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The canonical URL to our products is example.com/product-alias in the sitemap, inside link rel="canonical" etc., and Google picks it up.

Yet from the category pages, we link to our products as example.com/category-alias/product-alias. It's been like that forever and the website ranks well.

As a result, here's what I see when I go to the Pages report in Google Search Console:

"why pages aren't indexed" report

So we got thousands of duplicate pages that are not indexed since they all have a proper canonical. Inspect tool shows that indeed, they are all referred to by category pages only.

Discovery

  • Sitemaps: No referring sitemaps detected

  • Referring page: example.com/category-alias

We're not sure if this is a problem and we should change it.

  • On one hand, the website ranks well and if it ain't broken – don't fix it.
  • On the other hand, I can see how these 5000 pages can be a waste of the crawl budget, as Google Bot does come back to them relatively often, only to find it's still a duplicate of another canonical
  • Or maybe it's a good thing to have Google Bot think we have lots of content and keep coming back?

I'm pretty sure we're missing something.

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  • I can see how your links create double the URLs, but 300 compared to 5000 is more than 10 times the URLs. Something else must be going on too. Nov 17, 2023 at 14:32
  • Hi Stephen, of what's not on the screenshot, there are also 600+ of Discovered - currently not indexed, a lot of which are the same example.com/category-alias/product-alias pages. The remaining 3 rows are negligible. And all rows together add up to 4,9k. Nov 17, 2023 at 14:40

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Since the site ranks, and you don't describe any indexing issues here, it sounds to me like Google has correctly read between the lines and figured it out, despite whatever you have going on the back end with your URLs.

Please correct me if I'm misunderstanding this.

Assuming I'm correct, whether or not you should clean this up depends on how much it costs to fix, if the site has plans to grow, and how powerful the web server is.

I'm not really concerned about 5000 duplicate pages affecting your crawl budget (determined by crawl capacity and crawl demand), but I would be about 10,000+. If you could go check out your logs, from how you describe the situation, I think theres a good chance that they are already being ignored.

These URLs are not affecting your crawl frequency.

I also don't think you're going to benefit at all. To be specific, I don't think any of your other pages will rank higher after fixing this.

If you accept my foregoing points, the primary reason to fix this (at least right now) is that it doesn't look good, which I do respect.

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    The biggest potential benefit to fixing it is that maybe more than 300 pages could get indexed if all the links pointed to the canonical URLs. Not a sure thing though. Nov 17, 2023 at 18:18
  • @StephenOstermiller I thought the pages were duplicates though? Nov 17, 2023 at 19:13
  • Google might be more willing to index a URL if it has more links to it rather than links to an alternate duplicate URL. Nov 17, 2023 at 19:17
  • @StephenOstermiller I totally agree with that, but I'm confused. There are duplicate pages that are rightly not indexed because they contain canonical URLs, thus they are "alternates". GSC detects this and includes the info in the indexation report. For all intensive purposes everything is OK, except a properly functioning website wouldn't generate the duplicates in the first place, and their indexation report would be clean. Isn't the point that they're not supposed to be indexed in the first place? Nov 17, 2023 at 19:34

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