Pagination and SEO

Table of Contents

Pagination is something that seems simple off the bat, but the deeper you look, there are issues that can impact your SEO.

Almost every website has pagination in place for things like product category pages, blogs, and archives (Let’s hope that it’s not the case for a single article…)

But it’s something that many website visitors interact with on a daily basis.

For something as simple as this, it may seem surprising that pagination could cause website issues.

In this guide, we’ll walk through what exactly it is, and what you should look out for when you analyze your site’s pagination.

What is Pagination?

Pagination (or paging) is the division of pages on a website, normally represented with numbers on the bottom of a page.

Pagination example

Think of pagination as internal links on your website, providing users and web crawlers a pathway to content on your website (outside of the other links placed in the primary navigation, footer, body, etc.)

SEO Best Practices for Pagination

Be Cognizant of Pagination Tunnels (Pagination Design)

This SEO best practice is number one, mostly because it was the first pagination article that opened my eyes to the power of cleaning up your paging. Shoutout to this post on pagination tunnels by Matthew Henry at Portent!

Crawl tree showing a pagination tunnel for a series of paginated pages with a “next” and “previous” option.
Source: https://www.portent.com/blog/seo/pagination-tunnels-experiment-click-depth.htm

In their study, they took a look at various pagination setups to see which would be the most optimal to make sure pages weren’t too many clicks. They walked through various pagination designs that could cut down the depth of older pages in an archive.

As a reminder, internal links and click depth are indicators of which pages hold more importance, when looked at by search engines. With this in mind, you could imagine the amount of clicks it would take to get to a piece of content on paginated page 100 without a shortcut there.

When you are looking at your pagination design, consider how users and search engines will be able to navigate between paginated pages. In some instances, having different step points and “first”/”last” options will help cut down page depth.

Also, be sure to put the user experience and accessibility first, when thinking of this design. A confusing pagination design may deter users, although it improves your click depth which is counterproductive.

Make Sure Pagination Exists (Infinite Scrolling)

Infinite scrolling is one of those technology trends that improve metrics like time on site and pageviews, but oftentimes is setup incorrectly.

When search engines like Google crawl a web page, they do not scroll. Because of this, if there isn’t a fallback when infinite scrolling isn’t setup, or when JavaScript is disabled, content will not be discovered.

Best practice for those of you who love to keep our fingers on the scroll wheel, is to have paginated pages setup. In addition to that, be sure each of those sections that load up in the infinite scroll have their own paginated page and don’t overlap.

Here is some documentation from Google on how to set that up in detail: Infinite scroll search-friendly recommendations

Allow Indexing

A mistake that some people make when setting meta robots directives on their site is noindexing paginated pages. In some cases this may be fine, like for tag pages that are auto-generated and have endless pagination.

But for paginated pages like product categories and blog archives, these should be indexed.

The reason for this is because Google will eventually treat long-term noindexed pages as a nofollow. This means that the links on those pages won’t be considered when crawled.

On another note, make sure you don’t set a nofollow on paginated pages as well.

Set Self-Referencing Canonicals

Another smaller mistake some make is setting a canonical from the paginated pages to the first paginated page. Concerns of duplicate content come up, which prompts webmasters to set this.

Because each of these paginated pages should have a different set of products or pieces of content, a self-referencing canonical is the correct choice.

Use Rel Prev and Next

Last on the list because it’s not used by Google anymore officially. But including it since there are other search engines that exist.

When you have pagination setup, it’s best practice to have a rel=prev/next links to indicate a connection of paginated pages.

An example of these pagination attributes placed in the head of your page if you are currently on page three:

<link rel="prev" href="https://example.com/blog/page/2/"/>
<link rel="next" href="https://example.com/blog/page/4/"/>

Key Takeaways

Pagination could be the only gateway to some pages to ensure they aren’t orphaned (let’s hope that’s not the case for all your content!) Making sure you are following the paginated best practices we’ve lined out is important for the discovery and reach for the content on your site. Get these things squared away then you and Google will be on the same page.

  • Definition of Pagination: The division of documents on a site.
  • Consider pagination design (“First”, “Last”, “Next”, numbers, etc.)
  • Index those paginated pages.
  • Set self-referencing canonicals are the right choice on those paginated pages.
  • Use rel=prev/next if you can without too much effort.

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