When developing and structuring your website, you should be conscious of how much content you publish on each page.
The more content and topics you try to squeeze into a page, the longer visitors will have to scroll to view it all and make sense of everything.
Some visitors, unfortunately, aren’t willing to scroll through long pages of multiple content/topics. If they encounter an excessively long page on your website, they might leave in search of shorter more logical flowing pages instead.
Pagination offers a simple solution to deal with multiple related topics on your website pages. It involves dividing long pages with multiple topics into several shorter pages.
If you’re planning to use pagination to shrink long pages of content, you need to be careful of its impact on search engine optimization (SEO).
If used incorrectly, pagination may harm your website’s organic rankings and create keyword cannibalization of your pages.
What is pagination?
Pagination is a form of website navigation in which a single, multi-topic page is split into a series of interconnected, relevant, pages. Rather than scrolling through a single long page, visitors can click through a series of shorter, paginated pages. It almost acts as a traffic director.
Paginated pages are often sequential, meaning each one is connected to the next. At the bottom of this style of pages would be links to the previous and following pages. Some paginated pages also contain links to the first and last pages in their respective series. By clicking these links, visitors can navigate the pages while searching for their desired content.
Examples of pagination
You’ll often find pagination on eCommerce websites, specifically their category pages. Category pages generally consist of the titles, descriptions, and thumbnails of the store’s associated products. As the number of products assigned to a specific category increases, so will the length of the category page. Pagination allows eCommerce websites to convert long category pages into multiple, shorter pages.
Traditional content-oriented websites use pagination to break up long pages of content into smaller pages as well.
For instance, if a real estate company had a 4,000-word page about both their real estate services and their property management services (technically different topics/services), this could be split into two, 2,000-word paginated pages. These pages would be shorter, more focused, and easier to digest by readers.
Instead of trying to cover too many bases on one page, they can separate the pages and maximize the SEO of each page’s specific topic, increasing the organic rankings for both pages.
The current page would be updated to focus only on their real estate services. The new page would be about their property management services with the goal of attracting new traffic and getting more property management leads for their business.
Another different and less important instance in which pagination occurs on websites is visitor comments on a blog post. Each comment a visitor leaves increases the length of the blog post. Over time, a blog post may accumulate enough visitor comments to where it creates a negative user experience. Instead of showing all the visitor comments on the post’s original URL, some blogs use pagination to split the comments into multiple pages. Each of the paginated posts still shows the full post, but they display different visitor comments at the bottom.
How pagination affects SEO
While pagination typically offers a better user experience by allowing visitors to view a series of shorter, focused pages rather than a single long page, it can affect your website’s SEO in a variety of ways.
When you split long pages into many shorter pages, search engines will have more stuff to crawl, resulting in the consumption of your website’s crawl budget.
Search engines can’t spend all their crawling resources on a single website, so they only crawl a specific number of pages on a given website in a given time frame. If you use pagination on your website, search engines will have to crawl all the short, paginated pages. In turn, they may not crawl other, more important pages on your website after exhausting your site’s crawl budget.
In addition to consuming your website’s crawl budget, pagination can lead to duplicate content or keyword cannibalization. When a multi-topic page is turned into multiple pages, the shorter pages may contain duplicate or similar content that makes your pages compete against each other within your own website. You may want one page to appear in Google’s search results for a keyword, but because you have another very similar page, Google chooses to show that page instead.
That is what happens when search engines discover duplicate or similar content while crawling your website. They’ll select a single page to index and rank.
Normally, they’ll choose the page where the content was first published. With pagination, however, search engines may index and rank one of the paginated pages instead of the first published pages.
How to safely use pagination
You can still use pagination to deal with long pages of multiple topics on your website, but you should take some precautions to safeguard your site’s organic rankings. For starters, use similar but unique title tags and meta descriptions for paginated pages.
Because they contain similar content, paginated pages should have similar title tags and meta descriptions. With that said, the title tags and meta descriptions should be modified to reflect their pagination.
The title tag for the second page in a series of articles about digital marketing tips for businesses, for instance, may consist of “Digital Marketing Tips for Local Businesses” The first page in the series can use the same title tag but without the “Local Businesses” part. Adding that specific phrase differentiates the pages.
Another tip to safely use pagination on your website is to apply the canonical tags to paginated pages. A type of HTML link element, canonical tags convey which page in a series of multiple pages that search engines should index. Paginated pages should have a canonical tag pointing to the first page in their series. While hidden to visitors, search engines can see the canonical tags when crawling your website, and they’ll use this HTML link element to determine which pages to index and rank.
If you’re worried that paginated pages will restrict Google or Bing from crawling other pages on your website, you can use the disallow agent directive. When added to your website’s robots.txt file, it tells search engines not to crawl the paginated page or pages. Of course, the downside to using the disallow agent directive is that it may prevent search engines from indexing your website’s paginated pages.
The length of your website’s pages will influence user engagement signals like the bounce rate and session rate. If a page is too long, visitors will leave without performing these engagement actions. Pagination can improve your website’s usability, but it may harm your site’s organic rankings if you implement it incorrectly.
Follow these tips and you will protect your site from harm and maximize your opportunities for better organic rankings and more traffic opportunities!
Guest author: Landon Murie is the Founder of Goodjuju, a marketing agency that helps property managers grow organically and get more clients. He is a self-proclaimed SEO nerd that loves to find out what is working by testing and monitoring.