The purpose of this article is to convey the most important issues in the context of pagination, to present key mistakes to be avoided and to offer optimal SEO solutions for your websites. We sincerely hope that this publication, additionally supported by opinions of industry experts, infographics and examples will translate into constructive time spent and good fun exploring the secrets of optimization.
Table of contents:
- What is website pagination?
- Interpretation of pagination according to Google
- Key mistakes when using pagination
- Duplicate Content
- Thin Content
- Titles and descriptions in pagination
- Indexing of pagination subpages in a sitemap
- The first page of pagination
- Rel="Canonical" to the first page of pagination
- Rel="prev" and rel="next
- Internal linking and link structure
- Link juice flow in pagination
- View-All Page
- Google Search Console
Pagination is the process of dividing content into smaller parts. It consists of creating subsequent subpages and assigning subsequent numbers to them. All resulting components are part of one section where we used pagination. Each pagination subpage is treated as a separate entity. It features your own URL, title tag and meta description tag, etc.
Pagination is primarily used to improve page performance, optimize site navigation, and make it easier for users to browse the content (Internet users are accustomed to pages with pagination and this often has a positive effect on their contact with this form of communication on the web). Sooner or later, every SEO specialist will have to face pagination, which is why it is important to plan your strategy precisely and skillfully use content sharing on your website.
Following, are areas where you usually come across pagination:
- e-commerce services,
- blogs and articles,
- sliders with photo galleries,
Indexing of subsequent pagination subpages according to John Mueller depends on your intentions. If in your opinion each subsequent page view is important, you should care about indexing them.
Some sites feel all pages in a paginated series are important, so they keep them indexed (the fancy ones using rel-next/prev). Some sites cap paginated series at a certain number, perhaps letting the first one get indexed, and the rest not.
In the Google employee statement you can see the fact that search engine no longer supports rel="next" and rel="prev". This decision was officially announced on Twitter on the first day of spring this year.
John also warned against pointing the rel="canonical" tag to the first pagination subpage explaining the phenomenon as follows:
The main thing to avoid, since this post is about canonicalization, is to use the rel=canonical on page 2 pointing to page 1. Page 2 isn’t equivalent to page 1, so the rel=canonical like that would be incorrect, practically speaking. Short of page 2 potentially being indexed, it wouldn’t break anything significantly though.
It is worth emphasizing that rel="canonical" is just a suggestion, not a directive. For this reason, Google will probably ignore this declaration, because it will notice the difference between the first page of pagination and other pages.
Google provided instructions and guidelines for pagination, unfortunately, the link has been leading to a subpage showing the 404 error message.
John Mueller assures that it's not worth worrying about the duplication of titles and descriptions, because it is something natural for pagination. However, if possible make sure that the subsequent pages in your structure have unique names of titles and descriptions. The variation will also positively influence the identification of your paging. Duplication usually occurs when implementing category descriptions. The best solution, in this case, will be to place it on the first page and not duplicate the description on the following ones. Due to the above, you will strengthen the most important subpage, increasing its chance to appear in Google search results.
Pagination results in several problems for webmasters and one of them are the occurrence of thin content. You can deal with this problem if you divide the article into too small parts, leaving a trace amount of content on each of the subpages. This procedure is sometimes used to increase the number of page views or to obtain multiple banner displays. However, first, you should focus on the positive experiences of users, because they ultimately decide how much time they spend on your site, and creating conscious thin content may translate to irritation of the recipient and leaving our site.
Titles and descriptions in pagination
Title and Description play a fundamental role in optimization-related activities, so the case cannot be any different in the case of pagination. As we mentioned earlier, it is important to differentiate title tags and descriptions if possible. An example of a scheme that can be used in the pagination:
Title: Basketball sports shoes - Top Brand models
Description: Latest models of basketball shoes. Choose from verified brands and order today with free delivery!
Title: Page 3: Basketball sports shoes - Top Brand models
Description: 41 - 60 (of 300) of the latest basketball shoe models. Choose from verified brands and order today with free delivery!
Google claims that it treats each pagination subpage as a separate object, so it is worth suggesting the search engine the correct order.
As an effective SEO practice, you can use the following steps to make sure that the first pagination subpage will always display at the highest position in SERPs.
Infographic. Optimization of the root page as compared to subsequent pagination subpages.
Indexing of pagination subpages in a sitemap
Place only the root page in the sitemap! There is no point in adding pagination subpages and wasting crawl budget resources. Make the most of your robot time when visiting your site.
The first page of pagination
The first page of pagination requires special attention from you because you can easily fall into a trap. If your CMS, in addition to the base category page, generates a page marked e.g. this way: https://domena.pl/kategoria-produktu/strona-1 follow this simple instruction:
Infographic. Redirecting the additionally generated first subpage to the base page.
