While pagination can be a great way to organise and manage content, it can also pose serious issues for SEO. In addressing the dangerous and potential optimisation tactics of pagination to achieve better search engine rankings, you can also improve the overall accessibility and user experience of the site too.
What is Pagination? Pagination is the act of splitting content via a series of numbered pages. This can be implemented for a variety of reasons however, is usually found on ecommerce websites (when displaying products), blogs (when displaying post snippets) and on pages where the sheer amount of content poses an accessibility issue, forcing the user to scroll for an extended length of time.
Why is Pagination an SEO Issue?
Unfortunately, splitting content through pagination causes many issues to arise that hold potentially negative SEO impacts if not addressed.
- Crawl Depth
If a website has a vast amount of content that is being paginated, the number of clicks required in order to view a deep page can be huge. As well as the obvious impact this has on usability, these deeper pages could never be indexed as a spider may determine them unreachable. If the spider gives up after a few ‘clicks’, these pages will remain undiscovered and not be returned in SERPs.
- Duplicate Content
If pagination is being used on an ecommerce site then the chances are that each page will contain very similar products i.e. Canon Digital Cameras or Hotels in Paris. This makes it difficult for the search engines to decide which to assign authority to and thus display in the search engine. If all the pages contain content that is almost identical, more serious issues may arise regarding duplicate content.
- Duplicate Page Titles and Metadata
As with the duplicate content issue, pagination will also cause identical page titles and metadata to be generated across each of the paginated pages, leading to potential indexing issues.
- Keyword Diluting
If the website is using pagination to simply break up a content heavy blog post or product review, then duplicate content will not be so much of an issue. However any keyword weighting may be lost with the content being delivered across many individual pages. This will also present a search engine with the dilemma of which page to offer up in a SERP.
What can be done?
Unfortunately there is no hard and fast resolution for the issue of pagination; however measures can be implemented to help show search engines how we would like the pages to be dealt with. Also, depending on how and why pagination is being used on any given website, not all of these steps may be possible or feasible.
- Categorised Pages
Categories can be developed to limit the number of ‘clicks’ a search engine has to make in order to reach any given piece of content. Within each category, a list of individual pages can be presented. On a car retailers ecommerce site for example, rather than having all Vauxhall cars presented on one large page with pagination, offer pages showing Vauxhall cars categorised by make i.e. Astra, Corsa, etc. In addition to limiting the number of ‘clicks’ required by flattening the page hierarchy, this will also offer pages that have further longer-tail keyword potential.
- NoIndex, Follow
Implementing a NoIndex, Follow robots meta tag on all of the paginated pages, aside from the first one, will allow search engines to only index the first page meaning that no duplicate content is given to a spider. Unfortunately though, doing this doesn’t stop users linking back to one of the paginated pages. This will be wasted link juice as the linked page will not be indexed. Whilst this tactic is available for paginated article content, it should be avoided on ecommerce sites as none of the products on the paginated pages will be indexed.
- Dynamic Page Titles and Metadata
To prevent all paginated pages inheriting identical page titles and metadata, they can be dynamically rendered depending on the paginated page category i.e. page number. For example, paginated page titles for a jewellery ecommerce store could read: “Ladies Silver Wedding Rings | Jewellery Store” and “Ladies Silver Wedding Rings – Page 2 | Jewellery Store” While this is not fool proof, it does offer a search engine some distinction between the paginated pages.
- CSS/JQuery Pagination
This type of pagination is not true pagination. To the human user it appears as if they have clicked a page number or tab and are delivered new content on a new page; in reality they stay on the same page URL, and the content comes to them. Employing a CSS and JQuery based solution enables the content to always be present on the page when it loads; selecting a pagination link simply delivers the user the relevant content chunk without generating any new pages. As a spider will see all of the content on the one page, no issues arise. There are of course, issues relating to the volume of content shown to the spiders and the number of links out they will follow. If this is a problem i.e. you have 500 different cars to show, then you should really be looking into category filtering as it’s unlikely users will trawl through 25 pages of cars.
- Unique Page Content
For all of the paginated pages to be indexed, the search engine may have a hard time deciding which to deliver in a SERP. To aid this process, a section of keyword rich copy can be implemented onto the first paginated page only. While this method is by no means infallible, it can help offer some degree of control over which page within the pagination is displayed in a search engine as the copy offers added keyword relevance. As you can see there are several options for handling pagination and the best approach is generally a combination. Fixing pagination can lead to a massive increase in long-tail penetration and associated traffic so the reward is definitely worth the effort! If you have any further questions please leave a comment below or catch me on twitter @PG_Martin.