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We are being advised to:

Use switchboard tags to indicate alternate media for handheld devices.

Canonicalize those mobile pages to the relevant desktop pages

My issue is that I thought that for engines to respect canonical tags the content should be largely identical.

This is based on what I read here: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/139394?hl=en

Our SEO consultants think that this is no longer the case. Any opinions?

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I should add in our case the content will be similar in that the same search results will be rendered, but the content of each result and the page HTML will be very different. –  Matthew Evans Sep 16 '13 at 11:36
    
To add to the debate there is this advice from Google: developers.google.com/webmasters/smartphone-sites/details which contains the following "On the mobile page, add a link rel="canonical" tag pointing to the corresponding desktop URL." –  Matthew Evans Sep 16 '13 at 11:59

1 Answer 1

My issue is that I thought that for engines to respect canonical tags the content should be largely identical.

When you use a canonical URL in your mobile pages, you're essentially telling the Googlebot not to index your mobile pages because the same content appears at the preferred canonical URL. For sites that redirect users to the same content for mobile devices, that's fine because you don't want two sets of the same page competing with each other for indexing.

If the content isn't identical, then you would likely not run into duplicate content issues, and it might be preferable to have both your mobile and desktop pages indexed.

What simplifies this quite a bit is to direct the Googlebot-Mobile user-agent to mobile pages and the Googlebot user-agent to desktop pages. For more on this, see Matt Cutts:

Does indexing a mobile website create a duplicate content issues?

Additionally, you can add URLs for your mobile pages to a sitemap, as demonstrated here:

Adding mobile URL information to a Sitemap

Using the Mobile Sitemap format there would indicate that the URLs are to be indexed as mobile content.

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