What Google Canonical URL Changes Could Mean For Your Website

Posted By Andi Wilkinson
Creative Director of Made By Factory. UX Designer & SEO Nerd, Andi is also a board member of Manchester Digital, and speaks and writes on a variety of web-related topics.

Time to read: 3 minutes

On April 10th 2019, Google will change the way traffic is attributed in the Search Console, based on canonical URL data.

Currently, performance reports credit all page metrics to the referring URL from a google search. What does this mean?

Let’s say you have two versions of your website, a mobile version and a desktop version. The content on both is identical. To avoid duplicate content, you assign canonical URLs to the desktop version.

Currently, whichever version a user lands on, Google attributes the metrics to that version. Despite this being very specific data, it can make it harder to see your overall data, as you need to open several properties to see all data for a single piece of content.

Explaining Canonical URL Changes:

To bring all your data together, Google Search Console will begin assigning search metrics to the (Google-selected) canonical URL, rather than the URL referred to by Google Search. According to Google, this change has several benefits:

  • It unifies all search metrics for a single piece of content into a single URL: the canonical URL. This shows you the full picture of a specific piece of content in one property.
  • For users with separate mobile or AMP pages, it unifies all or most of your data to a single property (the “canonical” property).
  • It improves the usability of the AMP and Mobile-Friendly reports. These reports currently show issues in the canonical page property. However, they show the impression in the property that owns the actual URL referred to by Google Search. After this change, the impressions and issues will be shown in the same property.

How will this happen?

Google has already begun to prepopulate unified data. This has been happening since January 2018. You will be able to view both old and new versions for a few weeks during the transition to see the impact and understand the differences.

How will this affect your data?

  • All data on a given URL will be attributed to the canonical URL. This is regardless of which property is accessed via search.
  • You will be able to see data from your alternate property (for example, your mobile site) shifted to your “canonical property”.
  • For most users, most property-level data will shift to one property. AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) property traffic will drop to zero in most cases.
  • You will still be able to filter data by device, search appearance (such as AMP), country, and other dimensions without losing important information about your traffic.

What You Need To Do

  • Check if you need to change user access to your various properties.
  • Modify any traffic reports you utilise and ensure they reflect the new changes.
  • If you need to learn the canonical URL for a given URL, you can use the URL Inspection tool in the Google Search Console
  • If you want to save your traffic data calculated using the current system, you should export your data using either the Performance report’s Export Data button.

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