Pagination in SEO: Guide to NoIndex, View All and Rel=prev/next
Pagination is an important element of Search Engine Optimization which also has big implications for website usability and conversion rates. It affects even relatively small websites, especially if you're publishing a growing amount of content. And it's vital for eCommerce businesses of any size.
Fortunately standard solutions have been developed to combat the potentially serious implications for pagination for SEO.
What is Pagination?
Whenever content is split across multiple pages, pagination is required. The most common examples are eCommerce websites with product and category listings, or blogs with homepage and archive issues.
It can also be an issue when articles and slideshows are split over multiple pages, often to increase viewing and advertising statistics. Or forum discussions which run to more than one page.
Why is Pagination a Problem for SEO?
For all sites, there are two main problems if pagination is not optimized. The first is that search engine crawlers will vary how deep they travel into a site depending on factors such as the authority of that site. So if you have a new eCommerce business and spend lots of time and resources on content buried on the 15th page of your product listings, the odds are it may never be seen by search engines.
The other issue is that duplicate content can be surfaced, particularly within a Category listing. Identical page titles, meta descriptions and on-page content are all likely to be repeated from the main page right through to the last. And search engines definitely do not like to promote sites with lots of duplicate content.
For blogs and news sites, if you're stretching articles across pages, this can cause additional problems. There may be too little content on each page for search engines to bother indexing it, and it may mean you end up with low ratios of content to adverts, which Google has explicitly warned about in the context of Panda-based penalties.
Pagination for SEO: The Ultimate Solution
The best solution for pagination is to optimize your website design and taxonomy from the start. A flatter structure is always recommended for websites to allow search engines and users to reach as much as possible with as few clicks.
If you are able to plan your structure from the start, such as with a defined eCommerce business, then you can look at increasing the number of Categories and Sub-Categories to remove large page counts. Those can then all be linked from the homepage of your site, taking care not to end up with more than around 100 links per page.
You can also default to showing more products per page, which obviously reduces the number of pages required.
Obviously rebuilding an entire website isn't always possible, so there are three options for dealing with pagination from an SEO point of view.
Before doing any work on pagination, it's important to check what is currently being crawled and indexed so you can check after changes have been made. It's also worthwhile to note more general current audience/customer figures and revenue for those pages to further justify your work!
1. Pagination in SEO: NoIndex
The oldest and most simple solution to pagination issues is simply to remove paginated content from being indexed by search engines. This is less than desirable for news sites, but can be a relatively quick and easy solution for eCommerce websites, having spent time optimizing the first page of products.
For Page 2 onwards, the easiest methods is to implement "CONTENT="NOINDEX, FOLLOW" in the meta name of the section of each page. This means only the first page will appear in search engines, but the follow instruction allows search engines to still pass ranking authority to the actual products lists, and possibly also pass some back to the first page.
2. Pagination in SEO: View All
Google themselves recommend this as the preferred solution. For each paginated series, you create a page to View All products or pages listed.
Once that is done you can then use a Canonical tag (rel="canonical") in the head section of every page to point towards the View All version. This means that all pages will be seen as part of the View All page, so duplicate content will not be an issue and all authority will go to the View All page itself.
Not only is this a fairly simple solution, but it can arguably provide a better navigation option for users. That's particularly relevant for new users landing on that page from search for the first time who instantly get an overview of all your relevant products.
However, this solution does not work well if you have articles or categories with a huge amount of images which will be overwhelming and slow to load. The View All page needs to load within 2-4 seconds as a guideline – if it takes longer, then a different solution is required.
3. Pagination in SEO: Rel="prev"/"next"
I've saved this option for last as it's very useful and versatile, but also the most complicated and the most likely to be implemented incorrectly. However it is recognized by search engines, and can potentially also solve the issue of duplicate content which can be caused by unique session IDs.
This method works by adding rel"prev"/"next" to the section of each page, indicating which precedes and follows the current page, e.g for the second page in a series.
_<link rel="prev" href="http://www.examplesite.com/page1.html">_ _ <link rel="next" href="http://www.examplesite.com/page3.html">_
Note that the first page in a series will only have the next attribute, and the last should only have the prev attribute.
This removes the need for a View All Page, but it's extremely important to check the implementation is done correctly. It also allows versions of each page with unique parameters such as session IDs to be canonicalized to the non-parameter version, rather than removing them from indexation via Webmaster Tools, for example.