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I have a website with multiple URLs to the same content:

  • /dog/black/labrador
  • /dog/brown/labrador

... whereas the /black/ or /brown/ hierarchy can be anything and will always show the same page and the same content.

The canonical URL set is http://example.com/dog/black/labrador for all subpages pages. I assume this will also be the URL displayed in the SERPs.

What happens to my page ranking if I manually change the canonical URL to be http://example.com/dog/big/labrador instead? (to have a better keyword and/or a more accurate word for my users)

Of course /dog/black/labrador (the old canonical URL) will continue to display the same content and there will still be only one canonical URL (the new one).

But will I keep all SEO juice or will i be penalised for not using 301 redirect on this case? And will the indexed URL on search results will be updated?

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What I understand is that you have two urls A and B that ultimately lead to the same content, with A being the canonical version of the two and you want to change the URL of A, which also means changing the URL of the canonical tag of page B.

If that is the case, you should use a 301 redirect in order to migrate all the SEO juice to the new url. What would happen is the following:

Scenario 1: I hit the previous url A -> I get a 301 and get redirected to the new url A*. No SEO juice lost.

Scenario 2: I hit url B -> I see the canonical version to be A* -> A* gets the SEO benefits and B is not indexed.

What used to be the case is a 15% pagerank loss due to 301 but since then Google has stated that 301 no longer lowers pagerank, so you should be fine, especially since this is the textbook case where a 301 is needed, case being, a resource is permanently moved to a different URL.

If you do not use a 301 essentially you are trying to build A*'s ranking from the ground, because it will seem like a completely new url that B is now pointing to, instead of what is actually happening, which is moving the 'good ol'trusty' A's content to A*'s URL.

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    I believe that when Google honors a canonical tag, it passes PageRank the same way a 301 redirect does. – Stephen Ostermiller Jun 21 '18 at 9:14
  • @StephenOstermiller in your case however you are deprecating a URL, so why use canonical tag since the old URL is being removed? – Σπύρος Γούλας Jun 21 '18 at 9:46
  • 301 redirects would work fine if they can be implemented easily. It sounds like they are considering changing the canonical because their CMS has weird behavior with duplicate URL paths that might not be easy to modify. – Stephen Ostermiller Jun 21 '18 at 9:52
  • @ΣπύροςΓούλας i will not have only two urls A and B but basically the second paramater ( black, brown, big etc... ) could be anything. So unlimited urls, and one canonical. That's because with the tool I'm using to build the website it will be difficult to use 301 redirect. so I was wondering if changing canonical would work. – Thibaut Jun 22 '18 at 9:44
  • @Thibaut I don't propose 301 for all the various pages. Use canonical tag for each different url to reference the (new) canonical url. But use 301 from the old canonical url to reference the new canonical url. How are you going to migrate the ranking from the old canonical to the new without 301? If page A used to be the canonical and you just change its url to A* and have all the other pages use A* as their canonical version you will essentially be building A*'s ranking from zero, effectively losing A's ranking. – Σπύρος Γούλας Jun 22 '18 at 9:52
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You should very seriously think about the idea of canonical: it is not a rule, it is rather recommendation for Google. You have no any guarantee, whether Google follows this recommendation.

The bullet proof architecture of such content as you have is the following:

  • you have only one single static url for all of your labradors: /dog/labrador/.
  • colors are parameters, like /dog/labrador?color=black
  • all urls with color parameter are noindex. However they should link to /dog/labrador/
  • crawling of color urls is turned very slow in the search console (if they have no any or redundant/duplicated content)
  • any other dog features, like size, should be delivered as parameters too, like /dog/labrador?color=black&size=big - such urls are surely noindex-ed too.
  • if you change an url manually - make sure to 301-redirect it to the new variant and change all internal links, where old urls is used
  • in this constuction don't use canonical at all - it is absolutely clear for Google and doesn't need any canonical.
  • Google doesn't make any distinction between path components and parameters. Each make new URLs to Google. – Stephen Ostermiller Jun 21 '18 at 8:57
  • Thats for sure:) But with parameters it is much easier to handle deindexing and crawl rate lowering – Evgeniy Jun 21 '18 at 9:09
  • Thanks @Evgeniy for you thoughts, I know that canonical are only recommandations, I was asking for what will happen and not what I should do. I'm aware that 301 redirect would be the best, but it will be difficult to implement with the tool I'm using unfortunately. – Thibaut Jun 22 '18 at 9:50
  • @Thibaut Redirects could be implemented without any tool, just with server settings, which are tool-independent – Evgeniy Jun 25 '18 at 9:01

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