Google Shares Guidance on Pagination for SEO



Google’s John Mueller commented recently on Reddit about pagination. Pagination isn’t something you think about until you need to think about it. So getting a refresher on the proper use of pagination versus a canonical is useful, especially if you enjoy the nerdier side of technical SEO.

When to Use Pagination

The original question was about canonicals and Angular JavaScript. The question started off with a bias on the part of the original poster of the discussion. The bias was that the issue was about canonicals.

Here is the question:

“I’m having issues with canonicals on my site and I believe it’s due to the angular JS used in the HTML. For thousands of pages on the site Google is ignoring the canonical link and selecting their own, the issue is the page Google is selecting is incorrect.”

The problem with that question is that the OP is using the wrong tool for solving a problem it wasn’t designed to solve.

John Mueller answered:

“That’s basically a question of how to handle pagination…

Google has a guide on this at https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/1663744, however in the end, I think it mostly comes down to: “does this page in the paginated series bring joy?” and if not, then just no-index it.

Some sites feel all pages in a paginated series are important, so they keep them indexed (the fancy ones using rel-next/prev). Some sites cap paginated series at a certain number, perhaps letting the first one get indexed, and the rest not.

The decision is also sometimes based on the content of the paginated series. For example, if it’s a list of linked detail pages, then you could decide by whether or not you can reach all pages even if you don’t have the full paginated set indexed (if you cross-link to related posts/products, then usually that’s the case).”

John Mueller then warned about using rel=canonical to try to force Google to stick to the first page of a series. That’s actually the wrong way to do it.

Here’s how John Mueller explained it:

“The main thing to avoid, since this post is about canonicalization, is to use the rel=canonical on page 2 pointing to page 1. Page 2 isn’t equivalent to page 1, so the rel=canonical like that would be incorrect, practically speaking. Short of page 2 potentially being indexed, it wouldn’t break anything significantly though.”

Rel=canonical is just a suggestion, it’s not a directive that Google is forced to follow. So when Google sees that page two is different from page one, Google will ignore the rel=canonical.

John Mueller then said that normal indexing should typically be able to handle a few groups of paginated content that may exist on a website:

“If there are just a few paginated sets across your site like this (which sounds like it might be the case), then I wouldn’t sweat it and just let them get indexed normally, without any special rel=prev/next linking or no-indexing.”

This is interesting because it seems to suggest that the rel=prev/next is more useful for Google in situations where there’s a lot of paginated content. This is typically the case in active forum discussions, where a great many discussions could go on for many pages.

Here is Google’s official Developers Page guidance on rel=prev/next advises:

“Use rel=”next” and rel=”prev” links or headers to indicate the relationship between component URLs. This markup provides a strong hint to Google that you would like us to treat these pages as a logical sequence, thus consolidating their linking properties and usually sending searchers to the first page.”

The key takeaways about rel next/previous is:

  1. Indicates are relationship between the URLs
  2. Behaves like a canonical tag in that it’s a hint, not a directive. A canonical or a rel-previous/next are suggestions and hints.
  3. Inbound links to the various pages are consolidated.
  4. Google usually sends searchers to the first page of the paginated content.

Do Not Use Rel=Prev/Next for an Article Series

Google’s official guidance warns against using rel=prev/next for a series of articles. For example, if you create a group of articles related to how to groom a dog and you create separate articles for cutting their nails, brushing and so on. Each of those articles, although they are a part of a series, should not be joined together using pagination.

According to Google, Rel=Prev/Next is meant for use on a single article (or document), not for a series of articles. Here’s what Google’s developer’s page states:

“You should not use this technique merely to indicate a reading list of an article series; you should use this to indicate a single long piece of content that is broken into multiple pages.”

That’s good information about pagination. SEO has so many technical details and this is one of them. It’s good to have a periodic check up because some of them, like pagination, come in handy.

Read the entire Reddit discussion here.

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