Let's say I have 5 products that are identical but the product code, the product color specifications and the product image. The title, meta and description are identical (by the way the color is in a select form).

I made 4 products link canonical to the 1 that is the master based on many factors. If the master becomes inactive or without a stock one product from the other 4 will become the new master and the rest will become canonical to it.

The question is if that by becomeing master from canonical will the site suffer a penalty from Google or it will work just fine?

What will Google think about this strategy?

  • I know this is not an answer to your question (so it is a comment) : a solution could be, keep the inactive product -thus the url structure- the same, but show "this product is not in sale right now" in the master's display page?
    – jeff
    Sep 20 '13 at 7:19

If you change the master page, Google might take a while to pick up on it. If you're unlucky, the previous master page will get unindexed and the new one won't be indexed yet... I wouldn't change the master-page. If the product is sold out, just post a "suggested items" link, that way people searching for the item will be helped and the master page will remain the same and indexed.

Edit: since only the colors differ, the links are already there in the dropdown menu. I wouldn't change the master product at all, even if it's sold out. Just make sure it's obvious that other colors might not be sold out. If the item becomes inactive, you can make another item the master, but I wouldn't expect Google to pick up on it immediately and I'd expect a hit in visits for that item until Google finds the new one.


You should not use canonical for product variations.

The canonical link relation must only be used for "content that is either duplicative or a superset of the content", which doesn’t seem to apply in your case.

Your pages (= representing products) are not duplicative (as they have a different color, image and product code and price; probably/hopefully also a different title). And neither is one of them a superset (which would be the case if you’d had an overview page containing all the information about all available variations).

Some search engines might only index the canonical variant. If this would be a page selling a red t-shirt, searchers wouldn’t be able to find your pages selling blue or green t-shirts in those search engines.
Some price comparison services might only index your canonical product, so that you only appear in the "Red T-Shirt" list, leaving your competitors as the only ones selling blue and green shirts.

  • 1
    This is not correct advise, Google have an example in their guidelines where they use this exact situation, a product with different colours: "For instance, if a site has a set of pages for the same model of dance shoe, each varying only by the color of the shoe pictured, it may make sense to set the page highlighting the most popular color as the canonical version so that Google may be more likely to show that page in search results". support.google.com/webmasters/answer/139394?hl=en
    – Max
    Sep 20 '13 at 9:53
  • @moobot: 1. "it MAY make sense", 2. if there is something like a "MOST popular color", which doesn’t necessarily has to be the case here, 3. "each varying ONLY by the color", which is not the case here (image, price, code). A different price is more than just a "minor difference".
    – unor
    Sep 20 '13 at 9:57
  • Yes they don't go into that much detail, but I think it's fair to assume that if they are giving it as a valid example then it would be valid in a case such as this.
    – Max
    Sep 20 '13 at 10:02
  • @moobot: Yes, right, Google probably wouldn’t consider this as an invalid approach, based on this example in their documentation.
    – unor
    Sep 20 '13 at 10:05
  • "5 products that are identical but the product code, the product color specification and the product image." The products ARE identical except for the color. The image and product code are linked to the color and the price is exactly the same so this is exactly the example that Google uses. Using canonical pages, he won't get hit for duplicate content (the description), which is what he wants. Sep 20 '13 at 11:08

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