Canonicalization is the process that search engines use to determine the main version of a page. That is the page that will be indexed and shown to users. The chosen version is canonical, and ranking signals like links will consolidate to that page. This process is sometimes referred to as standardization or normalization.
According to Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes, ~60% of the internet is duplicate content.
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Canonicalization is complex and often misunderstood. I don’t think most of the duplicates are nefarious. It’s mostly going to be technical issues that cause them. We’ll look at this more in a bit. I’m going to talk about how the canonicalization process works, as well as the following:
How to check the canonical
A lot of different signals go into the canonicalization process. These include:
Canonical link elements
Google looks at all the different signals and weighs them to determine what the canonical version should be. That’s the version of the page it will index and what it usually shows to users.
Weighing scale. "URL in Sitemap" and "Duplicate content" on lighter side; "Internal Links" and "Canonical URL" on heaver side
A potential scenario when Google decides on the canonical based on internal links and the canonical URL.
With duplicate content, Google will pick a canonical version to index. All the eligible pages form a cluster of pages, and the signals that go to the pages in that cluster will consolidate at the chosen canonical. That canonical may even change over time.