How to optimise pagination on your website

There are many websites, the content of which is so extensive, we find it presented throughout more than one page. For example, that is the case of online shops with large product catalogues. When faced with this scenario, the common solution is to distribute the items over various pages, which end up making up a series of related URLs.

The natural behaviour of a search engine is to crawl and index all pages it discovers through each link.Click To Tweet

Problems identified up until now

Only the first few pages were crawled and indexed

Google has limited time to crawl the pages of our website. For that reason, out of the entire paginated series, it used to index the first few pages only, never getting to the remaining pages making up the list as well. This brought issues with it, as many product pages were never indexed, and as a result, it was difficult for a user to reach them unless they directly carried out an internal search on the website.

Given this state of things, SEO consultants used to recommend to just index the first page, which is the one Google should display in the results to a related search query. And so we included the meta robots with the “noindex,follow” value from the second page onwards, all the way to the end of the series. With this rule, we told the search engine that it only should index the first page, and crawl the rest of them (Page 2, page 3, etc.)

Pagination: index,follow and noindex,follow

This allowed the search engine to crawl all the links included in the remaining pages of the sequence (in the previous case, those would be pages 2 and 3), and to reach all the product detail pages making up the paginated series:

Crawlable links on paginated pages

This way, Google could return any of the product pages as a result to a search query made by the user.

However, nowadays we do not recommend this SEO practice. While Google will display, in most cases, the first page of the series for the related queries, we should also keep in mind that at any given moment it can consider relevant any of the other pages making up the sequence, resulting in better rankings for those pages. This, here, is a good reason to clear the path for the search engine and not to place any indexing barriers to any of the paginated pages.

It is best that we index all the pages making up the pagination series, because any of them could rank better than the first 🆙⬆

Duplicate content generated by titles and descriptions

Another disadvantage that paginated URLs used to bring about was that they generated duplicate content, because the title and description could not be personalised in most cases. This lead to the title of the first page getting replicated throughout all the remaining URLs of the series. That’s why the “noindex” solution also prevented Google from accessing these pages and not seeing this duplicate text. Nowadays, Google has produced a series of recommendations to deal with this issue.

We’ve run into some cases where the title and the description of such pages is written in an unnatural and fraudulent way, to get better rankings for some searches. We must keep in mind that these texts must be coherent with each other, especially if the content of the pages belonging to a series is the same, that is, it belongs to the same product category. For example, if we have an online shop selling baby products, like feeding bottles or dummies, it would be incorrect to have different titles for each page of the sequence in the “Dummies” category, like so: “Dummies for babies” for the first page, “Customised dummies” for the second page, and “Cheap dummies” in the last one. Google will detect this incoherence, and it will apply a penalty on our website for doing this, lowering its ranking in the SERPs.

Current scenarios where we could find paginated content

We’ve identified the following scenarios where a website’s content could be divided into several numbered pages:

Content divided into several shorter pages

This type of short pages are frequently found on news and publishing websites, as this method is used to get more page views. Such metrics are useful for media outlets at the time of negotiating with advertisers.

Short paginated pages

List of products within a category, divided into several pages with many items

It’s commonly seen in large lists of articles, which make up a series of much extensive pages than the one mentioned previously. For example, on e-commerce websites:

Large product categories with many items

Content divided into a sequence of URLs

As seen on message boards, for example.

message boards pagination

List of products with an infinite scroll

The use of infinite scroll became more common with the arrival of smartphones and tablets. These devices, smaller than desktop computers, used to imply serious difficulties in terms of navigation for the user, as the dimensions set for pagination buttons are usually quite small in size. This option is usually preferred by the users, as it makes navigation much easier. Despite its advantages, this type of navigation also has certain disadvantages we should be careful with if we are thinking about implementing an infinite scroll on our website’s lists of products.

Displaying all the products of a category with an infinite scroll allows the user to check out the entire list of items from the same page, without having to “skip” from one page to another. If displaying all the content on the same page is relevant for our business, we should choose this option.

It works exactly as you see it: the content appears on screen as the user scrolls, that is, the list of products contained on page 2, then page 3, and so on, while the URL continues to be immutable, for example: While all the user sees is a convenient infinite scroll, for search engines we implement a pagination that becomes apparent if we disable JavaScript on the page.

Alternative methods to indicate paginated content on your website

It’s important to indicate Google our website’s paginated content, so that it can crawl and index it correctly. Here are a few ways to do this:

Use rel=”prev” and rel=”next” links

In December 2011 Google introduced content pagination guidelines. Contrary to how it used to be a few years back, currently it’s possible to divide the content in several pages and have Google crawl and index all the pages making up the sequence.

