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Is it okay if the canonical is not an exact duplicate of the content?
We allow slight differences, e.g., in the sort order of a table of products. We also recognize that we may crawl the canonical and the duplicate pages at different points in time, so we may occasionally see different versions of your content. All of that is okay with us.
Is rel="canonical" a hint or a directive?
It's a hint that we honor strongly.
So what kind of "slight difference" allows a deep internal page to be canonicalized to the home page - with totally different content? Or to a page on com.com? Google is supposed to IGNORE the tag - treating it as a "strong hint" but only if the content has only slight differences, right?
I've used the canonical link tag with no apparent problems, and in some cases it put an easy band-aid on a nasty infrastructure knot. But now I'm reading some SEO blogs that warn against serving the canonical link on the "original" URL. How could that be a problem? For smaller websites without many infrastructure assets to work with, surely it's an easy way to say "don't let any backlinks mess with this URL by adding query strings, playing around with case, double slashes, etc, etc.)
Are these articles "crying wolf" when canonical link problems rare and most everyone is having smooth sailing? Or are lots of people really getting into trouble with their canonical links?
That has nothing to do with my point which was webmasters can make canonical mistakes more than one way...
search engines do not trust webmaster input
We didn't detect any content issues with your site.