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We have a website that allows users to list items for sale. Think ebay - except we don't actually deal with selling the item, we just list it for sale and provide a way to contact the seller.

Anyhow, in several cases sellers maybe have multiple units of an item for sale. We don't have a quantity field, so they upload each item as a separate listing (and using a quantity field is not an option).

So we have a lot of pages which basically have the exact same info and only the item # might be different.

The SEO guy we've started using has said we should put a canonical link on each page, and have the canonical link point to itself. So for example, www.mysite.com/something/ would have a canonical link of href="www.mysite.com/something/"

This doesn't really seem kosher to me. I thought canonical links we're suppose to point to other pages. The SEO guy claims doing it this way will tell google all these pages are indeed unique, even if they do basically have the same content. This seems a little off to me since what's to stop a spammer from putting up a million pages and doing this as well?

Can anyone tell me if the SEO guy's suggestion is valid or not? If it's not valid, then do i need to figure out some way to check for duplicated items and automatically pick one of the duplicates to serve as an original and generate canonical links based off that?

Thanks in advance for any help

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In general canonical self-links are a good idea, that's pretty much their purpose. They tell Google "yes, this is the correct URL for this content". –  DisgruntledGoat Aug 28 '12 at 10:12
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Adding a Canonical link is a really good idea for most websites. The canonical link is used to say "Hey, there are different ways to access this page, here's the 'best' way to do it". Search engines will treat all pages with the same canonical link as the same page, and generally return the canonical link to users who are searching.

That all said, canonical links won't help you much here. Unless you link up all the similar pages to have the same canonical link they won't do anything (each item will still have a different canonical link, leading to duplicated content). And if you do go down this route, it will likely be seen as abusing the system since you do actually have several different items which just happen to be very similar. Adding canonical links can still help though, since you may be in a position where the search engine tracks your pages multiple ways (different URL parameters for instance). I very highly doubt there's anything to be gained for the reasons he has put forward however.

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I believe he thinks doing this is basically going to tell google we're not trying to spam the index by listing the same page over and over again. I just find it hard to believe this would work, since spammers would abuse this instantly. Do you know if there's anything we need to worry about if we do have pages that are basically the same? Will google penalize us in some way for that? thanks –  merk Aug 28 '12 at 0:19
    
They certainly won't penalise you more for following his advice and there's some potential gain. I do agree with you though. And yes, there is some penalty for having similar listings, however unless most of your site is the duplicates, it's probably nothing to worry about too much. Most of SEO is common sense and as long as you don't try to lie about anything as I alluded to above you should be fine. That said, if you have people listing hundreds of similar items you might be in a little trouble... and I would seriously take into consideration a quantity field. –  Matthew Scharley Aug 28 '12 at 0:27
    
+1 "canonical links won't help you much here". I don't think having canonical links on every page pointing to itself, when some of these pages are clearly duplicates is going to help you. The canonical link is not authoritative, it is merely a suggestion. What is likely to happen (IMO) is that Google will see these pages as duplicate (if indeed they are) and simply decided which page to show. The same as if no canonical link is specified. –  w3d Aug 28 '12 at 9:12
    
@merk re: "tell google we're not trying to spam the index by listing the same page over and over again" - if you use canonicals in the way suggested, that is exactly what you are doing! You are telling them those pages are separate and unique, when they are not. –  DisgruntledGoat Aug 28 '12 at 10:08
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@merk: I doubt it will have a negative impact, you're basically just confirming what Google already thinks it knows about your pages. That said, I doubt it will have a positive impact either. –  Matthew Scharley Aug 30 '12 at 22:02
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I think there is a little misunderstand between you and your SEO. How rel=canonical was intended was to helps sites tell Google which version they prefer of a page to use. For example, if you sell a product that has 5 color options, you would rel=canonical all of those color options to a "main" product page for that item. That way the different color options aren't seen as duplicate content. Having multiple pages with the same item for sale isn't really a rel=canonical fix. It truly is separate items for sale, not variations of the same item.

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Generally rel=canonical used to avoid duplicate issue. Actually it is a good practice. If you can't do that duplicate webpages 301 redirect, then it is the best to avoid duplicate content issues.

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