How To Fix “Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user” in Google Search Console

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The “Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user” status describes some of the not indexed pages. In the case of these URLs, Google chose to index other versions of their content.

Google may not respect your canonical tags because of various technical problems.

Why should you care about not indexed pages?

The “Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user” is a status explaining why some of your pages aren’t indexed. You’ve probably encountered it while investigating your website’s Index Coverage (Page Indexing) report in Google Search Console.

Screenshot of Google Search Console showing the "Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user" status.

The bad news is that you won’t get any organic traffic to these pages. Only indexed pages can appear on Google Search and help your business grow.

It’s normal to have some unindexed pages. But the “Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user” status usually applies to pages you care about. After all, you tagged them as canonical. 

Let me guide you through what it means and why Google chose to ignore it.

Why did it happen, and how to fix it?

With finite resources, Google needs to crawl the whole web and index valuable pages. Since duplicate pages don’t offer much value, they are a top offender in SEO. Google avoids crawling and indexing them.

Whenever a site has multiple pages with very similar content, Google tries to index only one of them. If you don’t take control of this process, it will happen automatically, and the result may be unfavorable for the website. 

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

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

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

The website has 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 respecting them. The good news is those mistakes are fixable. 

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

When Google ignores your self-referencing canonical tags

Let’s say you run an eCommerce website selling shoes. In your case, the similarity between product pages is inevitable. You sell the same models in different sizes, each needing a separate URL. 

If you use the canonical tag to point to one variant of your shoes, Google won’t index all the other variants.

Product pages have canonical tags all pointing to one of them. Only this page is indexed.

So for you, it’s a negative outcome. Every product page is vital for you as an eCommerce owner. That’s because every product page is an opportunity for a transaction. If you know your users are looking for a specific product variant, of course, you’ll want it indexed.

Instead, you can use self-referencing canonical tags on each page. Self-referencing canonical tags tell Google that you want to index all of them.

Product pages have self-referencing canonical tags visualized as round arrows.

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

That’s one of the scenarios when your product pages will be marked as “Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than 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 have self-referencing canonical tags visualized as round arrows. Each of them is distinguished by some unique detail.

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

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 is not possible, consider merging similar products and let users choose the desired variant on the page. You won’t be able to target specific user intent with different product variants. But this will solve your “Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user” problem.

When Google ignores your canonical tags pointing to different pages

In the example above, we discussed what to do when a page has a canonical tag pointing to itself, and Google ignores that tag. The second scenario is that you only indicate one of the duplicate pages as the canonical one.

Suppose you have an article on your website that got duplicated. You’ve informed Google with a proper canonical tag which page it should index, but it still chose the other one. 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 isn’t the only thing Google pays attention to when determining which page to index. The search engine will also consider the following hints:

Canonical hint Best practice
The URL you included in your sitemap. Make sure it’s the canonical URL.
The number of internal links pointing to each version of the page. Make sure you link internally to the canonical URL.
Security protocol (Google prefers HTTPS variants over HTTP). Make sure your canonical pages use HTTPS.
Redirects from the page. Ensure the canonical page is the final URL and doesn’t redirect to another page.
URL appearance (Google prefers shorter URLs consisting of words rather than random strings of letters). Optimize your URLs to be short and readable by humans. 
Success status returned by the server hosting your canonical page. Make sure your canonical page returns the 200 status code.
The presence of a self-referencing canonical tag on the page you are pointing 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 pointing to page B, and page B has a canonical tag pointing to page A),
  • Canonical chains (page A has a canonical tag pointing to page B, and page B has a canonical tag pointing to page C).
Canonical loops and canonical chains visualized with arrows.

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

NEXT STEPS

Here’s what you can do now:

  1. Contact us.
  2. Receive a personalized plan from us to deal with your indexing issues.
  3. Enjoy your content in Google’s index!

Still unsure of dropping us a line? Read how technical SEO services can help you improve your website.

How to organize your work and export data from GSC

I also prepared some advanced advice for you that may help organize your work.

It’s a good idea to have a list of any struggling URLs. The list of pages from the “Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user” report is available for export, but there is a 1000 URL limit.

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 choosing a sitemap to investigate in Google Search Console.

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

Screenshot showing where you can find the URL inpection tool.

Among other pieces of information accessible with this feature, you’ll find Google-selected canonical and the User-declared canonical. This information can help you understand why your canonical tag was ignored. 

Screenshot of URL Inspection Tool providing data on unindexed page.

Even if you have a long list of URLs affected by this problem, the process doesn’t have to be time-consuming.

Instead of checking each page manually, you can use the URL Inspection API. This tool allows you to bulk check up to 2000 URLs daily and get the information about the Google-selected canonical in a JSON file. 

Google Search Console’s two different duplicate content reports

It’s easy to confuse “Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user” with different status in the Index Coverage (Page indexing) report: “Duplicate without user-selected canonical.”

These statuses indicate the same thing: the page is not indexed because Google thinks it’s not canonical. The difference lies in whether the user declared a canonical tag or not.

Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user Duplicate without user-selected canonical
Was the canonical tag provided? Yes No

Wrapping up

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

The problem may also result from your conflicting canonical signals. Ensure that the same page is indicated as canonical by:

  • Canonical tags,
  • Internal linking, and
  • Sitemap.

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