Also keep in mind that internal linking should feature links directing to the base page, and not an additionally generated subpage indicating the first pagination element.
Rel="Canonical" to the first page of pagination
Quite a common "mistake" among SEO specialists is to indicate on the subsequent pages of pagination the attribute rel="canonical" on the first element of paging. We have written the word mistake in quotation marks because the use of this method seems to be justified in the context of crawl budget and indexation for large shops. Let's look at examples in which specialists decided on such a solution:
The canonical tag is used to point to the original subpage so that Google doesn't detect internal or external duplicates. When paging product cards, each subsequent pagination page differs in displayed elements, and the description of the category itself can be duplicated, for example. According to Google, the correct use of the meta tag: rel="canonical" will be to "self". The Yoast SEO WordPress plugin introduces this solution by default.
A question to an expert: What are the most common mistakes Webmasters make in the context of website pagination?
The frequently repeated mistake I see on e-commerce websites is using the wrong link to the first page of results in the form of /category?p=1. If on the second and subsequent pagination pages I see that this link is correct and leads to a subpage/category, without any parameter, I immediately know that the website has a well-oriented and thorough optimization specialist supervising it.
What could be the effect of leaving such an error on the page? Although Google even withdrew its support for rel="prev" and rel="next" ensuring that it deals with paging, I still believe that an error with a parameter in the link to the first page may affect the so-called duplicate content. Both at the address/ category and/category?p=1 then the same content is available. The first of the addresses are linked from the entire structure of the category tree and is usually linked to by external links. Links to the second of the addresses appear in the full pagination menu so it can be 5 or 50 subpages as part of one category. It may happen that the search engine will be confused about which of the addresses is the target one that should be displayed in the search results. So if the correct address (the one without the parameter) has more strength coming from links (both internal and external links) and the search engine, for some reason, chooses the address with the parameter to which backlinks do not lead, then the position of the subpage of this category will drop not only by a few places but even by several search pages.
This is a good example showing that the devil is in the detail. - Marta Gryszko, SEO Specialist, https://www.lexy.com.pl/blog/
Rel=”prev” i rel=”next
The rel="prev" and rel="next" tags allow you to correctly interpret the pagination structure. Attributes are applied in the head section of the subpage. It is important to use links in the form of an absolute, full URL. Unfortunately, Google doesn't officially support these attributes anymore, but it can still be an important signal for the search engine regarding the structure of pagination.
Infographic. Correct use of rel="prev" and rel="next" + rel ="canonical" tags.
Question to an expert: Is there a point in using rel="prev" and attributes rel="next", despite lack of support from Google, in your opinion?
First of all, we should answer whether the rel=”prev” and rel=”next tags have been properly implemented on your website. If so, there are no premises to spend time on setting them. Googlebot does not use them when crawling, but other search engines still officially use these tags (such as Bing). However, the fact that Google does not take them into account does not mean that their use is against the guidelines of webmasters. Nobody will be punished for leaving them. So what happens if they were not implemented? There's no need to worry about it. In both cases, it's better to focus on the appropriate internal linking structure and pagination designation in the title. In the past, you could count on the fact that even if your structure was not perfect, Google still managed somehow thanks to the prev/next tags. Now we have no illusions - the premises that guide us when interpreting pagination are: internal linking, URLs and title - and here we need to implement SEO-friendly solutions.
- Mateusz Łabiński, SEO Senior Specialist, Artefakt
Internal linking and link structure
Internal linking is important in pagination structure. Because we care about both architecture that works well for users and Google robots, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The desired situation is as follows:
- display as many products as possible on one page provided that it loads quickly (fewer subpages are generated);
- create subcategories to reduce the size of pagination, and in addition, you can use this fact to expand visibility to new keywords;
- link to the latest articles/products and provide them with link juice;
- link to the subcategories;
- add links between subsequent pagination subpages on the website.
Link juice flow in pagination
Pagination creates nesting of subsequent subpages, which increases the number of clicks after which you will reach a specific place on the site. Naturally, the further we are in the structure, the more link juice is devalued. From the point of view of SEO, it is a good idea to plan internal links so that the most important pagination subpages are assigned with the biggest strength.
Keeping the users in mind as well as correct indexation of pagination, it seems logical to create a "View-All Page". This subpage combines all pagination results into one and allows direct access to the whole. However, the problem arises when the products are counted in hundreds or thousands. In such a case, you are dealing with the importance of such a page and loading may take unacceptably long. On the other hand, it may be better for the user to load one overall subpage than waiting each time for the next part of the pagination. So, you should decide to create "View-All Page" if you do not have a huge number of products. The advantage, in this case, is optimization of this page as the base page because you target the rel="canonical" tag to it and it is this subpage that will best rank in organic Google results.
