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I’ve often found a blind spot between a business owner commissioning an agency to build a website and the due diligence of launching it. That’s where I tend to find issues around things like multiple canonical tags – often showing pockets of a site which showcases multiple tags or perhaps it is site-wide. This type of tag is often found by SEO experts, web developers know it needs to be there and don’t need to validate it and business owners won’t necessarily pick it up as a snag list. 

How to deal with multiple tags is often a dynamic fix depending on the current situation, for example, if both canonical tags are using different URLs then the fix will often be applied to the log and the removal of one tag, but more on that later.

I’d also like to point out that having multiple canonical tags is not the same as broken canonical tags. The benefits of the canonical tag, from an SEO perspective, are that it is displayed on the front end of the site and many SEO tools can easily identify problems with canonical duplication. 

How do I identify multiple canonical tags? 

As a one-off assessment, the easiest way is to visit a particular web page and view the source code, carry out a text-find for Canonical, if more than one meta tag is showing then you have multiple on your site. The risk with this type of issue is that it can appear on a URL which does not get much traffic or daylight, this means you would need to check each URL, which can take a very, very long time on a large site. Almost every single SEO auditing tool out there, that will crawl your website, is able to pick up multiple canonical tags. You’re in safe hands with tools like SEMRush, Screaming Frog and SiteBulb – also ahrefs site audit is pretty comprehensive when it comes to these types of errors. 

There is also a secondary way to monitor canonical issues on your site and this is through Google Search Console, via the coverage > excluded section of Console. Here you can see all the main errors with the site which harm indexing, I’d also encourage clicking on Errors and seeing if anything is being spun up here. 

How do I fix multiple canonical tags on my website?

If you have two canonical tags firing on the front end of the website then you need to go through a full diagnostics – given the importance of this tag. If both URLs are the same and correct, then the logic is sound and you can proceed with removing one of the canonical tags. You need confidence that this tag is not being duplicated site-wide and will likely need developer input, but if the URL is correct and one tag has been removed – that would constitute a fix. If the URLs are different and incorrect then you need to resolve the logic that is identifying the URL first, then proceeding with consolidating the tags into one. This type of dynamic fix will often need involvement from a developer and an SEO consultant who has experience in dealing with these types of issues. 

How do I prevent my site from publishing multiple canonical tags?

Most CMS platforms do a fantastic job of handling canonical tags, so any previous issue is likely due to a bespoke build, rogue setting or developer issue – I’d raise this at the source with the developer to build confidence that it won’t reoccur. The safety net you have with this type of error is running frequent SEO crawls on your site with your software of choice, perhaps once per month. Typically once these types of issues have been found and fixed by developers the occurrence I see of them resurging on the site is very rare unless there is something significantly wrong with the codebase. 

Additional points for multiple canonical tags. 

  1. If you see Google having issues under Search Console > Coverage > Excluded then you may need to revisit the full logic of canonical generation. It depends on how many issues Google is having with the site.
  2. I typically rely on the search console for more comprehensive feedback on canonical tags but Bing can also provide additional perspective. 
  3. Don’t forget to check Google Tag Manager too – I’ve seen the canonical tag being injected by this and duplicating with the native code. 
  4. This tag is suggestive to Google and can be bypassed but I’d still proceed with fixing it with caution – always get involvement with SEO on this tag for best use.