Basically, Google is saying that it chooses to serve https://avengersairlines.com/en/flights-from-abu-dhabi-to-hyderabad in search rather than the preferred URL https://avengersairlines.com/en-ae/flights-from-abu-dhabi-to-hyderabad.
Although not too helpful, Google describes the issue in this way: “This page is marked as canonical for a set of pages, but Google thinks another URL makes a better canonical. Google has indexed the page that we consider canonical rather than this one.”
But why would Google think another URL makes a better canonical? It comes down to what Google calls “site preference signals” and they include:
- Canonical annotations (the user-declared canonical)
- Internal linking
- URL in the sitemap file
- HTTPS preference
- “Nicer” looking URLs
Because most airlines have country-market site editions (localized versions of the website), let’s add hreflang to the mix. Google’s advice on this? Be consistent. Stick to one canonical URL and align the site preference signals around it.
Going back to the example of Avengers Airlines, we noticed that many site preference signals were already aligned around the preferred URL:
- Self-referring canonicals in place.
- Properly implemented hreflang tags.
- Preferred URLs in the corresponding XML sitemap.
- “Nice” looking preferred URLs.
Then, why was Google picking its own canonical for the preferred URLs? In a nutshell: inconsistent redirects and interlinking!
It turned out that Avengers Airlines’ website migrated from subdomain to subfolder and ended up redirecting thousands of pages from multiple country-market site editions (en-ae, en-us, etc.) to the generic English site edition (en). Here are examples of pages that they wrongly redirected to the generic English version:
Interestingly enough, the affected subdomain (https://subdomain.avengersairlines.com/en-ae/flights-from-abu-dhabi-to-hyderabad) was properly redirected to the corresponding subfolder page (https://avengersairlines.com/en-ae/flights-from-abu-dhabi-to-hyderabad).
However, by redirecting thousands of localized URLs on the subdomain to the generic English version on the root domain subfolder, Avengers Airlines sent the wrong site preference signals to Google. Google “decided” that all pages on the new generic English site edition on the subfolder were the preferred URLs. Thus, Google ultimately displayed the unpreferred URLs in search, instead of the localized URLs.
We also found thousands of internal links from the country-market site editions to generic English URLs even though the relevant localized URL existed.
After working with Avengers Airlines to fix the inconsistent redirects and internal linking network, the site immediately experienced a drop in the number of deindexed pages. Here is a snapshot of the immediate drop for one country-market site edition: