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What is pagination?

Pagination in SEO terms is the means of dividing up online content into manageable sections for the end user to consume.

The most common way to see pagination in effect is on a typical e-commerce site. For accessibility reasons, an ecommerce site will often limit the number of products visible on the page. Rather, they are broken up into several smaller clusters across several separate pages.

Why websites need pagination

So why do websites use pagination to define sequenced content?

Pagination helps to define a sequence of pages that are linked together in one form or another. These pages may share content such as title tags, H1 tags, meta descriptions, and even page copy.

As a result, if a crawler finds these pages it could flag them as having duplicate content. A second problem that can occur is that search engines may have trouble identifying which page to rank in search results – as it has identified multiple pages that serve the same content on your site.

This can lead to SERP instability as the page that the search engine chooses to serve to the end user causes significant ranking fluctuations.

By having a properly configured pagination, a crawler will understand that these duplicate pages act as part of a sequence and will therefore not flag them for duplicate content.

Where not to use pagination

Despite the uses of pagination, it is important to know when and where to use it. As mentioned previously, pagination is to be used with pages that sit within a sequence that have similar or duplicated content.

However, there is a risk that splitting content across multiple pages with pagination could generate less traffic than if the content was maintained on a single page.

There is also a risk of Google identifying your content as thin content while crawling due to content being spread over several pages via pagination.

In these instances, it would be best to keep the content to a single page. A good example of seeing this in action would be on an ecommerce site. On these types of websites pages normally have a set number of “blocks” for products to sit within. However, should the number of products exceed this by one or two it may be worth keeping all of the products on a single page to avoid thin pages.

What is correct pagination?

Vanilla pagination, as it’s often referred to as among SEO’s, refers to the universally accepted best practice method of pagination. With this method the goal is to have all pages within the sequence marked with rel=next and rel=prev tags. Along with this its advised to add a self-referencing canonical tag to each individual page in the sequence.

Doing this will allow each of these pages to be indexed while preventing search engines from flagging these pages as duplicate content.

Alternative pagination methods

Despite vanilla pagination being considered universal best practice, it is possible to see some websites implement alternative versions of pagination.

Below we will go over some common examples of alternative pagination, and how they differ compared with using best practice.

Canonicalise to root URL

One of the most frequently used alternatives to vanilla pagination is canonicalising to the root URL.

This method has every page in a sequence canonicalise back to the root URL, for example will have a root canonical set to instead of using a self-referencing canonical.

While this method can be used, it is ill-advised to do so as it comes with significant risk.

Firstly, a canonical sends search engines a signal of the preferred page to be indexed. However, this is only a signal and there is a chance that search engines may ignore it. This will lead to Google indexing all pages in the sequence and flagging them as duplicate content.

This can lead to a second risk factor with this pagination method. Should Google recognise the canonical element, it will only index the first page in the sequence; ignoring everything from page 2 onwards.

If ranking in SERP is your aim, then this method of pagination is not ideal as you risk losing out on more ranking opportunities compared to using traditional pagination.

Page 2 + noindex tags

A second common alternative to pagination is the use of no index tags.

With this method all pages beyond the root page of the sequence will be marked as no index. The idea behind this is to reduce the amount of index bloat on your website, putting more focus on the initial page of the sequence.

In turn, this would prevent sub optimal pages (i.e. a page with low selling products) from ranking above pages with key products or content on.

In addition, using this method may lead to search engine bots interpreting the no-index tag as a nofollow signal. As a result, search bots will crawl these pages less

frequently, which can pose a problem when key pieces of content such as product pages or articles are spread over several pages.

As a result, this method of pagination is only recommended if you only want to put the focus on the root page of the sequence, but with the knowledge that doing so comes with the risk of losing further ranking opportunities within the SERP.

Is pagination still relevant?

With Google only recognising canonical tags over pagination this raises a question.

If Google no longer uses pagination for indexing, do I even need to add them to my website?

The answer is yes. It is still considered best practice to add pagination to sequenced content on your website. The main reason is that while Google no longer acknowledges pagination, other search engines still do, the most notable being Bing and Yahoo.

While these search engines only have a market share of 2.87% and 1.12% respectively compared to Google’s 93.18% (as of April 2023), this is still valuable traffic for any website.

Therefore, it is important to make sure that a website is optimised for these user bases as it can lead to higher conversions and link partnerships.