Update – December 2019: Google provides new guidelines and recommendations
Google’s John Mueller just presented at the Webmaster Conference in Tel Aviv on December 4, 2019. In that presentation, he covered how to handle pagination now that rel next/prev is not being used for indexing purposes. It sounds like more information will be coming via a blog post, but I wanted to provide John’s recommendations here until we have more information. Igal Stolpner tweeted a photo from John’s presentation where he was covering how to best handle pagination now that rel next/prev doesn’t help from an indexing standpoint.
As you can see in the tweet below, John explains to link naturally between pages, to use clean urls (with no or few parameters). He also explained that it’s important to determine the goal of the paginated content and then adjust your strategy based on that.
For example, if it’s paginated content (like an article that’s paginated), then you should link all pages and make them all indexable. But if it’s what he calls “detail links”, like for e-commerce sites, then you can either link all pages, or if all content is findable via cross-linking, then you can just have the first page indexable (or the first few pages in the pagination). You can canonicalize the rest to page one or noindex the rest. Again, I hope Google publishes a post soon with more detail about these recommendations. I’m sure many people will have questions. :)
Update: March 2019: Google just announced that after evaluating its indexing signals, it realized it’s not using rel next/prev as an indexing signal anymore. As of a few days ago, Google was still recommending using rel next/prev to signal to them that pages were part of a set, and that Google should consolidate indexing properties from across that set. But it ends up they haven’t been using rel next/prev for a few years. Crazy, but true.
But don’t feel like you need to remove rel next/prev or radically change your setup. This is not a recent change on Google’s end. So if you’re setup is working for you, then don’t change a thing. Google’s John Mueller has explained that as well. You can read this post on Search Engine Roundtable by Barry Schwartz, which covers the change. And you can watch Google’s John Mueller explain more about the situation in a recent webmaster hangout video.
Here is the video segment (starting at 14:35 and lasting about ten minutes):
My recommendation is to try and fold paginated articles together into one strong url (or at least cut down on the amounts of pages that each article is broken out to). As Google has explained, each page needs to stand on its own. And for pagination for lists of items (like articles in categories, e-commerce product categories, etc.), pagination should still be used like you are hopefully doing now. And then use the right canonicalization strategy based on your situation. You can read more about that in my article below. Just skip the rel next/prev information and focus on the canonicalization sections.
As Google always says, change in constant. At least they informed us about this change, even if it was a few years late. :)
While helping companies improve overall quality, I’m typically neck deep in performing technical audits and analyzing crawl data. And with many large-scale sites, it’s not uncommon to come across a heavy amount of pagination used throughout those sites. Now, pagination is totally fine to have and can help both users and bots get to your content through organized categories. But, it’s important that your pagination is set up properly from an SEO perspective, so you can get the most bang for your paginated buck. Unfortunately, I’ve seen so many pagination flaws during my audit travels, it’s not even funny.
Based on the botched setups I have seen, and the confusion surrounding pagination, I’ve been jokingly telling clients that I need to write a blog post about how to properly set up rel next/prev when a pagination uses sorting or filtering. Because if I did, I could just point new clients there versus explaining it over and over. So, I finally decided to write it up. :) And yes, I know there are many posts out there about pagination and SEO. But, I wanted to provide one detailing the exact setup that I recommend (based on Google’s official recommendations and my experience helping many large-scale sites that employ pagination).
This post will cover a number of topics under the pagination umbrella, including how to set up rel next/prev, how to handle sorting and filtering parameters, and how to combine rel canonical with rel next/prev. My hope is that this post can clear up some of the confusion surrounding pagination and SEO.
Your Goal and How Google Should Process The Setup
First, let me quickly explain why this is important. When using pagination, you often have several pages of content within a specific category. For example, pagination is prevalent on ecommerce sites that might have hundreds of products under a certain category. Or you might have sites with reviews that might have dozens or more reviews per product.
From an SEO perspective, it might not sound great to have dozens of category pages indexed by Google. But you absolutely could, as long as you know Google is handling those pages properly. The catch is that you should use rel next/prev in the code of your component pages so Google can consolidate indexing properties from across the paginated set. That means Google can treat your paginated set as one, versus dozens of separate pages containing a list of products. And when Google does that, it can surface the right page from the paginated set in the SERPs based on query, but it will still treat the paginated set as one (signals-wise).
Warning: Don’t Canonicalize All Component Pages To The First Page! Set Up Rel Canonical Correctly
Also, and this is important to understand, if you canonicalize all component pages to the first page in your pagination, then Google can’t index any of the additional content. So you are diminishing the power of the paginated set by canonicalizing each component page to the first page. It’s simply not the right setup. I’ll cover how to use rel canonical the right way with pagination soon.
A Note About Google Resources for Pagination and Rel next/prev
Before we begin, I wanted to mention that there are some great resources from Google explaining more about this topic, and I highly recommend checking them out. For example, there’s a great video from former Googler Maile Ohye covering how to use rel next/prev in detail. And then Google has written several blog posts about pagination, including one about common mistakes that site owners make when implementing rel canonical on their sites. There’s a part about not canonicalizing all component pages to the first page in the pagination. Between my post today and those resources, you should be ready to rock and roll pagination-wise. Let’s get started.
How To Properly Set Up Rel Next/Prev with Filtering: Step-by-step
It’s best if I use an example that’s easy to understand, so let’s say we have an ecommerce site named “Glenn’s Baseball Gloves”. Hey, I coach baseball and I’m helping my players choose the right gear now. :) Let’s set up the pagination for a category of pre-broken in baseball gloves. Here we go!
