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I went from 3k clicks/day to close to only a few hundred. I have 2 sites using the same canonical link generation code, only 1 has this problem (the other has a sitemap, any relevance?).

I examined my pages that previously had the most traffic and they have "Page is not indexed: Alternate page with proper canonical tag" error on the Google Search Console. However, the user declared canonical is properly selected in the page inspection report.

My implementation is adapted from 2022 blog post https://yoast.com/hreflang-ultimate-guide/#hreflang-canonical

Which has a desired output like this:

<link rel="canonical" href="https://www.example.com/">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.example.com/" hreflang="en" />
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.example.com?hl=en-gb" hreflang="en-gb" />
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.example.com?hl=en-au" hreflang="en-au" />

<!-- If we were on the en-gb page, only the canonical would change: -->

<link rel="canonical" href="https://www.example.com/en-gb/">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.example.com/" hreflang="en" />
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.example.com?hl=en-gb" hreflang="en-gb" />
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.example.com?hl=en-au" hreflang="en-au" />

Perhaps I should remove the alternate tagged "en" element? Or maybe the canonical tag is not meant to change between different pages? This old 2011 blog seems to indicate canonical should be entirely removed - https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2011/12/new-markup-for-multilingual-content#annotating-pages-as-substantially-similar-content

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If your site dropped ~1.7k clicks per day after implementing internationalization, either of two things is true:

  1. You did it correctly and you're experiencing the result of a brief hiccup in Google's indexing system as things get sorted out, after which things will return to normal.
  2. You've overlooked something and didn't do it correctly, and the drop in clicks is a result of that.

If there was money on the line I'd have reversed everything you did faster than a knife fight in a phone booth. Though, if you're sure about your implementation, and you can afford to wait and see if things revert to normal within about a week or so, go ahead. Any longer than that I would restore the state of the site to when you were getting 3k clicks per day.

There is some conventional wisdom that in order to get international traffic, a site must have international SEO implemented. This is misguided. Example.com could have 500 pages ranking #1 in 27 countries without a single hreflang and canonical tag. Make sure that you need to formally internationalize this website.

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  • I had overlooked something. I have 2 sites using the same SEO tag generation logic. Turns out the broken site didnt wasn't calling into canonical link generation on 2/3 of pages, and on 1/3 of the pages it was referencing links on the other site. Adding internationalization created 12 canonical/alternate link elements instead of just 1, so I believe Google stopped ignoring it and instead threw an error and began dropping links from the index. I fixed the canonical links for my broken site and it is working again. Thanks!
    – James L.
    Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 16:53

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