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starting around February 25th, 2019 we have been having pages excluded from indexing for our UK website with the error "Duplicate, submitted URL not selected as canonical". We have not had this issue in the past years and has only popped up recently on thousands of pages. We have three websites for our e-commerce business:

  • .com (global market all in English)
  • .co.uk (UK market with the exact same English content as our .com website)
  • .nl (Netherlands market all in Dutch)

The issue is only affecting our UK website. Thousands of our product pages, category pages, and articles are getting this error and are becoming de-indexed. Google sees the "User-declared canonical" if declared to be our UK website, but then lists the "Google-selected canonical" as the equivalent page on our .com website. This is causing a de-index of pages, which is then obviously resulting in a loss of organic traffic. It is currently affecting roughly 33% of our website.

Based on this post: https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2019/02/consolidating-your-website-traffic-on.html. I thought that maybe our traffic would be shown on our .com site with this issue. However, when looking at the specific data for the UK on both sites, this is not the case. We are losing the traffic.

We have done the following:

  • Self referencing canonical tags
    • Both pages with and without the self-referencing tag get the error.
  • hreflang
    • nl (points to .nl website)
    • en-gb (points to .co.uk website)
    • en (points to .com website)
    • x-default (points to .com website)
  • International Targeting set in GSC
    • .nl (Netherlands
    • .co.uk (United Kingdom)
    • .com (not set as it is for the global market)

Any thoughts on fixes for this as our .com and .co.uk have the exact same English content and this has not been an issue for years until recently. Thanks in advance!

  • 1
    Sounds like your setup is correct to me. If you search from the UK using the UK version of Google, can you find those pages on your UK site? I'm thinking that maybe Google shows the correct UK URL in UK search even if it knows about the duplication. – Stephen Ostermiller May 23 at 17:16
  • Are the hreflang tags defined at a page level? (not just all pointing to the home page) – Max May 28 at 2:32
1

Double check your site uses this approach:

On the GLOBAL site: https://www.example.com/ and on your homepage it should look something like this:

<link rel="canonical" href="https://www.example.com/" />
<!-- UNIQUE CONTENT - POINT TO SELF -->

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="x-default" href="https://www.example.com/" />  
<!-- FOR INTERNATIONAL VISITORS SHOW: https://www.example.com/ -->

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-GB" href="http://www.example.co.uk/" />
<!-- FOR GREAT BRITAIN VISITORS SHOW: http://www.example.co.uk/ -->

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="nl" href="https://www.example.nl/" />
<!-- FOR DUTCH VISITORS SHOW: https://www.example.nl/ --> 

On the UK site http://www.example.co.uk and on your homepage it should look something like this:

<link rel="canonical" href="https://www.example.com/" />
<!-- DUPLICATE CONTENT - POINT TO .COM -->

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="x-default" href="https://www.example.com/" />  
<!-- FOR INTERNATIONAL VISITORS SHOW: https://www.example.com/ -->

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-GB" href="http://www.example.co.uk/" />
<!-- FOR GREAT BRITAIN VISITORS SHOW: http://www.example.co.uk/ -->

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="nl" href="https://www.example.nl/" />
<!-- FOR DUTCH VISITORS SHOW: https://www.example.nl/ -->

On the NL site https://www.example.nl and on your homepage it should look something like this:

<link rel="canonical" href="https://www.example.nl/" />
 <!-- UNIQUE CONTENT - POINT TO SELF -->

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="x-default" href="https://www.example.com/" />  
<!-- FOR INTERNATIONAL VISITORS SHOW: https://www.example.com/ -->

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-GB" href="http://www.example.co.uk/" />
<!-- FOR GREAT BRITAIN VISITORS SHOW: http://www.example.co.uk/ -->

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="nl" href="https://www.example.nl/" />
<!-- FOR DUTCH VISITORS SHOW: https://www.example.nl/ --> 

Summary:

  • Duplicate content: Canonical pointed elsewhere.
  • Unique content: Canonical pointed to self.
  • Thanks for the information, but not quite correct given our situation so I can give more information: 1) We have an example.com, example.co.uk, and an example.nl. 2) All canonicals are self-referencing because we want our example.co.uk website to rank in the United Kingdom, not our example.com website. 3) We don't use the hreflang "en-us" because our example.com has English meant for the global market. Therefore, we simply just use "en". 4) Our example.com and example.co.uk have identical content, so is there anyway to get them both indexed and just have example.co.uk for Google UK? – Charles May 24 at 15:29
  • @Simon This is not correct for the 2nd scenario. You should not define a URL in a href lang tag, if I has been canonicalised to point to a different URL. – Max May 28 at 2:31
  • @Max err? sorry but you're wrong canonical always points to self when unique and always points to something else when it is duplicate, this is fact, even with HREFLANG. – Simon Hayter May 28 at 21:33
  • @Charles The whole point of canonical links is that you can 'rank' duplicate pages, even cross-domain, in fact if you don't tell Google X is duplicate of Y, then your going to run into problems, especially 'cross-domain'. So if you have dozens or hundreds of pages exactly the same as another domain without canonicals you're going to get a Google/Bing RED FLAG on one of your sites, HREFLANG does not prevent you from duplicate content penalties. Google does not always announce penalties suffered in GSC either, particular those penalised during a PANDA roll out. Ensure you use canonical correctly – Simon Hayter May 28 at 21:45
  • @Charles I've updated my examples more specific to what you are asking, in regards of Netherlands you can actually use just nl since then Google will be informed to return example.nl for all Dutch visitors, regardless of what country are in, since by setting nl-NL you are saying for visitors whom are Dutch, but only those in the Netherlands, so it would be logical just to use nl or you could actually use both hreflang. – Simon Hayter May 28 at 21:48

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