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I have a desktop site to serve content for desktop and tablet users. I also have a mobile version of the site to cater to mobile phone visitors.

Desktop pages have the following kind of annotations set up:

<link rel="alternate" media="only screen and (max-width: 640px)" href="http://m.example.com/page-1">

And mobile pages have canonical annotations like this:

<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/page-1">

Now I suddenly found out that for some time mobile pages had such noindex meta tag (yes I overlooked that):

<meta name="robots" content="noindex, nofollow">

I know that this tag makes search engines remove pages from their index. It is also known, that we shouldn't use both canonical and noindex tags on pages.

I suspect that this mistake with noindex meta tag might cost me de-indexing of at least a part of my mobile pages.

What is the full list of consequences that I may expect? Would desktop pages (canonicals) get de-indexed as well?

What consequences

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What happens if your configuration will be detected by a search engine:

  1. Mixing canonical links and noindex will mostly lead to search engines ignoring your canonicals. This may lead to duplicate content issues if you also have canonicalized dynamic URLs or alike.

  2. Without the canonicals being respected properly the search engines will decide which url is for mobile and which is not on their own. This may increase bounces from your landing pages as users are sent to the wrong url. Further you will have duplicate content issues with those URLs serving the same content for mobile as the desktop equivalents do.

  3. This may lead to worse rankings as your page may be considered not mobile friendly, user signals are bad and DC issues appear.

  4. Crawling will end if your misconfigured URLs are reached as the pages are set to "nofollow". This will lead to less pages being crawled as they are a dead end for the crawler. Second, as you already mentioned the "noindex" will lead to the pages being deindexed sooner or later.

As your page already is misconfigured it may already suffer from the issues mentioned above.

If you correct the canonicals and meta tags things will rather become better than becoming worse if you don't change the configuration.

In order to avoid problems like this it's always recommended to serve mobile and desktop versions on the same url. This makes rel="alternate" unnecessary and makes ist easier to maintain the canonicals.

To sum it up:

  • canonicals will be ignored
  • duplicate content issues will appear
  • mobile friendliness may suffer
  • crawling will be not ideal

All this leads to worse rankings compared to a properly configured page.

  • thank you, but don't you think that mobile pages will be deindexed? Noindex metatags surely got removed as soon as they were spotted. – CamSpy Jul 9 '15 at 7:40
  • A "noindex" is not a guarantee for pages being deindxed. Especially if pages are linked often search engines will index them anyway. Deindexing usually takes at least few weeks. So if you remove those "noindex" as soon as you spot it, you're quite safe. – Seb Jul 9 '15 at 8:47

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