By Ada Ivanoff

Pagination and SEO: Red Flags and Best Practices

By Ada Ivanoff

For any webmaster of a large site, content pagination is a topic of interest. When you have a vast amount of content it’s difficult to avoid pagination. In addition to your pagination concerns from a usability point of view, the SEO aspects are also worth considering.

Pagination is not rocket science but as far as SEO is concerned there are a few things that you need to know. Before we delve into these specifics, let’s first clarify the different types of pagination and the problems they can lead to.

Types of Pagination

When you think of pagination, you probably think of only one or two types, but there are many more methods out there. In many aspects they are similar but there are also major differences between them in terms of both functionality and usability.

1. Article Pagination

This is a very common type of pagination. You use article pagination when you have a long article that you don’t want to fit on one page. In this case you just split it across multiple pages and have Next and Previous navigation at the end of each page.

A screenshot of a "previous" button followed by a 1, 2, 3 and "next" button.

Each of the pages has a different URL, like this:

  • http://www.somesite.com/some_article-1.html
  • http://www.somesite.com/some_article-2.html
  • http://www.somesite.com/some_article-3.html

You could use different names for each part of the article (i.e. instead of some_article-2.html you can have part_name.html, where part_name is the name of the section) but this creates more problems for SEO, so you’re better to stick to the 1, 2, 3 convention.

With image gallery pagination every image in the gallery has its own page. Similarly to article pagination, you can name the separate pages sequentially (1, 2, 3, etc) after the name of the series, or have a different name for any image but in this case you won’t be displaying that they are all part of one gallery. Previous and Next can also be used for navigation.

3. Category Pagination

When you have a site with a huge amount of categories and subcategories that when listed as links require too much scrolling, category pagination often comes in to play.

4. Forum Threads or Blog Comments Pagination

Pagination is very common with forums because threads can become extremely lengthy and you won’t want to fit all of this on one screen. The same applies to blog posts with a lot of comments — you just need to split them among pages and connect them with Next and Previous links/buttons.

5. Infinite Scroll Pagination

Infinite scroll pagination is a recent and increasingly popular method of pagination. The contents of the next page is added directly to the user’s current page as he or she scrolls down the screen. This is done automatically and there is no need to use Previous, Next, or More — the pagination script handles it all.

The infinite scroll has been explored extensively in other SitePoint articles from an SEO point of view and from a UX point of view.

Red Flags

As useful as pagination often is, if you don’t know how to implement it properly, it can lead to various problems:

1. Crawl Depth

If pagination links are not correct, Google won’t be able to index all the pages in the series. What is more, Google has limitations for the number of pages it crawls per site and a large number of pages can lead to decreased crawl depth. As I’ll discuss further down in this article, it’s best to create a “View All” page, tell Google to index only that page and not to touch the separate paginated parts.

2. Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is a very serious SEO issue. With pagination it can occur when you have a “View All” page along with pagination. It’s good practice to use rel=”nofollow” for the pages in the paginated series, so then you are able to include a “View All” page.

3. Thin Content

There was a time when Google loved sites with multiple pages, even if they had only an image and/or a small amount of text on them. However, this is history now and such thin content can get you in to serious trouble.

Thin content is more of a concern with image gallery pagination because with the other types of pagination it’s unlikely to have just a paragraph or two of text per page. If you don’t allow Google to index the separate image pages but serve it just the master one, then you won’t have problems.

Alternatively, you might want to add more content to an image page, such as Related Stuff, Similar Galleries, etc. to make it fatter and please Google. The problem with this approach is that this could lead to decreased keyword density and as a result, to lower rankings.

Pagination Best Practices

Pagination best practices aren’t difficult to implement but if you skip them, you will soon experience all of the disasters improperly implemented pagination can lead to. Here are some tips how to avoid this.

1. When to Use Pagination

There isn’t a universal rule but here are some general suggestions that work for most of us.

If you use article pagination, then you can draw the line at a specific point, site wide, or at the end of a section of the article. The end of section approach is more logical but it can create pages with drastically varying lengths.

With forums and blog comments, it’s best if you page after 10 to 20 posts/comments. Sure, if the posts/comments are long, 20 of them won’t fit on one screen but this is still OK. Some scrolling is more acceptable than constantly clicking Next, Next, Next, so stick to the 10 to 20 posts/comments guideline.

As for categories pagination, I’d recommend to move to a new page after you get 50-70 links. Some authors recommend 100 links or so but this is way too much, especially if viewed on a mobile device.

2. Always Create a Table of Contents for Paginated Articles

I guess it goes without saying but since I frequently see this being skipped, let me include it here — always create a Table of Contents (TOC) for paginated articles.

Don’t assume readers will read every single page of your paginated article in the order it’s published. Very often readers will read the introduction, then they will want to jump straight to a section that interests them, skipping everything before it.

If you don’t give them the chance to do that (i.e. if you have no TOC from where they can pick the section they are interested in), you will most likely lose them right after the intro.

Put the TOC in a visible place — under the headline, or in a box next to the first paragraph. Don’t forget to include the TOC on every page of the article, so that users can move back and forward in the article as they please.

If you are using WordPress, then you might like the WP Table of Paginated Contents plugin. It handles all the TOC creation issues for you and provides many customization options. With this plugin, your TOC will look similar to the following:

A table of contents with two links at the top to "the first section" and "the third section". Below is a list of three links, one for each section.

3. Don’t Forget the View All Page

I’ve mentioned multiple times through this article that a “View All” page solves many of the SEO problems that stem from pagination.

