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I'm working on a site that has duplicate content as a consequence of its product catalog architecture, which categorizes products based on year (e.g. /2017/product-page vs. /2018/product-page). A product does not change year over year, but each has its own webpage with only subtle content variations between them, and they're all indexed.

The architecture will eventually change and address duplicate content issues, but I'm considering placing canonical links on the site sooner than later. However, it has come to my attention that a previous SEO removed them. No-one knows why, but I suspect it relates to this scenario.

It would be possible to apply canonicals to future-year product URLs that point to current-year URLs, but the team that would handle the development is heavily tasked with too many larger priorities, so I'm stuck with a binary choice for the present time - canonicals vs. no canonicals.

I do not believe there's a penalty risk at this time -- the site is in the travel space and this issue is surprisingly common -- so set that notion aside. My question is whether there's a reason to think that canonical links applied before architectural changes may hinder more than help the site's SEO? I cannot think of one, and in general the site is lacking a lot of check-the-box type optimizations such as canonical links, hence the desire to get this done.

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Have you thought about putting a noindex tag on the old pages? This will ensure that only the latest years' URL is appearing in search results if this is your desire.

However, if you believe that users would be searching for previous years products, then I would not recommend doing this.For more information, this Moz post may help.

  • I don't want to knock future-year pages from the index. My focus is on the site at large and the fact that it doesn't use canonicals. It should, but then there's this quirky reality about the business. – jivers Oct 19 '17 at 17:50
  • I see, I don't believe there would be any negative effect later on down the line if you add self referencing canonicals, although there is not likely to be much benefit either other than 'checking the box'. – Kirsty Simms Oct 31 '17 at 10:55
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Canonical tags on old versions of content can work just fine. I don't see any issue with implementing them.

My suggestion would be to have your current year not have the year in the URL:

  • Next year: /2019/product-page (canonical to /product-page)
  • Current year: /product-page
  • Last year: /2017/product-page (canonical to /product-page)

That way the current year product inherits most of the links created during previous years. Doing this is a very common practice for annual event sites like conferences.

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is whether there's a reason to think that canonical links applied before architectural changes may hinder more than help the site's SEO?

Short answer will be "No, sure"... but minutes later I was able to imagine it... have to say - rather exotic and, well... degenerated... case.

In short - some of duplicates are targets of external links, some are landings for SE-queries, they all have different link-profiles (when|if you'll canonize pages, you have to check and rewrite internal linking).

Source of canonical must not be landings for keywords from Search Engines(sure) and external links (TBT!), you have to select carefully sources and targets. Otherwise using canonical will have only "pro", not "contra"

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