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My company manages a network of local websites, all of which run on separate subdomains. Each subdomain represents a different locality (eg brooklyn.example.com, queens.example.com).

Often, we have content that's great for multiple localities, and we post that same content on multiple sub-domains (eg brooklyn.example.com/g-train-schedule, queens.example.com/g-train-schedule).

The content is useful to both sites, but right now we're using canonical URLs to say one version on one domain is the official version (eg <link rel="canonical" href="brooklyn.example.com/g-train-schedule"/>).

This means that even on the Queens site, the SEO benefit is being passed to the Brooklyn domain, even though the content is just as valuable for readers in Queens. If someone searches "Queens G Train Schedule", we're not coming up because our canonical URL is in Brooklyn.

So my question: is this a correct use of rel="canonical"? Is there a way to provide the SEO benefit to both sites? Would rel="alternate" be appropriate or helpful in this case?

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Canonical is not a get out of duplicate jail free card

Duplicate content is duplicate content. Using <cite> <link rel="canonical"> and so on doesn’t make your content any less duplicate. If you have hundreds to thousands of pages that are duplicate, then you can expect your site to rank badly or even not at all on some/most/all search terms. In fact, too many of these type of pages will likely make your site rank extremely poorly on every page, never mind the duplicate pages.

Unique and duplicate content

You can, however, get Google to index your pages if your pages have some content of their own. For example, if you’re reviewing a movie and you want to include 5 different reviews and insights from other critics, then using the cite element would be correct, and you’d rank very well by doing so, because you’re adding value.

Canonical links for sites with various pages accessible many different ways

Canonical is designed to work in favor of sites that have various pages that can be accessed by many different URLs. For example, a page may be accessible via /?content=page1/ and its SEO-friendly URL may be /page-1/. Before canonical, Google and other search engines didn’t know what page should be rewarded, and both got marked as duplicate. Now it’s as simple as using canonical and not having to worry about wrongfully being marked as duplicate.

  • That sounds very bleak for our situation :) Is there a different way we should be organizing our content to make it more Google-friendly? People in both Brooklyn and Queens want to know about this content, but each locality has its own site with a view tailored to its residents. Does that just leave us in a bad light with Google with now way around it? – Travis Feb 6 '15 at 17:06
  • You could spend hours organizing and it'd be a waste of your time. If you want to rank well for things in Brooklyn and Queens its time you serve content that can't be found else where, or at least add some content that then cites other resources, but any situation that only involves copying content from one site to another is doomed before you even start. – Simon Hayter Feb 6 '15 at 18:09
  • We're not copying any content from other resources. We produce all the content in-house. But if our team in Brooklyn produces something that's equally valuable in Queens, we do run it in both places. Is that necessarily untenable? – Travis Feb 6 '15 at 18:16
  • When using canonical your telling Google that A is the master over B.. This means only A will be returned in search results, however Google may still index B. Try doing site: subdomain.site.com search phase it may be indexed just not displaying in the normal keyword results because its got a better match. – Simon Hayter Feb 6 '15 at 18:24
  • Thanks Bybe. "Master" isn't really true in our case, though may be the only way to represent it. I modified the question a bit to ask about rel="alternate" which might be more appropriate for our case? I'd certainly welcome your thoughts. – Travis Feb 6 '15 at 19:03

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