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If we have around 70% match for the content of our mobile site m.example.com to desktop URL example.com, then how to use the canonical tag?

Can we use the canonical to mobile site itself or still need to point it to the desktop? If we put the canonical to itself then we also need to remove the alternate tag from desktop right?

BTW, is it possible to put the canonical to mobile itself?

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Mobile First... Always.

You don't have a choice, since Google will now determine your rankings from the mobile platform so it would make sense to canonical link the mobile platform and not the desktop.

SOURCE

Mobile-first indexing is exactly what it sounds like. It just means that the mobile version of your website becomes the starting point for what Google includes in their index, and the baseline for how they determine rankings.

Viewable Content

Since the update you should ensure that all content is visible on the mobile platform if you want it to help your rankings, otherwise content that is not there on the mobile platform will not be used to determine your desktop rankings. Google doesn't rank both sites, it ranks one but will index both.

  • Thanks for your answer, but I didn't find any article which says "put canonical to mobile". In addition, for the mobile first index, Google recommend put alternate tag at desktop version and on mobile version use canonical to desktop. Also, you can use hreflang separate on mobile but canonical should be to the desktop. Please see developers.google.com/search/mobile-sites/mobile-seo/… – Sahil Jul 18 '18 at 16:10
  • Sorry but you're wrong. When reading Google articles or any articles for that matter you should check the 'date of the publish' to ensure the information is current. The article you have linked to was last updated July 2017 (date at bottom) and therefore this was almost a year before Google's Mobile First was launched. – Simon Hayter Jul 19 '18 at 19:49
  • Best Mobile First practices: Use both alternate and canonical, updated March 2018 vs yours July 2017. – Simon Hayter Jul 19 '18 at 19:59
  • Thanks for the comment, but what you think now about your answer "Mobile First... Always. You don't have a choice, since Google will now determine your rankings from the mobile platform so it would make sense to canonical link the mobile platform and not the desktop." Which seems incorrect as where Google announced that use canonicals to mobile itself instead to desktop? As I said, we should put canonical to desktop and use alternate at the same time is the best solution. – Sahil Jul 23 '18 at 9:34
  • You can use both alternate and canonical, this can be used in either combination. However it should be noted that generally by using canonical you informing Google this page is a duplicate copy of this page which avoids being penalised but in your case, you have some content that is not visible, 70% you said, therefore, the pages are not duplicate. If the pages are not identical then normally you self-canonical and not cross-canonical across subdomains. By using canonical on self or in either direction is not going to affect your rankings.] – Simon Hayter Jul 23 '18 at 13:39
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Only using canonical might not work as Google might interpret is as duplicate site, you would have to use rel="alternate" as well to indicate that there is an alternate URL for specific user-agents.

Snippet from official documentation

Signal the relationship between two URLs by tag with rel="canonical" and rel="alternate" elements

Detect user-agent strings and redirect them correctly.

Link to official guidelines for implementation

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