Are you getting the “alternate page with proper canonical tag” message in Google Search Console and wondering what to do with it? In this article, we will discuss this status in further detail so that when you see it on your Google Search Console you can take the necessary steps required to fix the issue if need be.
If you feel like this is too much work already, check out our SEO audit service to help you find out why your website is having canonicalization errors among other technical issues.
What is a canonical tag?
A canonical tag is also known as a canonicalized URL or a canonical link or rel canonical. A page is tagged on Google Search Console as a canonical when there is a duplicate version of it. A canonical tag means that the page has been marked by Google as the original page and therefore been indexed.
What does “alternate page with proper canonical tag” mean?
In summary, Google is telling you that the pages listed here on this status have alternative duplicate pages and Google has preferred those duplicate pages for indexing. Therefore, these pages listed here have not been indexed and are not being served on Google.
This means that alternative pages that Google is indexing can be found by inspecting the URLs listed here.
For example, this page is listed under “alternate page with proper canonical tag”. I clicked on the URL and it gave me a pop up on the side with some options on it. I chose to Inspect URL so that I can find out which page Google is serving users instead of this one. In other words, which page is canonicalized.
When inspection of the URL ended, Google showed me below the canonicalized page and the page that it is showing users instead of the one above:
Under the “Indexing” sub-title, Google shows me the page it is indexing instead of the first URL.
Inspecting the links in this scenario
When analysing these two URLs, I can see that the only difference between these two links is the forward slash (/) at the end of the link: URL 1 doesn’t have the forward slash, while URL 2 has the forward slash.
URL 1: /the-cloud-mvrdv
URL 2: /the-cloud-mvrdv/
When we publish blog posts on this site, and being a wordpress site, the forward slash is automatically added at the end of every link. So the original blog post has the forward slash (/) at the end of it. That makes the URL 2 above the original one. Now it makes sense why Google didn’t pick URL 1 for indexing – it is not the original link.
This means URL 2 is the alternate page with proper canonical tag – and so it is being indexed and served on Google.
This also means that URL 1 is not being served. The message on Google Search Console for you is that this URL 1 link exists on your site. Even though Google found it, it is a duplicate URL and will not be preferred over URL 2 which is the original version.
You might be asking yourself, how in the world did URL 1 without a forward slash exist if all articles automatically publish with a forward slash?
Well, in this case, there is only one scenario why this URL 1 exists. Someone on the site added this link as an internal link on a different blog post but did not add the forward slash at the end of the link. Therefore, when Google crawled the site and came across this link without the forward slash, it ended up being a duplicate version of the original link that has a forward slash. Google chose to not index the page without a forward slash and marked the page with the forward slash as the proper canonicalized URL for indexing.
This is just one example of some of the links you might find in the “alternate page with proper canonical tag” status on Google search console.
How do you fix the ‘alternate page with proper canonical tag” status?
In some cases, you don’t need to fix anything. Why? Google has checked a set of duplicate links. It has chosen the original version – most likely the version that we created first. Google has then gone ahead to add all the other duplicates into this list so that you know it chose the original. Therefore, Google is not indexing these pages listed under this status.
Let’s say, Google is correct in choosing the original page and so Google in this case is right. So you don’t have to do anything.
But what if Google is wrong? In some cases this happens. Google chooses to index an alternate page from the one listed here, but you want the one listed here to be the right page for indexing.
If that’s the case, then you need a fix.
So what do you do?
1. Set the right canonical URL
This pages under “alternate page with proper canonical tag” are not being indexed because there are other pages that have been marked as canonical and Google is crawling them instead.
Removing the canonical URL and setting the right one on the page under “alternate page with proper canonical tag” status is the best fix for this issue.
Therefore, what you would do is go to the alternate page that Google is currently indexing, remove the canonicalization. Then come back to the page you want Google to index instead and add the rel canonical in the page header.
Use the simple code below:
<head> <link rel="canonical" href="https://www.kontely.com/canonical-url/> </head>
2. Check your internal links
In the case we shared in the screenshots above, we need to be careful about how to add internal links on this site. This would therefore ensure that the URL 1 without the forward slash would never happen. And all my internal links would have the forward slash like URL 2.
I would easily fix this issue using one of two ways:
- Redirect URL 1 to URL 2 using a 301 redirect
- Audit my internal links to find out where the URL 1 was added without the forward slash. Fix this by adding a forward slash at the end of that link.
Depending on which is easier, both solutions would work just fine.
3. 301 Redirects
I have used a 301 redirect because the page is the same. Only the forward slash is creating a scenario where Google thinks these are two duplicate pages.
When using 301 redirects to fix this for your use case, ensure that you actually don’t want to keep the duplicate pages. Once you redirect them you will not be able to access the duplicate pages. You might as well delete the pages and implement the redirect.
The redirection plugin for wordpress websites is a quick way to implement the 301 redirect.
We have established that the “alternate page with proper canonical tag” status means the pages listed are not being indexed. Some might be okay while others need a fix by:
- Telling Google which page to canonicalize and index instead
- Going through our internal URLs to fix poorly done internal links
- Implementing 301 redirects to the right alternate page with proper canonical tags. Inspect the URL to find which links Google is indexing and then do the 301 redirect to those links
Remember, if you need us to do a thorough SEO audit of your website, don’t hesitate to reach out. The most common reasons why canonicalization errors happen include excessive duplication and poor internal linking practices. We can do a deep dive into your website to help you investigate these technical issues today.