variables.

Product pages contain canonical tags that all point to one.  Only this page is indexed.

For you, it is a negative result. Every product page is vital to you as an e-commerce owner. That’s because every product page is an opportunity for a transaction. If you know your users are searching for a specific product variant, you will of course need to index it.

Alternatively, you can use self-referencing canonical tags on each page. Self-referencing canonical tags tell Google that you want them all indexed.

Product pages contain self-referencing canonical tags that are visualized as round arrows.

But what if Google visits your pages with self-referencing canonical tags and decides that they are too similar? When it sees pages with URLs and content that look very similar, it will try to index only one copy to save its resources.

This is one of the scenarios where product pages are flagged as “Duplicate, Google chose a different canonical page than the user.” Google will ignore your self-referencing canonical tags and choose a different canonical page.

The solution

If you want Google to have no doubts that your pages are not duplicates, make sure that each of them is unique. Give Google a reason to index each of them.

Product pages contain self-referencing canonical tags that are visualized as round arrows.  Each of them is distinguished by some unique details.

To make your pages unique, try providing some additional information proving that your pages describe different products. In this way, you can increase the chance that Google will respect your self-referencing canonical tags.

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Following our example, convince Google that each product variant is unique by writing rich product descriptions. Highlight their unique features and make sure each one has an original image.

If this isn’t possible, consider combining similar products and letting users choose the desired look on the page. You will not be able to target a specific user intent with different product variations. But this will solve the “repeated, Google chose a different core problem than the user problem”.

When Google ignores canonical tags that point to different pages

In the example above, we discussed what to do when a page contains a canonical tag referring to itself, and Google ignores this tag. The second scenario is that you just refer to one of the duplicate pages as the canonical page.

Suppose you have a duplicate article on your website. It tells Google a suitable canonical tag for the page to index, but it still chooses the other page. why?

The duplicate article is indexed despite the correct canonical tag.

This occurs when, despite the presence of the canonical tag, Google still has reasons to index a different page.

The solution

Remember that the canonical tag is not the only thing Google considers when deciding which page to index. The search engine will also take into account the following hints:

Basic tip best practices
The URL you included in the sitemap. Make sure it is the canonical URL.
The number of internal links pointing to each version of the page. Make sure to link internally to the canonical URL.
Security protocol (Google prefers HTTPS variants over HTTP). Make sure your canonical pages are using HTTPS.
Redirects from the page. Make sure that the canonical page is the final URL and does not redirect to another page.
URL appearance (Google prefers shorter URLs made up of words rather than random strings of characters). Optimize your URLs to be short and human readable.
The success status was returned by the server hosting your canonical page. Make sure your homepage is showing the 200 status code.
The presence of a self-referencing canonical tag on the page you are referring to. Provide the canonical page with a self-referencing canonical tag.

While creating your canonical tags, you should avoid:

  • canonical loops (page A has a canonical tag indicating page B, and page B has a canonical tag indicating page A),
  • Canonical strings (page A has a canonical tag pointing to page B, and page B has a canonical tag pointing to page C).
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Common loops and conventional chains with arrows.

It is difficult to manually keep track of all the factors that Google considers when choosing a canonical page. To find issues with your basic hints, use a crawler like Screaming Frog or Ryte.

How to organize your business and export data from GSC

I have also prepared some advanced tips for you that may help organize your business.

It’s good to have a list of any conflicting URLs. The list of pages from the “Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user” report is available for export, but there is a URL limit of 1,000 addresses.

However, if you have more than one sitemap, you can download the report for each sitemap separately and increase the number of exported URLs.

Screenshot of selecting an investigation sitemap in Google Search Console.

The status “Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user” does not show the page that Google chose instead. But you can find out which page Google has decided to index using the URL Inspection tool.

Screenshot showing where you can find the URL Inspection tool.

Among other pieces of information that can be accessed using this feature, you’ll find basic information identified by Google and basic user-declared data. This information can help you understand why your canonical tag is ignored.

Screenshot of the URL Inspection tool providing data on a non-indexed page.

Even if you have a long list of affected URLs, the process shouldn’t take long.

Instead of checking each page manually, you can use URL Inspection API. This tool allows you to bulk check up to 2000 URLs per day and get information about the base URL specified by Google in a JSON file.

Conclusion

If your website has pages with similar content, make sure that each page has a unique value to your users. Self-referencing canonical tags alone are not enough to convince Google to index these pages.

The problem may also be caused by your conflicting baseline signals. Make sure that the page itself is referenced as the canonical page by:

  • basic tags
  • internal links
  • Sitemap

A situation where Google ignores your canonical tags may indicate deeper technical issues with your website. Let’s discuss them and prevent them from sabotaging your business again!

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