Strategies and best practices to manage site pagination from an SEO perspective

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Smooth and intuitive navigation is one of the “secrets” of a positive user experience on any website, but there is a problem: the larger your site becomes, the greater the possibility of being forced to paginate some of its sections or content, with what that entails in terms of management. Proper pagination is a factor that can make all the difference for user experience and SEO, and it is often considered one of the most complex and relevant aspects of optimization work, because it affects not only how we “store” all the work done, but also how we present our content to Google. So let’s try to understand what pagination means, what methods and techniques we can follow, and what are steps and best practices to create an SEO-friendly and, above all, user-friendly pagination.

What is pagination on a site

Pagination or page layout is essentially a web design technique for dividing a site’s digital content across multiple pages to make it easier for users to navigate and browse.

This process, which in English is called web pagination, results in the creation of a series of distinct pages, usually accessible through numbered links or through “next” and “previous” buttons, that allow a large set of data to be displayed in manageable blocks rather than loading them all within one page. Sites such as eCommerce, online newspapers, forums, and blogs make extensive use of this technique, which spreads content across multiple pages and allows a site’s content to be organized and divided across multiple pages, to make lists of articles or products on a site more manageable and to create comprehensible paths for crawlers and users.

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The most common use cases of page layout relate precisely to sites that present lists of items or product catalogs (and thus e-Commerce sites), but also to articles on news sites or blogs or thread posts in forums, all situations in which the abundance of elements would require excessive and impractical loading when presented on a single page.

What the page layout is for and why it is important to care for it

Dividing into separate pages provides users with a clear hierarchy of the page and suggests the end of search, although slightly alternative solutions, such as infinite scroll, have been gaining ground in recent years.

To say: even Google’s SERP has historically been paginated, to make it easier to crawl information, but today the search engine has adopted precisely the system of endless scrolling from mobile and desktop.

In general, the choice of style and type of site layout takes on a key role in information architecture and SEO: in addition to being the key to making large volumes of content, such as articles or products, easily navigable and accessible, it is also an invitation to explore the site further.

Without effective pagination, users would be faced with endless pages full of content that require excessive scrolling, making searching for specific information a frustrating and daunting process. In contrast, when the structure is well designed and intuitive, people can move from one section to the next with ease, finding what they are looking for without losing the thread.

In terms of SEO, proper pagination is essential to ensure that search engines can fully and efficiently explore and index the site because it helps crawlers understand the relationship between pages and avoid the trap of duplicate content, which could otherwise dilute the SEO value of pages and confuse search algorithms. More specifically, pagination also helps to distribute “link juice“-that is, value passed through links-balancedly among the pages of the site, preventing unequal distribution from bringing a lot of attention to only a few pages, neglecting the others.

A few years ago, Google surprised the community by the withdrawal of the rel=prev/next attribute among the criteria followed by Googlebot for crawling and indexing sites-two tags that served (and actually still serve) to tell search engines the relationship between paginated pages, helping to maintain a clear and uncluttered structure-and there are several techniques to follow to set up SEO-friendly pagination, respecting the basic principle that each page within the pagination sequence offers unique and valuable content, to avoid duplicate penalties.

The benefits of pagination and the SEO problems of mishandling it

The benefits of pagination are both practical–improving the navigability of the site, facilitating the readability of a piece of content–and technical, because it allows, for example, to give a more aesthetically pleasing appearance to the site and its pages.

Bad pagination, on the other hand, can result in some problems to the site’s performance even in Google Search, especially of large projects with numerous articles:

  • Duplicate content (especially in the case of incorrect use of rel canonical), when non-paged or poorly paginated sites duplicate content that already exists on the homepage, category pages or tag pages into other pages.
  • Low-value content, classic thin content, when the content on some pages is sparse or of little value, as in the case of articles divided into multiple pages or photo galleries, and therefore not deserving ofattention by crawlers and users.
  • Dilution of ranking signals, because the weight of backlinks or the juicedef internal links are dispersed across pages.
  • Waste of crawl budget and Googlebot crawl time on pages of low relevance.

