Pagination and SEO
Pagination is a common practice to segment content into multiple pages, such as blog posts, product listings, or search result pages, to make it more manageable and accessible. However, pagination can also create SEO challenges, especially after Google changed the way it handles rel=prev/next in 2019. In this article, we will discuss how to get pagination right for SEO after Google’s change and boost your organic search performance.
What is Pagination and Why is it Important?
Pagination is the process of dividing content into several pages, usually based on numerical sequences, such as 1, 2, 3, or alphabetical sequences, such as A, B, C. Pagination is essential because it provides users with more control over the content they want to see and how they want to navigate it. Moreover, pagination can also help reduce page load time and save server resources, especially for large websites with substantial content.
For example, the popular online marketplace Amazon frequently uses pagination for its product listings, showing a certain number of items per page and allowing users to browse through pages using hyperlinked page numbers or “next” and “previous” buttons.
However, pagination also poses some SEO challenges, especially when it comes to crawlability, duplicate content, and indexing. That’s why it is crucial to follow pagination best practices and avoid common mistakes that can hurt your SEO rankings.
What was Google’s Rel=Prev/Next Change and Why did it Matter?
In March 2019, Google announced that it would no longer support the rel=prev/next markup, a way to indicate pagination relationships between pages to search engines. Instead, Google stated that it would use its own algorithms to identify and group paginated content based on contextual signals, such as URLs, linking structures, and content duplication.
The rel=prev/next markup was introduced in 2011 as a way to help Google understand the relationship between pages in a paginated series and consolidate their relevance and rankings. However, webmasters often abused this markup by using it inconsistently or incorrectly, leading to confusion and suboptimal search results.
Google’s decision to drop this markup and rely on its algorithms caused some confusion and concerns among SEO professionals, who feared that their paginated content might not be indexed or ranked correctly. However, Google reassured them that its algorithms were more advanced and precise than the rel=prev/next markup and that webmasters should focus on creating high-quality and well-structured content.
How to Optimize Pagination for SEO
Although Google’s change in the rel=prev/next markup might have simplified pagination for some webmasters, it doesn’t mean that pagination is entirely straightforward for SEO. There are still several factors to consider and best practices to follow to ensure that your paginated content is SEO-friendly and enhances your user experience.
1. Choose the Right Pagination Format
Before starting pagination, you need to decide which pagination format to use, depending on the type and structure of your content. Typically, there are three types of pagination formats:
- Sequential pagination: This format uses simple numerical or alphabetical sequences to divide content, such as page 1, page 2, page 3.
- Infinite scroll pagination: This format displays content as the user scrolls down the page, loading more content automatically. Facebook uses infinite scroll pagination for users’ newsfeeds, enabling them to see more posts without clicking on a “next page” button.
Each pagination format has strengths and weaknesses, depending on your goals and audience. However, you should avoid using multiple pagination formats on the same page, as it can confuse users and Google’s algorithms and create indexing issues.
2. Use Clear Navigation and URL Structure
One of the primary goals of pagination is to provide clear and accessible navigation for users and search engines. To achieve this, you should use descriptive and concise titles for each page, such as “Best Coffee Shops in NYC – Page 2,” and indicate the total number of pages in the series.
Moreover, you should use URL parameters to signal the relationship between pages, such as using the “page” parameter or a query string, such as “?page=2”. However, you should avoid using URL parameters that conflict with other elements on your site or external sources, such as Google Analytics or third-party tracking tools.
3. Prevent Duplicate Content Issues
Pagination can also create duplicate content issues, especially if you don’t use canonical tags to indicate the preferred version of a paginated page. Canonical tags tell Google which page to index and count toward your rankings, avoiding confusion and dilution of relevance.
For example, if you have five pages of blog posts, and each page has a canonical tag pointing to the first page, Google will index only the first page, but users can still navigate to other pages using the pagination links. This method prevents duplicate content and boosts your rankings for the original and most relevant page.
Moreover, you should avoid using meta robots tags, such as noindex, nofollow, or noarchive, for paginated pages, as they can prevent Google from indexing and ranking them. Instead, use these tags only for pages that you don’t want to appear in search results, such as login pages, thank-you pages, or error pages.
4. Optimize Your Content for Pagination and User Experience
Finally, you should optimize your content for pagination and user experience, making sure that each page has a sufficient amount of content, images, and other media to engage and inform users. You should use clear headings and subheadings, bullet points, and other formatting elements to make your content scannable and easy to read.
Moreover, you should avoid breaking up critical information or elements, such as reviews, testimonials, or product features, across multiple pages, as it can frustrate users and reduce user engagement. Instead, try to provide as much value and information on each page as possible, while keeping your content concise and relevant.
Pagination is an essential and common practice for managing and accessing content, but it can also create SEO challenges if not optimized correctly. Following the best practices we discussed in this article, you can ensure that your paginated content is crawlable, indexable, and optimized for user experience and search rankings, driving more organic traffic and engagement.