Beware of Using Rel=canonical for Redirects

Google Advises Against Misleading Redirects for Outdated Website Content

When it comes to managing outdated website content, Google has issued a warning regarding the use of certain redirects that might confuse users. This advice was shared during a recent episode of Google’s Search Off The Record podcast.

In the podcast, members of Google’s Search Relations team, John Mueller and Lizzi Sassman, delved into strategies for handling “content decay,” which refers to the process where website content becomes outdated over time. Specifically, they discussed the practice of employing redirects when updating or replacing older content.

One particular redirect method that raised concerns was the incorrect use of rel=canonical tags, which was highlighted in a discussion about linking similar but non-equivalent content. Sassman mentioned a scenario where she wished for a way to connect different pieces of content, ultimately suggesting the use of rel=canonical tags as a solution. However, Mueller was quick to point out the potential pitfalls of using rel=canonical tags in such scenarios.

“The rel=canonical would be kind of sneaky there because it’s not really the same thing… it’s not equivalent. I always see rel=canonical as something where you tell search engines ‘these are actually equivalent, and you can pick whichever one you want. We’re kind of seeing it as like, ‘Well, these are equivalent, but treat this as a redirect,’ which is tricky because they’re like, ‘Ah, they say rel=canonical, but they actually mean something different.’”

Instead of relying on rel=canonical tags, Mueller emphasized the importance of either implementing a redirect to the updated content or maintaining both versions if they still offer value. This ensures that search engines and users have clear signals about the status of the content.

Using redirects or canonical tags incorrectly can be viewed as an attempt to manipulate search rankings, contravening Google’s guidelines and potentially resulting in penalties or decreased visibility. Adhering to Google’s recommendations not only helps maintain a website’s good standing but also ensures that visitors can access the most relevant and up-to-date content.

Key Considerations for Handling Outdated Content

  • Use of Rel=Canonical Tags: Reserve the use of rel=canonical tags for situations where the old and new content are truly equivalent to avoid appearing misleading.
  • Accessibility of Outdated Content: It is acceptable to retain outdated content if it still holds value, but be mindful of providing clear pathways to updated information.
  • Redirect Implementation: When updating website content, opt for a 301 redirect to indicate that the old content has permanently moved to a new location, thereby preserving link equity and search rankings.

In conclusion, following best practices for managing outdated website content, such as using proper redirects and avoiding misleading signals like rel=canonical tags, is crucial for maintaining a website’s integrity and search visibility.