1. Our Ecommerce Category
The category url is https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm. The category contains 75 products and we’re going to provide fifteen gloves per page. So, we’ll have five component pages in the pagination. Page two will have the following url: https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm?page=2. Then page=3, page=4, etc.
2. Filtering or Sorting The Pagination
We will also provide sorting for our pagination. To keep this simple, let’s provide sorting by price. So if the user chooses to sort “Price High-To-Low”, the pagination will reorder the gloves and show the most expensive gloves first. The sorting parameter will be price=X, where X could be high or low.
So we might end up with a url that looks like this:
3. Rel next/prev
This is the easy part. You will need to add rel next/prev tags in the head of each component page that provides the next url in the pagination, and the previous. The only exceptions are the first and last pages in the pagination. That’s because the first page will have a rel next tag, but won’t have a previous tag. And the last page will have a rel prev tag, but won’t have a next tag. All other component pages should contain both rel next and prev.
For our root category page https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm, we’ll use the following in the head of the document:
<link rel=“next” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm?page=2” />
Remember, the first page will not contain a rel=”prev” tag since there isn’t a previous page!
And our page=2 url will contain the following tags in the head of the document:
<link rel=“next” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm?page=3” />
<link rel=“prev” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm” />
Important note: I’ve seen many sites use ?page=1 in the rel prev tag when pointing back to the root category page, when that’s not the actual url. The url actually doesn’t contain any parameters, so it’s just https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm without page=1.
You should complete the tags for the remaining component pages and then include just a rel prev tag on the last page (since there’s not a “next” url). For example, the final page in the pagination (page 5) would contain the following rel prev tag in the head of the document.
<link rel=“prev” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm?page=4” />
4. Rel canonical
When setting up the pagination, I highly recommend using self-referencing canonical tags on each component page. Rel canonical and rel next/prev are separate concepts and can be used together on the same url. Again, these should be self-referencing canonical tags for each component page.
The root page should contain a self-referencing canonical tag, page=2 url should as well, so on and so forth. Remember, we want Google to index each of the pages so it can consolidate indexing properties from across the paginated set. Don’t simply canonicalize all component pages to the first page. That’s not the right setup. Google even lists that in their common mistakes blog post for rel canonical! See screenshot below.
Don’t do this!
Here is an example of what we should implement based on our fictitious website:
The root category url https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm would contain the following rel canonical tag:
<link rel=“canonical” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm” />
and then the second url in our pagination https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm?page=2 would contain:
<link rel=“canonical” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm?page=2”>
Again, DO NOT canonicalize all component pages to the first page in the pagination. That’s not the proper setup (as documented above)! And rel canoncial should contain the url with the page parameter, but not contain any sorting or filtering parameters. I’ll cover more about that next.
5. Handling Sorting or Filtering In The Pagination
This part seems to confuse a lot of people, just based on the number of parameters being handled and how it ties to rel canonical and rel next/prev. If filtering or sorting parameters are provided, then you should include them in rel next/prev tags, but not include them in rel canonical. Rel canonical should only contain the core url for the component page without the filtering parameters. Google’s Maile Ohye explained this in her video about pagination.
Also, it’s important to keep a consistent order for your parameters. In my opinion, you should always start with the core url and page parameter (page=X). Then layer on filtering parameters, but keep the order consistent. Don’t use page=X&price=Y&size=Z on one component page and then page=X&size=Y&price=Z on the next. Or worse, don’t move the page=X parameter to after the filters! Make it easy for Google to understand the structure so it can consolidate indexing properties without running into trouble.
For our example, let’s say a user sorted by price, the first page would contain the following rel next tag and rel canonical tag:
<link rel=“next” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm?page=2&price=high” />
<link rel=“canonical” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm” />
Then page 2 would contain:
<link rel=“prev” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm?price=high” />
<link rel=“next” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm?page=3&price=high” />
<link rel=“canonical” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm?page=2” />
And page 3 would contain:
<link rel=“prev” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm?page=2&price=high” />
<link rel=“next” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm?page=4&price=high” />
<link rel=“canonical” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm?page=3” />
Notice how rel next prev carries the sorting parameters from one url to the next, while rel canonical only references the core url. We would follow the same formula for page four. And the final page (which is page 5 in our example) would contain the following tags. Remember, the final page would not contain a rel next tag since there isn’t another page in the pagination:
<link rel=“prev” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm?page=4&price=high” />
<link rel=“canonical” href=“https://glennsgloves.com/baseball-gloves/pre-broken-in.htm?page=5” />
And that’s it! Now you are handling rel next/prev correctly on each component page of the pagination, as well as rel canonical. And you are also providing consistent sorting parameters via rel next/prev. And you’re not canonicalizing all component pages to the first page (which is the wrong way to go).
Now Google can understand the structure of your pagination, consolidate indexing properties from across the paginated set, treat the pagination as one signals-wise, and then surface the correct url in the SERPs based on query. Groovy. :)
A Note About Indexation
You will probably see indexation increase when checking the Index Status report in Google Search Console (GSC) as Google crawls and indexes the component pages in your pagination. This is especially true for those sites that were once canonicalizing all component pages to the first page in the pagination. This is totally normal to see, so don’t freak out if it starts to rise. Indexation should level off as Google indexes all of your component pages.
Summary – Consolidate Indexing Properties With The Right Pagination Setup
The next time you’re faced with providing a heavy amount of pagination by category, you can use the setup I covered in this post. It’s based on Google’s official recommendations and it’s something I have helped clients with many times in the past. So don’t fall victim to common pagination problems. Instead, let Google crawl and index all of your component pages, but tie them together via rel next/prev. And then use rel canonical to send clear signals about which pages should be indexed. Pagination shouldn’t be scary and I hope this post made the setup a little less intimidating… Now paginate away!