A few years ago, Google announced a change in how they handle pagination (i.e., content in a paginated series or SEO pagination URL structure).
It was quite surprising for us SEOs to hear that Google hadn't been using the rel="prev"/"next" markup for some years…
rel=”prev” and rel=”next” act as hints to Google, and not absolute directives.
But, what really threw some webmasters into confusion was the announcement that accompanied the above statement that they were retiring the rel="prev"/"next".
Here's the post…
Since then, many webmasters have been implementing some changes, and hurting their websites, despite Ilya Grigorik tweeting rel="prev"/"next" can still be valuable…
So, the question is…
What should you do - leave it or remove it?
In this post, you'll learn... the right way to implement Paginated Pages on your website - including the dos & the don'ts.
But, before we jump to that…
What is Pagination in SEO?
Pagination is separating digital content into discrete pages.
Typical use cases of pagination in websites include:
- Dividing content into multiple parts
- Creating multiple pages for product listings.
- Gallery slideshows.
- Creating multiple pages for forum threads and lists of blogs.
For search engines to understand and index paginated content properly, a rel="prev"/ "next" attribute is used to indicate the relationship between component URLs in a paginated series.
For better understanding, here's an illustration.
We have three pages right?
Now, let's look at how this looks on a piece of code.
For page one: we only have rel="next"
<link rel="next" href="https://example.com/page/2/>
Now, watch what happens on our second page...
<link rel="next" href="https://example.com/category/3/>
<link rel="prev" href="https://example.com/page/1/>
Here, we reference both the "next" and the "prev"
And lastly, we reference only the rel="prev" on the third page...
<link rel="prev" href="https://example.com/page/2/>
When referencing the first page, you should only link with a rel="next" to the next page. And the last page should only contain rel="prev", which will link back to the previous page.
As simple as this sounds, a lot of people still get it wrong using rel="next" and "prev" together on both the first and the last page.
This is wrong!
Why Google Decided To Retire The rel="prev" / "next"
Long before Google made this announcement, the official recommendation was "do nothing"
Yes, Google said…
"Do nothing. Paginated content is very common, and Google does a good job returning the most relevant results to users, regardless of whether the content is divided into multiple pages".
So, what changed?
In my opinion, it looks like - just what we know Google for ...getting better and smarter at delivering quality results to its users.
They might have found a better way to handle paginated pages without relying on the rel="next"/"prev" attributes.
Another reason could be the result of studies, which showed that users hate publishers who split their content into multiple pages - for the purpose of increasing page views and ad impressions.
Now, If this was the reason, then it's not surprising!
We've seen Google taking down things that annoy users resulting in poor UX.
Should you remove rel="next" / "prev" attributes?
If you have rel="next"/"prev" attributes already implemented, do not remove it!
What you can always do - and I advise you to do is…
- Create UX-friendly rich content on each page.
- Take it easy with the Ads.
- Make it easy for users to consume your content by putting their desires above your Ads impression revenues.
Google isn't the only player
Although Google owns the lion's share in the search market, it isn't the only search engine.
Bing is incredibly big than not to be considered.
And here's what they said in a reply to a tweet about rel="prev" / "next".
Apart from Bing,
It is still a recommendation for web accessibility and ADA compliance.
SEO for Paginated Pages: The Don'ts
When implementing pagination for your pages, here are what you should not do...or better still, avoid these mistakes:
1. Don’t Include Paginated Pages in Your "XML Sitemaps"
"While paginated URLs are technically indexable, they aren’t an SEO priority to spend crawl budget on. As such, they don’t belong in your XML sitemap".
2. Don't "noindex" any paginated pages
No-indexing paginated URLs is not a best practice when it comes to handling pagination issues.
What does 'noindex' mean?
Noindex tag simply means removing the pages from the index.
And while it does not stop Google from crawling "noindex pages" initially, Google's John Mueller has said…
"noindex pages will be treated as nofollow at some point, but it’s unknown how long that takes".
This means a long-term noindex tag can lead Google to nofollow any of the links on the particular page or pages.
Eventually leading to the content linked from the paginated pages being totally removed from the index.
Since Google now nofollow all the links on the noindex page, the content that you linked to from that page becomes…
- Orphan content
- Are therefore unable to rank
- The ranking signals are disregarded, and thus,
- PageRank - not passed.
3. Do not "no-follow" the internal Links between the pages
If you think noindex will hurt your site SEO and the only option you could think of is adding a nofollow tag, re-think!
Google ignores whatever you marked "nofollow".
Leaving the content that links from the page you've tagged nofollow to become an orphan.
And just like what noindex does, it also cuts off the crawl path and stops PageRank from flowing.
However, if you have an alternative crawling path to your content - that can pass lots of PageRank signals, you could use the nofollow and even the noindex tag.
4. Do not block search engines from crawling the pages
Blocking spiders from crawling paginated pages is like blocking them from being discovered.
And again, they end up becoming orphan pages - stopping the flow of PageRank across the site.
SEO for Paginated Pages: The Dos
This section of the article is to guide you on what to do to prevent:
- Duplicate content
- Thin content
- Diluting ranking signals on your site and
- Wasting crawl budgets
Which eventually hurts your SEO.
There are some instances that you may want to use pagination.