Systems for setting up pagination

Pagination then is not just a design element or navigation feature, but an aspect can improve the usability of the site, optimize its visibility and increase its ability to be properly indexed by search engines.

For this, it would be appropriate to think about and set up from the structuring of the site the type of pagination we intend to use.

In general, we recognize at least a dozen most popular pagination, each with its own distinctive characteristics:

  • Classic pagination. This is the most common and recognizable method of pagination: it is based on the use of page numbers and usually includes links to “Next Page” and “Previous Page”; pages are easily accessible and this method is intuitive for users. It involves dividing a list of items into several pages, each containing a fixed number of items; to view more options, users must move to the next page, usually by clicking or tapping a Next button at the top or bottom of the screen; each page is numbered, and users can move to pages with specific numbers by selecting the corresponding buttons or, sometimes, by typing directly the number of the page to which they wish to be directed. Usually, the link attributes rel=”prev” or rel=”next,” which precisely indicate the presence of sequential pages, were used to communicate to crawlers the order of the pages: after the announcement of the retirement of this command there was great turmoil in the online communities, with users frightened of the effects of this decision: in reality, we can say that nothing has really changed, because Google has not changed pagination and its criteria for managing sites that use the various methods.
  • Pagination with infinity scroll, in which content loads automatically when the user scrolls down and gets closer to reaching the end of the page (and, therefore, there is no pagination proper but single-page content). It is the system that users seem to like the most, according to Google, and it is popular today in social media and e-commerce sites. This method improves user engagement and can lead to longer stays on the site, but it can be problematic for indexing if it is not accompanied by proper link structuring that allows search engine crawlers to access all the content.
  • Lazy Loading. Similar to infinite pagination, lazy loading loads additional content only when the user approaches the part of the site where it should appear. This method is useful for improving page load times and reducing data consumption but, as with infinite pagination, requires care to ensure that content is accessible to search engine crawlers.
  • AJAX-based pagination. This technique uses AJAX to load new content on a page without having to reload the entire page, providing a smooth user experience and helping to reduce loading times. However, it can present indexing challenges if not implemented with an SEO strategy that includes snapshots or search engine accessible URLs.
  • Pagination with “Show Again” button (or similar wording). Instead of loading a new page, additional content is loaded on the same page when the user clicks the “Show Again” button or similar command.
  • Category pagination, creating precisely category pages for e-commerce products or news articles under which to store various related content spread across multiple pages. In practice, category pages act as hubs for related products or articles and can in turn be paginated to handle large quantities of items.
  • Article pagination, splitting a single piece of content across multiple pages that maintain the same URL but have progressive numbering. In practice, you choose to split long articles or detailed guides into multiple pages in an effort to improve page load times and maintain user attention. However, it is important that each paginated page offers unique value and that it is clear to the user how to navigate between the different sections of the article. From an SEO perspective, it is critical to use canonical tags to indicate the main page and ensure that pagination does not create duplicate content issues.
  • Gallery, where each image or media element has its own page and URL. This allows users to share or save specific images and can help improve the visibility of each item in search engines.
  • Forums, for highly debated topics that generate the creation of several progressively numbered pages, typical precisely of forums with user interventions. This helps to maintain readability of discussions and manage the load on the server.

Usually, large sites, especially e-Commerce sites with numerous pages, are suggested to stick to traditional layout methods because they offer precise control over the actions of buyers exploring their huge product sets. At the same time, sites with few products or good loading performance could also benefit from this system by being able to simply load all products on the page at once.

Esempio di paginazione con sistema tradizionale - Amazon - da NN Group

Conversely, for sites that rank somewhere in between-and thus have small or medium-sized product catalogs-an alternative to traditional pagination controls, such as infinite loading or Show More buttons, might be more beneficial.

Infinite loading for pagination: pros and cons

As an interesting insight from Nielsen Norman Group points out, infinity scroll or lazy loading (loading multiple items as users scroll to the end of a page) can work well for e-commerce sites that have:

  • A relatively small number of products (typically less than 40 per page).
  • Good filters to help users narrow down the result sets.
  • A clear count of the number of items returned and the total number of items featured (a simple indicator to help users keep track of their current location and understand how many items they have already viewed and how many remain to be viewed).
  • Very fast loading times.

