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By Amanda Larson Outreach

Google Search Console Changes Are Coming: Canonical URLs

7 minute read
Google Search Console Changes Are Coming: Canonical URLs Featured Image

Last month Google announced they’ll be rolling out some pretty big changes to how they’ll report on your website data within Google Search Console. We know SEO can be quite a technical subject matter so today we’re going to lay out these upcoming changes in an easy to digest fashion. Before we dive into the specifics it’s important to first understand a few basic definitions.

what is a canonical URL?

The URL of the page that Google thinks is most representative from a set of duplicate pages on your site.

For example, if you have URLs for the same page (example.com?dress=1234 and example.com/dresses/1234), Google chooses one as canonical.

When Googlebot indexes a site, it tries to determine the primary content of each page. If Googlebot finds multiple pages on the same site that seem to be the same, it chooses the page that it thinks is the most complete and useful, and marks it as canonical. The canonical page will be crawled most regularly; duplicates are crawled less frequently in order to reduce Google crawling load on your site.

When conducting a Google search the results will typically point to the canonical page unless one of the duplicates is explicitly better suited for a searcher. For example, is the searcher is using a mobile device then the search result will most likely point to the mobile page, even if the desktop page is marked as the canonical page.

Make sense? Now that we have that out of the way let’s dive into the upcoming changes!

Google Search Console to Consolidate Search Performance Reports to Canonical URL

Instead of using the exact URL, Google Search Console will soon transition to using the canonical URL for reporting. Google said it’s doing so in an effort “to help unify your data, Search Console will soon begin assigning search metrics to the (Google-selected) canonical URL, rather than the URL referred to by Google Search.”

Visually, here is what the change will look like in your performance report:

google search console changes CANONICAL URL

What Are the Benefits of This Change?

Google believes this shift will provide three main benefits to Search Console users:

  1. It unifies all search metrics for a single piece of content into a single URL: the canonical URL. This shows you the full picture about a specific piece of content in one property.
  2. For users with separate mobile or AMP pages, it unifies all (or most, since some mobile URLs may end up as canonical) of your data to a single property (the “canonical” property).
  3. It improves the usability of the AMP and Mobile-Friendly reports. These reports currently show issues in the canonical page property, but show the impression in the property that owns the actual URL referred to by Google Search. After this change, the impressions and issues will be shown in the same property.

When You Can Expect to See the Change

Google plans to transition all performance data on April 10, 2019. Google will also be pre-populating unified data beginning from January 2018, in order to provide continuity to your data. However, you will have the ability to view both the old and new version for a few weeks during the transition so you can see the impact the change will make and understand the differences.

How the Change Will Impact Your Search Console Data

Google’s hopes are that this change will simplify your job of tracking traffic data for your site. While this change should help unify and consolidate a lot of your search console data it will impact your performance reports so there are a few important things to be aware of:

  • At an individual URL level, you will see traffic shift from any non-canonical (duplicate) URLs to the canonical URL.
  • At the property level, you will see data from your alternate property (i.e. your mobile site) shifted to your canonical property. Your alternate property traffic probably won’t drop to zero in Search Console because canonicalization is at the page, not the property level, and your mobile property might have some canonical pages. However, for most users, most property-level data will shift to one property. AMP (accelerated mobile page) property traffic will drop to zero in most cases (except for self-canonical pages).
  • You will still be able to filter data by device, search appearance (such as AMP), country, and other dimensions without losing important information about your traffic.

While this may all sound pretty confusing these changes are a good thing! The update will enable Search Console users to get a more holistic view of your site content to see what is getting the most clicks across all of your site’s formats (i.e. desktop and mobile).

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