How do you get search engines from page 1 to 50 and everything in between?
You do it with proper pagination, that’s how.
Unfortunately this is one of the most common areas of SEO that site owners handle incorrectly.
The issue typically revolves around a few things:
- People doing too much.
- Having a broken implementation.
- Not understanding what pagination really is.
- How the tags work.
Let me address those four situations first. Then we’ll get into how to properly handle pagination for SEO and how you can avoid getting into trouble.
4 Common Pagination Pitfalls
People Doing Too Much
For some reason, people love getting fancy when it comes to implementing tags on their sites.
I don’t know if they’re bored, or they just all use developers who DJ at night, but there is never a shortage of folks implementing too many things that wind up conflicting with each other.
Having A Broken Implementation
Typically, unbeknownst to the site owner, a big pagination problem is when the implementation is simply broken and there isn’t a system in place to discover the issue.
This allows the problem to grow larger and larger over time unchallenged which can lead to a plethora of issues.
Not Understanding What Pagination Really Is
Many folks believe that paginated pages are the same as duplicate content or faceted pages, but they are not.
- Paginated pages are a group of pages that follow each other in a sequence and are internally linked together. You should be using rel=prev and rel=next tags to handle these types of pages properly (more on how later in this article).
- Duplicate pages have the exact or very similar (typically referred to as “fuzzy” duplicates”) and compete with one another in search rankings, but aren’t linked together. Typically, these are handled with canonical tags to let Google know which version they should be paying attention to, or redirects to eliminate the problem, which all depends on your platform capabilities.
- Faceted pages are created when sites implement filters such as size, color, price, etc. These pages are typically blocked in the robots.txt file or controlled through search console so Google knows not to index the endless combinations that can potentially exist. You can also use canonical tags to control these.
How the Tags Work
When site owners use tags like canonicals and rel=prev / rel=next tags, they assume that these are directives that Google and other search engines will blindly follow no matter what.
This is not the case.
Canonical tags and rel= tags can more be viewed as suggestions to Google and other search engines about what you would like them to do.
Ultimately, though, search engines can ignore tags if they believe you have placed them there in error.
This is a common misunderstanding that leads to most of the confusion.
If you want a search engine to do something, then place a directive in your robots.txt file or in a robots tag in your page’s <head> section. Then the engine will respect and obey that directive.
What’s the Proper Way to Handle Pagination?
Use Rel=Prev & Rel=Next Tags
If you have paginated content the proper way to handle it is by using the rel=prev, and rel=next tags to ensure that Google and other engines know that these pages.
It’s very simple, and many platforms actually have the functionality built into them.
For example, let’s say you have an article that has three separate pages and the URLs look something like this:
In the <head> section of your first page you would add:
<link rel=”next” href=https://www.yoursite.com/kickass-article-part2>
Because this is the first page in your articles sequence.
For the second page you would add both a next and prev tag because it is an in-between page:
<link rel=”prev” href=https://www.yoursite.com/kickass-article-part1>
<link rel=”next” href=https://www.yoursite.com/kickass-article-part3>
For the third and final page you would only add the prev tag because it is the final URL in your articles sequence:
<link rel=”prev” href=https://www.yoursite.com/kickass-article-part2>
It is worth noting that you can use relative or absolute URLs in your link destinations within your tags.
If your URLs contain parameters that don’t change the content (e.g., session IDs), those should be included in the tags as well.
That’s all you have to do for your pages to paginate and pass link equity properly.
You can do this with as many pages exist in a sequence, no matter if it’s 3 or 3 million.
What’s the Wrong Way to Handle Pagination?
Don’t Let Google & Other Engines ‘Figure It Out’
Dear lord, never let Google and other search engines simply “figure it out” and implement nothing.
This seems to be one of the most common approaches when it comes to pagination (among other things, looking at you cannibalization and translation).
While Google states that “paginated content is very common and [we do] a good job returning the right results regardless of whether content is divided into multiple pages… (because we’re awesome, yadda yadda yadda)”, this typically results in:
- Index bloat.
- Users getting dropped into the middle of a sequence.
- Link dilution across the sequenced pages.
Don’t Canonical Everything to the First Page
Resist the temptation to take the easy way out and just canonical all pages in your sequence to the first page.
This is the wrong thing to do.
This approach is similar to 301 redirecting every 404 page that pops up on your site to the home page.
While it might seem like it makes sense, it will most likely wind up hurting you in the long run.
As described earlier in the article, canonical tags are not directives. Search engines have the ability to ignore them and crawl and index everything as normal, which would cause index bloat and loss of internal link equity between the sequenced pages.
Wait a Minute – I Have a View-All/Consolidated Version of the Page!
If you have a page that is inclusive of all of the pages in your article or all of the products in your sequence, then Google typically would rather show that page to the user, as it holds everything in one place.
What you would do here is you would canonical the individual pages in the sequence to the view-all page, as you would want Google to give that page precedence in the SERPs.
Taking the same earlier example, if you had an article broken out into three pages, but in this situation, you also had a consolidated version or a view-all page:
You would place the following canonical tag on the individual pages:
<link rel=”canonical” href=https://www.yoursite.com/kickass-article-all” />
This will roll them up to the consolidated version so Google and other search engines know that version exists and should be shown.
Caveat: Google will revert back to the individual pages that provide a better experience if the consolidated version is:
- Really big.
- Has a slow load time.
- Provides a worse user experience.
Canonicals and rel= tags are suggestions, not directives.
So ensure your implementations are clean and you have a handle on your pagination.
More SEO Resources:
- 8 of the Worst SEO Mistakes Even the Experts Make
- Faceted Navigation: Best Practices for SEO
- 5 Dumb SEO Mistakes That Smart People Make