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I'm the maintainer of a popular tool that helps many projects to create documentation websites. We support versioning, which means that the documentation will be "fixed" to a specific released version of our project.

This page exists in many versions:

  • https://example.com/docs/next/getting-started (unreleased version, for early adopters)
  • https://example.com/docs/getting-started (upstream version, for up-to-date users)
  • https://example.com/docs/0.62/getting-started
  • https://example.com/docs/0.61/getting-started
  • https://example.com/docs/0.60/getting-started

As all these pages almost have the exact same content across versions (most of the time, not always). How does Google interpret that?

Ideally, I want the upstream documentation to be the doc that users find when searching on Google. What are the SEO best practices for this use case? Should I use one canonical URL per version per doc? Or just consider that the canonical URL should be the URL of the upstream version?

Are there other meta tags to be aware of for versioned content?

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Well, from my experience, if two pages have really similar content, Google might flag them as duplicates and will choose one as the most important, and index that one. There is nothing we can do about that, as far as I know.

In this case, I think it's best for you to have control of which page will be indexed. Do you agree? And from what you've said, that would be the upstream page.

So I would definitely add a rel=canonical to that page on all version/next pages.

And maybe it would be better to even add a noindex meta tag to the other (non-canonical) pages. To make sure only the canonical one will be indexed.

This would also improve the fact that your similar pages will not be competing for keywords anymore. So Google will suggest the same page (the upstream one) for every user that searches example.com docs getting started MAYBE OTHER SEARCH TERMS.

And on the upstream version you can add the links to the other versions.

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  • I see thanks. What about if one version is particularly different from the upstream one, but has similarities? I mean, v1 might be quite different from v8 due to time and evolution, despite having some similar content as well. – Sebastien Lorber Jan 7 at 14:49
  • It's hard to control the behavior of which exact URL will be returned and which will be considered canonical by Google. Do you imagine lots of people searching for specific versions of the docs in Google? Ex: if you search for react docs on Google, you'll get the docs page. If you search react v15 docs, you'll get a blog post about React version 15. I would expect 99% of searches to be looking for the generic docs page. Once they got there, I would show them an easy UI to pick the versions other than the upstream one. The other URLs will still exist and they can bookmark them if they want – cbdeveloper Jan 7 at 14:58
  • makes sense, thanks ;) – Sebastien Lorber Jan 8 at 11:16

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