In a Google SEO office-hours hangout Google’s John Mueller was asked whether rel canonical or the noindex tag was the best approach for dealing with duplicate and thin content in an ecommerce site. John Mueller discussed both options and then suggested a third way to handle it.
The noindex meta tag is a directive, which means that Google must obey the meta tag and drop the web page from appearing in the search results.
All that the noindex tag does is to drop that page from showing up in Google’s search results.
Google’s official documentation states:
“You can prevent a page or other resource from appearing in Google Search by including a noindex meta tag or header in the HTTP response. When Googlebot next crawls that page and sees the tag or header, Googlebot will drop that page entirely from Google Search results, regardless of whether other sites link to it.”
A rel=canonical tag is a hint, not a directive. It gives Google a suggestion for which URL you want shown in the search results.
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This is useful when there are multiple pages that are similar, especially when a shopping CMS generates multiple pages for the same product with usually the only difference being something trivial like the color of the item.
Google’s official rel canonical documentation explains the problem like this:
“A canonical URL is the URL of the page that Google thinks is most representative from a set of duplicate pages on…