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I have a search function in my app that works like so:

example.com/united-states
example.com/united-states/california
example.com/united-states/california/san-diego

These three different searches will throw up different results but the San Diego results will feature in both USA and California and the California search will feature in USA.

Do I need to use a canonical URL for this so Google doesnt think I'm duplicated content? If so do I use the highest level of search (e.g. example.com/united-states)?

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2 Answers 2

The canonical tag is only for two pages that has significant amounts of similar content. Your USA page presumably has content on it from more than California. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to make it canonical to your California page.

If these pages look like search results, then Google doesn't want to index them. Google doesn't want user clicking off of the Google SERPs only to land on another page of search results. They consider this bad user experience. Google has been known to penalize sites that allow this to happen.

The answer I gave here about when to apply the canonical tag also applies to this situation:

All duplicate content on the web is not bad and there is no need for a zero tolerance policy. It is fine to repeat content on your site when it is in a context that is appropriate for users. Usually, Google will choose to index a page that contains unique content even it contains some duplicate content. If Google finds a page that has nothing but snippets that appear on other pages, then I may choose not to index that page at all. Having all content on your site appear on two or three other pages is not going to get your site penalized or cause Googlebot problems when crawling your site. At worst Google will just choose not to index some of your pages.

The canonical tag is most useful when there are a large number of possible variations in URL that all return the same content. Some examples are:

  • Each user gets a tracking parameter such as a session id like /index.html?ss=t3te9893t3e
  • There are paramters on the the url that control how items are sorted on the page like /products.html?sortby1=name&sortby2=price&sortby3=rating

In those cases, the content can be duplicated hundreds or thousands of times and the canonical tag keeps Googlebot focused on a single version of the page.

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Use the "NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW" meta tag on internal search result pages. There is no reason to have them indexed (assuming Googlebot can execute a search)

Good luck =)

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