Caught Out by Canonicals – A Quick Tip When Migrating from HTTP to HTTPS

Cannonical! Get it? Canonical, cannonical?! Ahahahahahaaa...It’s been a while since my last post on here (over 4 months – yikes!) but I thought I’d quickly put this out there based on a recent private Facebook group interaction. A few people said it was a good tip, so I thought it’d be a good idea to blog about it just in case anyone else encounters the issue as well…

A friend of mine added me to a private SEO group on Facebook and subsequently posted asking the group for advice. His client had just migrated their website from HTTP to HTTPS (something I’ve written about before by the way, if you’re looking for a guide) but unusually the Google Search Console (GSC) profile for the HTTP version (e.g. “http://www.example.com/”) was still showing data in its Search Analytics section and he couldn’t figure out how or why.

Funnily enough, I’d just had this exact issue with a client of mine so I chipped in with my experience. The culprit? That cheeky canonical! *shakes fist*

Short version: if you’re migrating from HTTP to HTTPS, making sure your canonical URLs follow suit, i.e. they all reference HTTPS versions of the URLs, not HTTP versions!

Seems obvious, right? And it might be. But it’s worth double-triple-checking just in case they don’t behave as expected, especially if you have some that have been manually configured in the past (in which case they may not simply auto-update in conjunction with your migration efforts).

For more detailed info, read on…

That pesky canonical tho

First things first, my friend didn’t reveal his client, and I’m under an NDA with my client, so this is going to be an entirely anonymous anecdote. Sorry!

A canonical URL tells search engines that the page you’re serving is the ‘primary’ version of the URL, which is a good way to side-step potential duplicate content issues. There’s a good guide on canonicals over on Moz if you’re new to the concept and want to learn more about it.

If you’re migrating from HTTP to HTTPS then ideally you want all your canonical URLs to reflect the new HTTPS versions of the URLs. So that:

  • the canonical URL for https://www.example.com/page-a references https://www.example.com/page-a
  • the canonical URL for https://www.example.com/page-b references https://www.example.com/page-b
  • and so on

I had a client who had migrated to HTTPS a few months before they brought me on-board for some one-off technical SEO auditing work, but they hadn’t realised that the homepage’s canonical URL was still referencing the original HTTP version. Oops.

In other words, while the page now ‘lived’ on https://www.example.com/, its canonical URL was still showing as:

<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com/" />

See the problem here? Despite migrating from HTTP to HTTPS, the Search Analytics data for the HTTP Google Search Console profile did indeed show a drop at migration (around March/April 2018 time), but it still showed a fair bit of data beyond that:

HTTP GSC Search Analytics graph (1 of 2)
I inserted a big sexy red rectangle there (with my image editing skillz) so as not to reveal the ending too prematurely, you lucky reader you…

As soon as I started working with the client, I picked up on the homepage canonical discrepancy straight away, let them know about it, and they went on to fix it pretty sharpish. Then this happened to the above graph:

HTTP GSC Search Analytics graph (2 of 2)
<The Tick voice>“Begone, red rectangle of mystery!”</The Tick voice>

Notice the blue line drop off a cliff right at the end there?

There’s still an absolutely teeny-tiny trickle of HTTP data in there, but I think that’s because they have a couple of random deep pages which have canonicals that still reference the HTTP versions (they’re still working through them all as I type this). But by correcting the homepage’s canonical URL – understandably their most heavily trafficked page – the data changed noticeably and dramatically overnight.

As a result, this meant that this happened to the Search Analytics graph of the corresponding HTTPS GSC profile:

HTTPS GSC Search Analytics graph
Notice the uplift towards the end? It corresponds with the drop in the previous graph (above).

“Canonicruel, amirite?”

So there we go. If you migrate from HTTP to HTTPS and notice that the HTTP profile of Google Search Console still shows data, then check your canonicals!

Or maybe I should say: be canonicool! Ahahaha! 😎

…Err, guys? Hello? Hey where are you going…?

[Cannon image credit – Phil Rogers (bonus points to you if you recognised that it was a photo from Tenby)]

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