The fact that Google stopped using the rel="prev / "next" shouldn't stop you if you must use it.
Here is what you should do...
1. Use anchor links that search engines can easily crawl
Proper anchor links ensure search engines are able to crawl through a series of paginated pages.
Your internal linking to paginated pages should look like this…
2. Use rel="next" and rel="prev" attributes
to Indicate the relationship between component URLs in a paginated series.
3. Use rel="canonical" attribute for referencing
Adding rel="canonical" can help create a clear relationship between the pages and also prevent duplicate content.
This is because as the content that you divided into multiple pages (pagination) changes - so is the master copy (other content) of that page.
Here's how this should play in:
<link rel="canonical" href="https://www.example.com/category?page=2" />
rel="canonical" and rel="next"/"prev" aren't mutually exclusive, they're independent concepts.
4. Put any URL parameters in rel="prev/"next" link attribute
Put any URL parameters in rel="prev/"next" link attribute and not in the link you're canonicalizing (i.e rel="canonical" link).
Here's what I mean…
Let's say you're adding an "order=latest" as URL parameters.
This should be included in:
<link rel="next" href="https://www.example.com/category?page=2&order=latest" />.
And the rel="canonical" should remain as:
<link rel="canonical" href="https://www.example.com/category?page=2" />
Again, this helps by preventing any build-up to duplicate content.
5. Place the link attributes within the head tag of your HTML
Search engines do not support placing the link attributes within the body tag.
Google usually disregard rel=canonical placed in the <body> tag.
So, the proper way to implement this is to include it as early as possible (close to the top) in the <head> section to avoid HTML parsing issues.
6. Modify the on-page element of your paginated pages to prevent duplicate meta descriptions and title tags
Pagination often leads to duplicate meta description and title tag warnings in the Google search console.
If you have some paginated pages on your site, you might probably have seen this type of warning.
What happens is…
Rather than a series of pages consolidated into one piece of content, pages in a paginated series are now treated as individual unique pages, which you've divided into multiple pages using the rel="prev" / "next" attributes.
John Mueller in a YouTube video said:
“Google doesn't treat pagination differently. We treat them as normal pages.”
This means, if for instance, you divide a piece of content into four pages - the "root page" + "3 pages", Google sees them as four different pages.
And this can lead to the 3 pages competing with the root page for rankings.
Now that we understand pagination - what to do and 'what not'. I could just wrap it all up at this point.
But, I want to leave you with a handful of information.
And so, This last section... we'll focus on some of the misconceptions and wrong SEO solutions - or call them "myths"
Misconceptions in SEO About Paginated Content
Misconception #1: Canonicalize to a "view-all-page"
In an attempt to prevent duplicate content - meta descriptions, and titles, some ill-informed SEOs use rel="canonical" to reference and send ranking signals from all the pages in a pagination series to a single "view-all-page".
This view-all-page would contain all of the content consolidated into and represented by a single URL and then tell search engines to index and rank only the view-all-page.
But, wait a minute…
If the content on paginated pages could all be consolidated as one, why then do you paginate in the first place?
There are many instances and situations where you might want to paginate - no doubt about that - such as when you have hundreds or even thousands of products in a single category. And for faster loading and rendering, you may have to.
But, when you have both rel="prev" / "next" attributes together with a rel="canonical" to a "view-all-page" version, the idea confuses the search engines.
You tell search engines that this piece of content is paginated by using "prev" and "next" attributes.
And then, you again point search engines to all the content on a single page.
See what I mean.
This may signal to search engines that your intention is to create those pages for views and Ads impression gains and not to leave users with a good experience.
Only a few per cent of users access or go beyond page 2+...and may miss reading the relevant part of your content.
Although, a spammer would never care. After all, the purpose isn't to deliver relevant and quality content. It's like..."just get me the ads impression gains and you can leave"
That's not good enough!
If you can create a view-as-one page for search engines, make it available for the users and get rid of pagination.
Misconception #2: Canonicalize to the root (first) Page
Another wrong concept of pagination is to point the rel=”canonical” from all pages in pagination to the root page in the series.
This concept is to consolidate the PageRank across other pages to only the first page, which is wrong.
Why is this wrong?
If search engines are to follow a rel="canonical" attribute rule you set to the root page -
- you cut-off crawl paths to other content that links from those pages in the pagination series.
- you risk the chances of those content being indexed. And
- you risk misdirecting search engines into thinking you've only got a single page of results, which is the root page.
Canonicalization to the root page tells search engines' bots not to index and rank pages further down the pagination chain.
I'm sure you don’t want any of your detailed content along the chain to drop out of the index, because of poor pagination handlings.
Two main questions here…
- What happens to your detailed content on page 2+?
- What happens to the links from those pages (2+) to other content on your site - what if there are no additional crawl paths to them? How do you make them discoverable?
It's fine if your paginated content works like Google Image Search results where pagination doesn't create a new URL (so there's no way you can add rel="next"/"prev") but instead dynamically loads content.
Wrapping it up…
Google always recommends getting rid of pagination where possible. Because 1% of users typically access pages beyond the second page in a paginated series.
Canonicalization and pagination always go hand in hand; if you want to learn more about how canonicalization works and how to handle it to prevent duplicates, read this guide!