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I'm unsure if canonical should, and could, be used in the following scenario:

I have a bank of school assignments. These all contain a parent page, a summary with part of the children pages content detailed as well as some unique info (length of assignment, category, etc.). Every assignment then has 4 sub-pages, children, that contains details like "Teaching support", "Student assignment" (long texts and images).

SEO: In a perfect world I would like people to land on the summary, and I would like all the content of the children to be indexed on/with the parent.

My worry is that canonical would cause the children not to be indexed. This is, after all, where most of the indexable content resides.

As I understand it "canonical" should (primarily?) be used for "the same content". This is not really "the same content" as it is summary vs. detailed.

Should/can I use canonical in this instance, or is there any other simple way to index this like I want?

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You're right, canonical link element is meant for duplicate (or very nearly duplicate) content, so not the right approach here. In fact, Google would likely ignore a canonical because it's not duplicate.

A better approach might be to treat these assignments as paginated content, and use pagination markup. In short, this:

  • identifies the pages as parts of an ordered sequence
  • asks to Google to treat them as a single whole
  • and will generally direct search traffic to the first page (unless an inner page is a better result for the user's query)

Here's a blog post from Google covering use cases and behaviour in more detail.

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Canonical should be used exact 'duplicates' or 'almost duplicates' pages. Pages that contain entire articles from another page or snippets in conjunction with new unique content makes the page unique.

Treat your pages as images

Consider your pages as images, does page A look too similar to page B? if so, Page B should have a canonical link pointing to A, if not A should point to A and B should point to B.

My Simple Illustration


Example One:

canonical link example one]

  • /page-one/ should use <link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/page-one/">
  • /page-two/ should use <link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/page-one/">

Example Two:

canonical link example two]

  • /page-one/ should use <link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/page-one/">
  • /page-three/ could use <link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/page-three/">

Example Three:

canonical link example three]

  • /page-one/ should use <link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/page-one/">
  • /page-ten/ should use <link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/page-ten/">
  • /page-nine/ could use <link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/page-nine/">

Example Four:

canonical link example four]

This example is a little bit harder than the previous examples because as you notice /page-ALL/ contains absolutely zero unique content, however, while the content may not be unique the page is unique.

The page becomes unique because no other page on the website looks the same, or similar, going back to what I previously said, treat your pages as images, does A look like B? if no, then A should be A and B should be B.

It should also be noted that Google, Bing and other major search engines do not support multiple canonicals being used on the same page, so it would be impossible to point back to those articles, using no-index would be silly because if the page is useful, index it.

  • /page-A/ should use <link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/page-A/">
  • /page-B/ should use <link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/page-B/">
  • /page-C/ should use <link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/page-C/">
  • /page-D/ should use <link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/page-D/">
  • /page-ALL/ could use <link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/page-ALL/">

It should, however, be noted that while Google and Bing will index A, B, C, D and ALL a rankings shift should be expected. In broad searches, Google will generally prefer /page-ALL/, in more specific searches then the smaller pages shown, because often combined pages have more dilution and rank better at broad searches than more specific pages.

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