Google’s Cautionary Note on Content Updates: Beware of ‘Sneaky Redirects’

2 min read

Google advises against employing “sneaky redirects” with rel=canonical tags during website content updates. Google cautions against utilizing rel=canonical tags to redirect outdated content. Redirecting or maintaining both pages rather than misusing rel=canonical is preferable. Improper redirects may be perceived as an attempt to manipulate search rankings.


Google has cautioned against redirects that might mislead users when dealing with outdated website content. This warning surfaced during a recent episode of Google’s Search Off The Record podcast. In this episode, the Search Relations team members, John Mueller, and Lizzi Sassman, deliberated on strategies for handling “content decay” — the gradual obsolescence of website content over time. Throughout the discussion, Mueller and Sassman addressed the use of redirects when refreshing or updating older content. Nevertheless, they advised against specific redirect approaches that could be perceived as “sneaky.”


Navigating the Pitfalls of Rel=canonical: Avoiding the “Sneaky” Redirect


The usage of rel=canonical tags has sparked concerns, mainly when utilized incorrectly. This issue was highlighted during a discourse concerning linking similar but different content. Sassman articulated her perspective:

For that scenario, I wish there was a way to connect those pieces because it seems more fitting just to redirect it. For instance, Daniel Weisberg from our team wrote a blog post about troubleshooting traffic drops with Search Console. Subsequently, we transformed it into documentation and supplemented it with additional content. We aim for users to access the updated material, and we desire it to be discoverable in search results. In this instance, I question the need for users to access the older version because it’s not an announcement but informative content. Thus, would employing a rel=canonical approach be more suitable?”

Mueller swiftly expressed reservations regarding Sassman’s proposal to use the rel=canonical tag.

Mueller responded:

“The rel=canonical approach might be perceived as deceitful in this context because the content isn’t truly equivalent… it’s not identical. I typically view rel=canonical as a directive to search engines, indicating ‘these are essentially the same, feel free to choose either.’ But, in this scenario, it’s as if we’re saying, ‘These are equivalent, but treat it as a redirect,’ which is problematic because it misrepresents our intent. Despite labeling it as rel=canonical, our actual aim differs.”


Choosing the Right Path: Alternatives to Rel=canonical


When faced with a decision akin to Sassman’s, Mueller advises a straightforward course of action: “I think either redirecting or not redirecting. It’s essentially stating whether it’s been replaced or if both should be kept.” The most effective method to connect a page to an updated, more comprehensive one is through a redirect rather than relying on a rel=canonical tag.

Alternatively, retaining both pages is an option if you believe the older page holds value.


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Shilpi Mathur
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