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Google explains how it selects canonical pages for SERPs

May 16, 2024 0 comments

For local businesses, navigating the often-complex world of SEO can feel like deciphering a secret code. However, the good news is that we often get detailed explanations from Google officials that help us better understand and navigate these SEO challenges.

And, today, we bring another such explanation to you.

A recent Google Search Central video by Gary Illyes sheds light on a crucial concept: canonical pages.

Surprisingly, Illyes revealed that duplicate pages might actually be beneficial for local SEO in some cases.

Let’s untangle the mysteries of canonicals and see how they impact your local business’s online presence.

Canonicals: Beyond the publisher’s perspective

Traditionally, SEOs view canonical pages as the “original” version for ranking purposes. But Google’s approach is refreshingly different.

Here, the focus isn’t on a single “best” page, but rather the one that best represents a cluster of similar content.

Illyes explains, “Google determines if the page is a duplicate of another already known page and which version should be kept in the index, the canonical version. But in this context, the canonical version is the page from a group of duplicate pages that best represents the group according to the signals we’ve collected about each version.”

Duplicate pages: A blessing in disguise for local SEO?

So, why do duplicate pages even exist?

For local businesses, the reasons are plenty.

Imagine you have a restaurant with a webpage showcasing your lunch menu. You might also have a separate page specifically for your weekend brunch menu. Both pages contain core information about your restaurant, but cater to different dining occasions.

But here’s the good news: Google’s system recognizes these variations as “alternate versions” within a cluster.

And guess what?

These alternates can still rank and be beneficial for SEO!

This is particularly relevant for local businesses with variations catering to specific user queries.

For instance, a historical society might have a webpage dedicated to the history of their city. They might also have a separate page offering educational resources for teachers, packed with lesson plans and activities. These variations, although technically duplicates, could be chosen by Google as alternate versions depending on the user’s search intent.

A user searching for “city history” might see the main webpage, while a teacher looking for “lesson plans” could be directed to the alternate version.

The centrepiece content conundrum

Illyes’ discussion also introduces the intriguing concept of “centrepiece content.” This refers to the main content on a webpage, essentially its heart and soul. While the specifics of Centrepiece Annotation (a related concept) remain unclear, Illyes’ mention suggests it might be tied to how Google prioritizes core content.

This emphasizes the importance of crafting high-quality, informative content that directly addresses user queries. Even with variations and alternates swirling around, a strong centerpiece can potentially improve a webpage’s ranking potential.


To summarize:

  • Centrepiece content reigns supreme: Gary Illyes emphasizes the importance of “centrepiece content,” the heart and soul of your webpage. Craft high-quality, informative content that directly addresses local user queries. This strong core can significantly influence your ranking potential, even amidst variations and alternate versions.
  • Signals guide Google’s choices: Google analyses various signals about each webpage to determine the best representative within a cluster of duplicates. While some signals, like the rel=canonical link attribute, are under your control, others, such as the overall importance of a page within the web ecosystem, are not.
  • Embrace alternate versions: Don’t shy away from creating variations on your core content to cater to specific user needs. Google’s system recognizes these as “alternate versions” and might choose them for relevant long-tail searches containing details like size, colour, or specific services offered. This can be particularly beneficial for local businesses targeting local audiences.

By understanding Google’s approach to canonical pages and alternate versions, local businesses can craft winning SEO strategies.

The key lies in prioritizing high-quality content that resonates with your local audience.

By embracing this shift in perspective, local businesses can unlock new possibilities for attracting and engaging customers in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

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