Infographic. Three different pagination subpages and rel=” canonical on View-All Page.
Check how to optimize pagination on your site using the "View-All" Page in Magento:https://www.ranksense.com/how-to-optimize-pagination-using-the-view-all-page-in-magento/
The robots.txt file is a suitable tool to block the crawling of pagination subpages. This means that you do not provide ranking signals in your paging, but you indicate to the search engine which subpage is the most important one and you do not have to worry about the link juice flow. Saving the crawl budget has tangible benefits, so you should consider doing this. If your pagination is done using parameters, e.g. domain.pl/product-category?page=2, in the robots.txt file you can block all subpages created during the pagination process. In your case it would be the following command:
Google Search Console
With the Google Search Console, you can save a lot of crawl budget if your pagination has parameters and if you lock them inside the tool. Then, at any time, you can suggest to the search engine whether to crawl subsequent pagination subpages or prefer to save Googlebot resources for the most important elements of the site. It's also a good idea not to use the "#" identifier for pagination because Google doesn't read the content after this character.
A quite popular step when planning a pagination strategy is to set the following tag in the following subpages in the head section:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex,follow">
This method involves giving the robot instructions to follow the content, but not to index it, which would translate into the benefit of your crawl budget. This method is often used by large websites, but it may have some consequences. Google warns that this paging configuration may lead to the tag being interpreted in the future as:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex,nofollow">
So you should think about how important subsequent pagination elements are to you and whether such a tagging will not adversely affect the structure of internal links.
Question to an expert: Website pagination and Google's robot resources - what is the good solution for large online shops in terms of crawl budget?
Pagination pages are a very important element in any online shop, especially if you have an extensive offer. Google limits its resources, including the time and amount of data downloaded during the indexation of the website - this is the so-called crawl budget.
So what can you do to make the most of your search engine resources?
- Optimize navigation links between pages. 1, 2, 3... nth link to pagination page - such addressing is not entirely effective. After reviewing the first pages, the robot may stop its crawl. Adding a link to the first, last and middle page of pagination can make it easier to crawl the site.
- Guarantee value for the user and the robot. Crawl budget is influenced by many factors, including the quality of pages visited by robots. It's worth optimizing pagination pages and minimizing duplicates by:
- placing a description of the category only on the main page of the category,
- modify pagination page title by adding at least page number,
- blocking alternative layout forms (e.g. grids) via a meta robots tag with a noindex value or a canonical link and a rel attribute with a nofollow value (rel="nofollow") for links that direct to this version,
- product name variation, displaying a short unique description for products in the listing,
- shortening the page loading time (it is possible that the number of products on the page increases this time, it may be helpful to optimize the database by using indexes on selected columns or cache on the server).
Any modification that increases the quality of category pages, and even products, can have a positive impact on the crawl budget, and will certainly allow more efficient use of the resources transferred.
The advantage of using Infinite-scroll on your website is primarily speed and comfort. It does not require users to constantly click on the next page number and waste time loading content. For years, this process has been working fine on Facebook, where it encourages users to view subsequent posts.
Przemek from Delante wrote more about Infinite-scroll. I recommend his article to people who want to find out the details:
An aspect that should be given special attention is the visualization of pagination. When designing page pagination, you should focus on details such as:
- choosing an appropriate, visible place on the page for pagination (it is good practice to insert paging at the top and bottom at the same time);
- buttons - they should be large and spaced apart so that there would be no problem with clicking the correct result;
- identification of the page the user is currently on;
- possibility to go to the next or previous page ("next page" or "previous page" buttons);
- option to choose the number of results per subpage.
Examples of pagination in accordance with UX:
To sum up, paging definitely affects page positioning. This is an aspect that needs to be explored to understand how search engines work and to adjust your own strategy. In the pagination process, it is crucial to rethink the entire structure and use the crawl budget appropriately to not give up on indexing important subpages. As in every aspect of optimization and positioning, tests are necessary. So let's check how the site crawls using paging parameters and without them. Also, it is important in the paging process to avoid content duplication, use direct links and analyse internal linking. On your website, you can also consider the use of Infinite-scroll, which, when correctly implemented on the site, may have many positive effects. It all comes down to your optimization goals.
We hope that this article has allowed you to better understand Google and the paging process, and will convince you to test the best methods in creating pagination, adequate to the site you are working on.
Finally, I recommend a 20-minute speech by Adam Genta from DeepCrawl, who focused on the phenomenon of pagination and infinite-scroll during this year's BrightonSEO.
The State of Pagination and Infinite Scroll on the Web: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1OHoGgpjCo
We also invite you to our Knowledge Base where you can find more articles.
Share your experiences in the context of paging. What brings results on your pages and what should be avoided? Join the discussion.