Alternate page with proper canonical tag: what does it mean and how to fix it?

Last updated: July 20, 2021

“Alternate page with proper canonical tag” indicates that Google has found duplicate pages that are properly canonicalized.

SEOs are quick to dismiss pages with this status and move on with their day. But —and here's where it gets interesting— there could be pages in there that you do want to have indexed. And on top of that, if you're seeing massive amounts of pages with this error status that could mean your internal link structure is poor and there could be crawl budget issues lurking in the dark.

Step 1: Check if these pages are correctly canonicalized.

Go to Coverage > Alternate page with proper canonical tag and check what pages are listed there, and whether these pages should be canonicalized at all. If you find pages that shouldn't be canonicalized, update the canonical link to point to itself. Then move onto the next step.

Check your canonicalized pages

Get a full overview of all your canonicalized pages, and check whether they should all be canonicalized.

Step 2: Check if your internal link structure needs work

If these pages are correctly canonicalized, then look at their URL patterns. What you'll likely find are AMP pages, page variants and URLs with UTM tags. In general, this are fine. But there are situations where they could cause issues.

Page variant overload

Site with massive amounts of page variants are troublesome. For example, if you're running an eCommerce site and you generate URLs for shoes in all colors and sizes, you can easily end up with 25 URLs per product.

In practice, only a few percent of your URLs will probably receive organic traffic. See if this is the case for you, and determine whether you need to make (some) of these page variants inaccessible to search engines through for example using a # in the URL.

Rogue UTM tags

Things could have gone sideways though, for example when team members have added UTM tags to internal links in the main navigation, sidebar, footer or in the body content. That's a big no-go, as this dilutes the transfer of page authority and it also messes up your Google Analytics data.

Let ContentKing explore your site so you get a full picture of all the URLs on your site, and how they're accessible. Filtering through your URLs in ContentKing is much easier and quicker than in Google Search Console. Plus, Google Search Console samples your data and ContentKing gives you the full picture.

Find rogue UTM Tags with ContentKing

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Step 3: check for crawl budget issues

You control how you link to your own content, but you can't control how others link to you. When going through the list of pages with the Alternate page with proper canonical tag status, take note of URLs that you don't recognize.

If you've got a site with a few thousands pages, but you find yourself having hundres of thousands of pages with this status then you should consider using your robots.txt file to prevent search engines from crawling these URLs. Doing so saves you crawl budget. We typically advise to consider crawl budget issues if you're running a site with 10,000 pages or more.

Read the full Academy article to learn everything about Google Search Console Index Coverage report