Esempio di paginazione con caricamento infinito - ToryBurch - da NNGroup

In contrast, larger sites with categories containing an inordinate number of products may run into unpleasant situations because users may not be able to access important information in the footer navigation menu and, in addition, may become disoriented and not understand precisely where they are in the product list when the page includes a large number of products. In fact, infinitely scrolling pages interrupt the standard browser scrollbar and, because of this, users may lose a sense of context, which, however, a simple numeric indicator can help recover.

The problem of the unreachable footer is particularly frustrating: sites that use infinite scrolling often do not allow users to access the information and menu located in the footer, which is constantly moved off the visible page each time they try to access it due to the addition of new products, items, or otherwise elements. For this reason, infinite loading should not be used for a large number of products and, according to SEO theories, users should not have to scroll for more than 15 minutes before they can reach the footer, especially when the footer is the easiest way to access return policies or shipping information.

Pagination with Show More button: pros and cons

The third most popular system for pagination currently is the “Show more” button (possible alternatives are “See more,” “Load more,” or “Show more products”), which appears on many e-Commerce sites at the bottom of their product listing pages. This is a rather intuitive implementation for users, who by clicking on what is generally a rather obvious button can move through product tabs in a linear fashion, even more efficiently than with page numbers or cursor arrows (those of greater or lesser <>).

The essential difference between this approach and infinite loading is that it takes direct action on the part of the user to load the next set of products, rather than loading them automatically; therefore, compared to infinite loading, Show More buttons allow access to site footers that are otherwise unreachable.

paginazione con pulsante mostra altro - Aritzia - da NNGroup

Allowing users to choose whether to load multiple items is particularly useful for those attracting visitors from mobile devices, and thus tending to have limited data plans, who may not want to continually load additional products; in addition, items may load more slowly on mobile devices if users are not connected to Wi-Fi and are in areas with poor network signal coverage.

When properly applied, this design allows people to view multiple product pages and also to easily return to all products that were loaded in a previous batch, thus not having to reload the previous page. However, it is useful to indicate the total number of items available in the category, the number of those already displayed, and the number that will be loaded in the next set, because this information can persuade people to click to load additional items, having a proper context of when they will reach the end of the product list .

Tips for alternative pagination systems

If we set up an alternative pagination system to that of classic pagination, we need to pay attention to a detail that is not minor, namely saving the buyer’s position and supporting the frequent behavior of pogo sticking (which on e-Commerce occurs when a buyer opens a link to a product from a listing page, rates the product, and then presses the Back button to return to the listing page), which is very common on smartphones but can also occur on desktops, if the user does not use the page parking system (opening multiple tabs in the browser).

Some sites do not support this behavior: when customers return to the list page, they have to scroll up or down to find their last location again. This problem can arise with traditional pagination, but it is especially common (and annoying) when sites implement infinite scrolling or Show Other approaches.

Google’s advice on pagination

In light of the sensitive nature of the topic, Google’s public voices have repeatedly stepped in to address concerns and clarify certain aspects of pagination, such as in the office-hours hangout video on Youtube below featuring John Mueller. In response to a user asking precisely for clarification on pagination, Google’s Search Advocate went on to offer explanations of the criteria Google uses to interpret sites and advice on how best to handle this variable.

In summary, every site must try to figure out what is the best and most effective structure for its readers, because what also matters to Google is usability.

Specifically, Mueller says he has rarely seen SEOs struggling with pagination problems, so if the system used works, it means the chosen method is the right one and there is nothing to change; essentially, you have to layout the site the way it can be useful, works and makes sense.

Tips for eCommerce sites

Very interesting is the specific attention given to eCommerce sites, which are probably the type of site most affected by the news of the goodbye to rel=prev/next: according to Mueller, sometimes it may be useful to use the noindex meta tag on pages after the first one, and other times it may make sense to employ filters and sorting parameters in other ways, using the appropriate tools to tell Google how you want these pages to be crawled following the withdrawal of the URL Parameters tool in Search Console.

