Google’s John Mueller recently advised against blindly following what big sites do when it comes to SEO.
This topic was addressed in a Reddit thread in which a person asks whether they should listen to Google’s advice or follow what big sites are doing. In particular, this question referred to canonical tags for pagination.
The original poster of the Reddit thread points out how Google recommends canonical pages should point a canonical tag at themselves. While big sites, on the other hand, point their canonical tag toward the first page in a series.
John Mueller’s Response
Mueller begins his response by advising against following what big sites are doing with SEO because many get it wrong. Sometimes big sites succeed in search rankings despite getting things wrong, but other sites might note fare as well.
As the thread was published in the r/TechSEO sub-Reddit, Mueller notes that technical SEO follows a logical process and there’s often a right and wrong way to do things.
”Luckily, a lot of technical SEO is not a matter of blind trust or hope, it’s not a magical black box where you have to believe, there’s no “Person X said Y, therefore Y must always be true.” It’s something that’s very deterministic, and you can logically find the answer, just as you can often test it out for your case. You can do it right, or you can do it wrong (though to be fair, search engines will try to help when you do it wrong, because lots of sites get it wrong).”
In addressing the original question, Mueller says the use of canonical tags depends on which pages you want indexed. Using a self-referencing canonical on every page helps ensure that all pages of a series get indexed on their own.
On the other hand, if every page in a series has a canonical tag pointing to page one then Google will likely index only the first page in the series.
Mueller points out that there are advantages and disadvantages to using a self-referencing canonical on each page:
“The advantage of a per-page canonical is that you’re sure all links to all items will be found. The disadvantage is that there’s potentially a lot more to crawl, and it’ll be a bit harder for us to understand how to rank the paginated pages (eg, if they’re “running shoes” category pages, which page is the right one to show for a [running shoes] search?).”
For what it’s worth, several other users in the Reddit thread recommend using self-referencing canonical in a paginated series.