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I work on a site that has experienced a drop in search traffic lately. On digging into it, we've noticed that our recent content isn't getting indexed. When I check some of the URLs for new content in Google Search Console, they're showing "Duplicate, submitted URL not selected as canonical" as the reason for not being indexed.

From there, I see multiple instances where when I use the URL Inspection tool the "User-declared canonical" URL is showing a different URL (for a completely different and unrelated piece of content from years before). What's especially odd is that when I use the "TEST LIVE LINK" button, the "User-declared canonical" shows the correct URL.

I'm able to verify that the canonical tags in the content are correct. I've verified that in both Chrome and via curl (just in case some front-end Javascript might have been modifying the rel="canonical" declaration).

So, why might the "User-declared canonical" differ between the "GOOGLE INDEX" versus "LIVE TEST" tabs in the Google Search Console?

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  • Did you ever find out the cause of this issue? I'm currently experiencing the same issue on my client's site. The only thing I can think of is that it is a Google indexation bug.
    – MasterWeb
    May 30 '19 at 14:36
  • Sadly, no, we didn't find the root cause, despite a lot of time trying. After a couple of months, our content mysteriously began getting indexed in Google again with no clear link to any changes we'd made to try to remedy the issue. It definitely felt like a Google indexing bug, from our perspective. I would suggest reaching out the Google Webmasters community (google.com/webmasters/connect), help forum (support.google.com/webmasters/community), office hours hangouts. My impression is that those are the main channels for getting help from Google. Good luck!
    – Matt V.
    May 30 '19 at 18:25
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This is very tough without actually getting under the hood in GSC. Based on your comment it also seems like the problem got resolved, but I'll list some possibilities to consider for anyone that finds this in the future.

Mixed Methods of Specifying a Canonical

There are a variety of ways the canonical can be set. Mixing these methods could cause an issue like this.

Using the rel="canonical" HTML annotation:

<link rel="canonical" href="https://example.com/" />


Using a rel="canonical" HTTP header:

Link: <http://www.example.com/>; rel="canonical"


Outdated Sitemaps

All pages listed in a sitemap are suggested as canonicals; Googlebot will decide which pages (if any) pages are duplicates, based on similarity of content.


Canonical Guidelines (via Google Webmasters)

  • Don't use the robots.txt file for canonicalization purposes.

  • Don't use the URL removal tool for canonicalization. It removes all versions of a URL from Search.

  • Don't specify different URLs as canonical for the same page using the same or different canonicalization techniques (for example, don't specify one URL in a sitemap but a different URL for that same page using rel="canonical").

  • Don't use noindex as a means to prevent selection of a canonical page. This directive is intended to exclude the page from the index, not to manage the choice of a canonical page.

  • Specify a canonical page when using hreflang tags. Specify a canonical page in same language, or the best possible substitute language if a canonical doesn't exist for the same language.

  • Link to the canonical URL rather than a duplicate URL, when linking within your site. Linking consistently to the URL that you consider to be canonical helps Google understand your preference.

Troubleshooting

Google recommends checking for the following if you experience unexpected behavior:

  • Incorrectly marked language variants
  • Incorrect canonical tags
  • Misconfigured servers
  • Malicious hacking
  • A copycat website

Details on these can be found here

Multiple Search Console Properties

I've seen anomalies like this occur when a site has other unknown or forgotten about search console properties. There are two types of properties:

  1. URL-prefix property
  2. Domain property

See this page for more info on both.

Search Console data is scoped into each property. The property that gets the data, depends on what is indexed, ranking & getting clicks in Google search. What is ranking really depends on your domain/redirect config.

Make sure that you're using the Domain property and that there are no older properties for specific URLs such as www.example.com, http.example.com vs https.example.com, or mobile.example.com.

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