What is important to understand is that the use of rel=next/prev is not prohibited or inconvenient: some search engines beyond Google may find it useful, and regardless, it sometimes makes sense for sites for accessibility reasons. So if this technique has worked well over the years, there is no reason to change it and remove it from one’s pages, and the layout existed before and will continue to exist in the future.

There is also no need to worry about what it changes for Google, which already has not used rel=next/prev to crawl sites for years: therefore, if a site has been crawled and indexed in the last year, the Googlers say, it has already been proven to work for indexing and crawling even without those link ownership elements.

Using the technique that gets all pages and all products found

More specifically, Mueller advises e-Commerce owners to thoroughly crawl their site to actually figure out how all the product pages are found: for the Googler, the important thing for Google, especially toward e-Commerce sites, is that it is possible to go to these listed pages and somehow discover all the individual product pages.

And the site can help by linking related products, linking individual products and different categories, for example, and using all these techniques.

The key points to remember are two, Mueller finally reminds us: first, pages must be able to stand on their own. This was a principle that was valid before the ad and that needs to be taken care of all the more now: if you want something to be indexed, says Google’s Senior Webmaster, put some content on it that is index-worthy and useful for the users who go there.

Secondly, all sites, eCommerce but not only, that are concerned about how to manage pagination and filters must avoid Googlebot and users getting lost in a sea of endless URLs: any applied solution that succeeds in being functional, practical and useful therefore turns out to be “the best” because in the end the ultimate goal is to work best for its users and offer them the pagination strategy they find easy to use and understand.

Set up a strategy for displaying content

What we can do is not only limited to article or product management choices, but also to a more strategic approach to the evolution of the site, even when running a blog.

In an ideal structure situation, the home page is the strongest page of our website, most likely the one that will receive the most links from other sites and the one that generally identifies our brand: this is where all the linked articles/categories start, which are considered the most important content ever, both by us (because otherwise we would not have linked to them) and by Google.

This means that we need to study a strategy for managing the display priority and archiving of published content, but in practice this strategy often does not exist and “we let articles follow the standard flow of how CMSs work – such as WordPress, which displays them in chronological order from the most recent to the most dated.”

From an SEO perspective, on the other hand, content should not only be shown in chronological order but also in order of importance by the position it occupies within the site, starting with the most relevant to the category and most searched by users, both at specific times of the year and globally.

In order to have control over how Google will have to evaluate the website and the importance of the content, we need to achieve the understanding that the website is constantly changing, which is likely to be completely indeterminate and could take us to the top, if we catch the right combination, but in most cases inevitably leads to continued loss of traffic over time.

Highlighting useful articles

If we let the site mutate its structure over time without driving the change we may find ourselves in a situation where only articles that no one searches for are placed in prominent positions, and thus Google will reward and rank articles that in reality no one will ever search for and generate no traffic.

Thus, the valuable evergreen article we wrote a year ago may have ended up in the most unreachable meanders of the site, obviously losing ranking and relevance to Google as well.

Google’s advice for managing pagination

In short, managing the structure and pagination of the site properly and strategically is an extremely complex task, but it can be achieved even with very rudimentary approaches, such as using tags or other techniques.


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This is confirmed (again) by John Mueller, who in a subsequent (concise) response on Twitter clarified this concept to a user asking him for advice on the subject.

To be precise, @LukeDaviesSEO‘s question was as follows: “How best to manage the pagination of a blog (not an eCommerce, so not product pages) of over a thousand pages? This is a project that has been going on for eight years and we haven’t paid too much attention to SEO,” he added. In the reply tweet, Big G’s Search Advocate offers his quick point of view, which we can try to apply to our own sites as well.

Use categories or tags to cross link so that you have a handful paginated pages per type, from where you link to the blog posts. Keep a good & balanced hierarchy, not too flat, not too deep.

“Use categories or tags to cross-link, so you have a handful of pages paginated by type, from which you can link to blog posts. Keep a good, balanced hierarchy that is neither too flat nor too deep.” Trying to extend the discourse, Mueller then urges us to find the right balance in pagination, to avoid burdening ourselves with thousands of pages to navigate through to search for content: this solution helps users, but more importantly Google (which does not get too many variations of paginated pages) and Googlebot (which will not deep scan each paginated set).

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