A single “View All” page where all of the paginated sections are displayed is not only good for printing and for those users who don’t mind scrolling, it also prevents SEO disasters.

Forums are the only exception to the rule because with them a “View All” page is pointless. With forums, you just need to stick to separate pages — there’s no way around it.

When you create the “View All” page, tell Google to index it and not the other pages. In order to avoid the duplicate content penalty, always use noindex for the separate pages.

After the crawler visits your site, you might want to double check in Google if it displays the View All page only, or if the separate pages are indexed as well. This might seem like too much hassle but getting penalized for duplicate content is not pretty.

4. If Necessary, Use rel=“prev” and rel=“next”

If you have good reasons that you can’t use a “View All” page, or if the type of pagination you use simply doesn’t allow for such a page, then you must always use rel=“prev” and rel=“next” to tell Google to index all pages in the series.

These HTML attributes tell Google the sequence of pages to index. However, you need to know that Google bot may or may not follow them, so don’t be too sure all your pages will be indexed.

03 - Rel Next Rel Prev

More information about how to use rel=“prev” and rel=“next” can be found here.


Pagination does have its difficulties in terms of usability and SEO but these are not too difficult to overcome. Yes, if you don’t apply pagination correctly, this could lead to problems, such as decreased crawler depth, duplicate content, or thin content. However, if you follow some simple pagination best practices, you can enjoy the benefits of pagination without worrying about your site’s usability or your ranking with search engines.

  • DaneeL

    Great article! Can you also share your thoughts on how to handle search result pages? Thanks!

    • adaivanoff

      Hey DaneeL, what do you mean by “search result pages”? You mean when users search using the search box on a site or is it something else?

      • DaneeL

        Hey, sorry it was misleading. Yes, I mean when you have a search box on your site.

        • adaivanoff

          Basically, this kind of search results are not very different from any other paginated content. Since search produces results to pages that are already indexed by Google, then nofollow is a must because of the duplicate content penalty. However, there is no need of a View All page – first because this one might be a pretty long one and second, if this View All page gets indexed it will all be duplicate content.

  • Anas Youbi

    Thanks for this article. Is there any particular approach if using AnglarJS or any other javascript MVC ?

    • adaivanoff

      I’m sorry, I can’t be of much help here because I am not that familiar with JavaScript and have no idea how AngularJS etc. deal with this. The basic rules – View All and noindex – stay the same but have no idea about the technical nitty-gritties how exactly to do it with JS. Maybe the JavaScript gurus could help but unfortunately I am not one of them. :)

  • Dave

    I’m not sure I understand the point of having Google only index the View all page – that means that anyone finding your article through Google will go to the view all page rather than the paginated version. In which case, what is the point in paginating the article in the first place? I realise that Google is not the be-all and end-all of traffic sources, but for many it is the most significant.

    • adaivanoff

      Basically it’s a tradeoff. You paginate because the content is too long to fit on one page – this is user-unfriendly. I’ve seen many sites that don’t have a View All page for their pagenated content and when I open them from a search engine, they open on page 2, 3, 5, etc. They either don’t know about View All, or paginated segments work for them and they don’t bother to change this. View All is not mandatory but it works better in many aspects. It’s nice to do not only for articles but for other types of paginated content not only because of Google but because you give your users a chance to see everything on one page, be it a very long one, rather than click through the series.

      • Dave

        Yes, but if anyone who clicks through from a search engine is going to see the view all version, then what is the point in paginating the article in the first place? I doubt many users after landing on the view all version, would then decide to click through to the paginated version. (Unless your view-all is just a basic print-friendly version with a big message to click through to the paginated version to see it properly).

        • adaivanoff

          Everything you say is quite so. When users get to the View All pages, they will hardly go to the paginated one but they might visit other pages on site. View All is really a very basic, no-frills, printer-friendly page – if it isn’t this just makes the idea completely useless.
          Another advantage of View All pages is that all equal, they should be ranking better for your keywords than separate pages because they are longer (and Google loves longer items) and there are no distractions (i.e. footer, sidebars, and other stuff you usually find on a typical site page), hence better keyword density. Also, if you manage to get backlinks to the View All page, this helps even more.
          I remember seeing in a forum or on a blog about the use of some sort of redirects – i.e. users find the View All page and they are interested in say paragraph 2 on page 2. When they click the result in Google, they are taken to page 2, not the View All. Technically this is possible but I am not quite sure if Google won’t condemn the practice as cheating because basically you serve one page to humans and a different one to search engines. I myself wouldn’t do this because I think it’s too risky – you never know with Google.

          • Dave

            Thanks very much for taking the time to reply, that really clarifies things for me. And thanks for the article in the first place too!

          • adaivanoff

            You are welcome! :) I forgot to write that for image gallery pagination, the View All page is just great because when you put thumbnails of the images there, it’s only natural for the user to click on the thumbnail to see the larger image. With image galleries pagination is easier in this aspect but with articles and categories it’s a different story.

  • Instead of blocking search engines from pages, can’t you use a canonical link?

    • adaivanoff

      From what I know about canonical links, they help with duplicate content but in other cases – i.e. the same post published under multiple categories, for example. If you put a canonical link to the View All page, then no duplicate content issues, so in this aspect you can choose to go this way, if you don’t want to block search engines in other ways.

  • John Allred

    Great idea! I find this very interesting and up-to-date. So simple message and yet provide a very solid advice.

Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.