This type of links is used to indicate the existing link between paginated URLs. This way, Google will understand that you want it to treat these pages as a logic series. As a response to a pertinent search query, Google will direct users to the first page of the sequence. For example, imagine that the items of one of your product categories are divided in the following manner:

In this case, you would have to indicate between the <head> tags of these three pages of your website the relationship they share. To do this, we will use the rel=”next” and rel=”prev” HTML attributes.

use of rel next and prev in pagination

  • You will have to include the following link tag inside the HTML code of the first page:

<link rel=»next» href=»″>

The first page is obviously the first page of the sequence, so it wouldn’t make sense to include the rel=”prev” attribute, as there isn’t a previous page.

  • The <head> section of the intermediate pages (all those, which are neither the first page nor the last) will have to include the following tags:

<link rel=»prev» href=»»>

<link rel=»next» href=»″>

  • And finally, the last page of the series should include the following tag:

<link rel=»prev» href=»″>

There is no “next” page, so it wouldn’t be correct to specify the rel=”next” attribute.

These attributes (next and prev), however, do not work as absolute rules for Google, but a mere suggestion. Their use is not mandatory, but it is recommended.

Human Level advises to use this option to indicate paginated content on a website, as it’s the optimal alternative in terms of SEO.

Specify a unique page for viewing all the content of a series.

Valid for pages of press articles or small category lists.

When the pages of a paginated content are short, it’s usually not ideal to index all the pages making up the sequence, as it could lead to a Google penalty on the ground of low quality or thin content. When this happens, it’s convenient to specify a unique canonical page that will display the content in full. We’ll just have to include a rel=”canonical” link tag to all the pages of the series, indicating Google in each of them that the URL we want it to display in the search results is the one including all the content.

image gallery pagination

Google will see this page with all the content and ignore the rest. The canonical page will be the one it will try to display in the SERPs for relevant search queries. Below is an example of a Google cache snapshot for the image gallery, so that you can see how Google would view our page if we apply this recommendation:

Cache version of the image gallery

Don’t specify anything

Yes, you’ve read that right. Don’t be alarmed, though. The natural behaviour of a search engine is to crawl and index all pages it discovers through each link. It’s common to run into content distributed over several pages. In general, paginated content is not an issue for Google. The search engine will still be able to return the most relevant results to its users, even if the content is divided into several pages. However, at Human Level we don’t see it as the best solution.

And so there are three alternatives to indicate paginated content on a website: 1) to not specify anything, 2) to specify a unique page to view all content, or 3) to use rel=”prev” and rel=”next” link elements.

And so there are 3️⃣ alternatives to indicate paginated content on a website: 1) to not specify anything, 2) to specify a unique page to view all content, or 3) to use rel='prev' and rel='next' link elements.Click To Tweet

Are next and prev attributes compatible with the canonical link tag?

Canonical link tags and rel=”next” and rel=”prev” attributes serve as independent and complementary concepts, which means they can be used simultaneously without them being a risk or an issue for the page in question. Therefore, yes, it is possible to include both link tags on the page:

For example, the second page of the sequence, the <head> section would contain both declarations:

<link rel=»canonical» href=»″>

<link rel=»prev» href=»»>

<link rel=»next» href=»″>

How to test your pagination implementation for errors

Review and make sure that the rel=”prev” and rel=”next” elements are working correctly and that they are pointing to the page they should. To do this, you can use the Screaming Frog SEO Spider crawling tool. Crawl your website in full and take a look at the “Directives” tab. If you click on it, you will find two columns within, called rel=”prev” and rel=”next”.

Screaming Frog "Directives" tab

To make the analysis of the resulting data easier for you, I recommend you to download this file in Excel format. Then, filter the paginated URLs and check the “next/prev” column.

Screaming Frog crawl extracted to Excel

We can use this crawl to also review whether the canonical link tags present implementation issues: Are they pointing to the correct URL addresses? Have no canonical pages been specified?, etc. All these questions can be answered when we extract and analyse the data provided by Screaming Frog, which will give you an overview of the implementations made on your page.

When you have everything ready, crawl your website again to ensure that the changes you’ve made are correct.

Reviewing and checking the changes made is a fundamental part of the process, and it will help us to detect possible errors or issues.

What about you? Does your website have paginated content? Start putting into practice these recommendations, to help the search engine easily understand the content included in the paginated series. This will positively affect the indexing of this type of pages, and it will get them to appear as results for relevant search queries.

Rocío Rodríguez
Autor: Rocío Rodríguez
Consultora Search Marketing en Human Level.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *