There’s a lot of confusion around when and how to use it. If you’re an eCommerce WordPress Website owner unsure of how to organize your web pages, or you just have no idea what we’re talking about, this guide is for you.
- What is pagination?
- How is pagination connected to SEO?
- Different pagination options.
- Common pagination issues and how to solve them.
- Some pagination best practices.
What Is Pagination?
To recap: Pagination is the method of separating digital content into different pages on a website to provide a positive user experience and continuity for users and search engines. It’s handy for listings, such as eCommerce category pages, search engine results pages, article archives, and photo galleries.
Technically, it’s achieved by placing attributes in category page body content and within the head section of HTML. It sounds complicated, but attributes are simply descriptions that dictate certain aspects of an element. With a computer coding language like HTML, we use attributes to tell search engines to take a specific action, like not crawling a URL, for example.
In the case of pagination, specific attributes let search engines know which content should be part of a series or set, so they can assign indexing properties to the entire series, rather than just one page.
How does this work in reality? Think about the majority of eCommerce websites. It’s impossible for them to store all their information on a single page. With eCommerce pagination, these websites can split the information across multiple pages providing a better user experience and easier navigation.
Pagination is a core feature and standard practice of WordPress websites and blogs. In the context of WordPress, it prevents users from having to load all posts at once when they click on your website. Usually, page numbers are located at the bottom of a webpage, allowing users to page back and forth between multiple pages of content.
Or consider a multipage blog with graphs, images, and interactive media. If the post is too long, as in it warrants infinite scrolling, readers may never reach the end, even if the content is enthralling. Now, you might posit the easiest solution is to summarize the content.
However, long-form content is better for SEO and gets an average of 77% more links than short articles. The simple solution is pagination which lets you logically divide the content into smaller pieces for easier reading. And it’s not just for blogs. Product pages are applicable here too.
Visit any eCommerce website, and visitors typically navigate between pages by clicking links in the form of numbers located at the bottom of a page. The paginated content is typically related to a common theme or purpose, like trainers or pants, for example.
Paginated pages positively affect SEO as they reduce the likelihood of duplicate pages. In addition, when implemented properly, good pagination allows search engine crawlers to fully comprehend the structure of websites and rank them accordingly.
A paginated structure also improves site readability for users, especially if they are scrolling through posts or products and services.
Just bear in mind if you want to paginate customized content sections, you’ll need to use a WordPress plugin. While all WordPress websites come with pagination, they tend to be somewhat limited.
How Are Paginated Pages and WordPress SEO Connected?
Pagination for eCommerce improves online customer behavior. Most users prefer structured websites, especially when it comes to eCommerce sites where there are numerous and almost identical product pages.
Therefore, it enhances the quality of a website’s usability. It makes it far easier for users to read information, and it improves a page’s loading speed. Google has stated the loading speed threshold for eCommerce stores should be under two seconds, and with each additional second of load time, eCommerce website conversion rates drop by an average of 4.42%.
Pagination also has to do with the architecture of your website’s internal links. Search engines crawl websites and rank them according to click depth, i.e., the number of clicks needed to get to deeper pages. Homepages have a depth of 0, and any page linked from the homepage has a depth of 1, and so on.
If pagination is incorrectly implemented, it can expand the crawl depth of key website pages, increasing the number of clicks required to reach these pages. This immediately diminishes as webpage’s visibility because pages with over three clicks from the home page are less likely to be crawled at all, regardless of their SEO.
Search engine bots have what we call a crawl budget. This is the number of URLs bots are prepared to crawl on your website, which is determined based on numerous factors such as website size, health, and popularity.
For example, if your eCommerce website has a crawl budget of 50 URLs, but your website has 500 URLs, then 450 URLs won’t be crawled, indexed, or ranked! This is partly why Google recommends a page has no more than 100 URLs (external and internal), so search engines can quickly penetrate deeper into the website’s architecture.
So, to summarize: Pagination improves navigation and user experience, technical website performance, and SEO crawlability.
WordPress Pagination Options
As a vital interaction control, pagination needs to be designed carefully, so users can toggle information with ease. There are several creative and functional options available to navigate content displayed on multiple pages:
- Standard Next/previous links: Simple, dynamic links, usually displayed at the bottom of the page, that allows users to navigate to the next or previous page. There are various options here, like displaying a maximum of 12 links at a time, having links change color when your mouse hovers over them and using dots instead of numbers for links, etc.
- Infinite scroll: A pagination technique that allows users to scroll through a massive chunk of content with no finishing line in sight. The page simply keeps refreshing when you scroll down it. Infinite scroll suits mobile internet use (vertical scrolling), however, it won’t work for every app or site.
- Expandable list view: This pagination type displays multiple types of data based on category and subcategory in a vertically scrolling two-level navigation layout.
Common Pagination Issues and How to Fix Them
Poor pagination affects WordPress SEO most visibly in URLs, page crawling, and duplicate and thin content.
Below are some common pagination errors that can and should be fixed for improved SEO and SERP ranking. Many of them have a domino effect, meaning if you resolve one issue, it will improve another.
Thin content is broadly defined as website content with little value and sometimes occurs when a single article is split across multiple pages, resulting in too little content on each page.
Other times it’s due to scrapped or spun content. This is when websites republish content from other sites without adding original content or value, or use AI software to rewrite found articles in an attempt to be “original” and deceive search engines.
The solution is to put a UX-friendly amount of content on each page. Hiring a professional eCommerce website development expert can really help because they’ll know how to meet the technical requirements when implementing pagination, as well as how to make the design user-friendly and content-rich.
Google bots get content from several pages and then decide which one is canonical, i.e., the best representative page that matches user intent. Therefore, you need to ensure your paginated pages have unique content with appropriate keywords.
This means if products are in the same category, their individual description on each product page must be different.
There’s always a possibility some elements in paginated pages will have duplicate content. In fact, it’s quite common for eCommerce websites to suffer from these types of pagination errors.
For example, identical meta descriptions, title tags, or product pages with similar content. Duplicate content confuses search engines as they don’t know which one to prefer and serve in SERPs. Often, they’ll rank one and not the other.
All pages in a pagination series should have their own self-referencing canonical tag. A canonical tag tells search engines that a specific URL represents the master copy of a page. Thus, canonical URLs indicate which version of a URL should appear in search results and helps prevent duplicate content.
Ranking Signal Dilution and High Crawl Depth
A massive amount of paginated content increases your website’s URLs and reduces page rank ability in search engines because link equity is diluted across many pages. Because pagination adds more clicks to pages from the homepage, a loss in authority is passed to deeper pages within the site architecture.
For example, when sites with authority link to your website, it indicates to Google that your website is also high authority. However, when websites use pagination, this authority is split across pages.
One way to solve this is to reduce click depth. Thus, you need to reduce the number of links from the pagination landing page to the specific paginated pages. (Ideally, no more than three clicks from the homepage.)
Achieving a shallow link depth gets paginated pages crawled and indexed more frequently, reducing crawl depth, and allowing pages linked to form pagination to stand a better chance at ranking in Google Search for relevant user queries.
Websites with high crawl depths can also be fixed by using categories. They enable many articles to be categorized in one click and prevent crawl bots from randomly finding content. Categories can also be used directly to improve WordPress SEO, especially if the category label is a high-ranking long-tail keyword.
Incorrect Canonical URLs
A canonical tag (aka “rel canonical”) is a snippet of HTML code that tells search engines a specific URL that represents the master copy of a page. Many people use canonical tags the wrong way.
For example, let’s say you have a category landing page with ten results per page, and five pages for pagination, which total to 50 listings cut up among five pages.
People often make the mistake of using the canonical tag to communicate to Google to redirect pages 2, 3, 4, 5, etc., to page 1. But, technically, they shouldn’t use a canonical tag because it signals to search engines that there’s only one page that matters.
So unless you implement a View-All Page (see the next section), to reemphasize, each page within a paginated series should have a self-referencing canonical. You can use Google Search Console to check Google is crawling the right URLs.
Paginated Pages With Noindex Tags
Noindex tags are frequently used by webmasters to tell search engines not to include specific pages in search results or to avoid duplicate content.
However, when a noindex directive is set on a URL with pagination elements (rel=next/prev), search engines perceive the instruction to cancel indexing for the entire list.
This may cause pages to become unavailable for scanning whereby they won’t get indexed. In the worst-case scenario, other pages that are linked from your paginated pages could be removed from Google’s index altogether.
Uncrawlable Pagination Links
Google bots only follow links if they find them. However, not all coded links can be crawled by search engines. So, even if you can click on a link, and it takes you to another page, that doesn’t necessarily mean search engines can do the same.
A crawlable link, according to Google standards, must be coded with:
- An anchor tag;
- A href attribute;
- A URL, and a
- Closing tag
Search engines only deem links relevant when relevant anchor text surrounds the tag. An example of crawlable link code looks like this:
Google’s URL inspection tool is the best way to test whether your eCommerce site’s links are crawlable.
eCommerce websites with thousands of products often have faceted navigation that allows users to filter content using their preferred attributes. However, these filters can create an infinite number of crawlable and indexable URLs that create massive duplicate content issues.
If indexing issues are affecting your website, then the best solution is to use the canonical tag. It consolidates link signals for similar/duplicate pages into the URL you specify as canonical.
Should this fail, you can set URL parameters in Google Search Console to optimize crawling. Block unwanted URLs from being indexed with the noindex robots meta tag or discourage crawling of particular URL patterns with a robots.txt file.
A side note: You should only use noindex robots meta tag and robots.txt files for non-paginated pages.
More Tips to Improve WordPress Pagination SEO
Implementing pagination, which is about having the right links to get users to the right pages, is deceptively detailed and complex. However, you can make the process easier by following these tips below:
Add a View-All Page
A View-All page lists the content of all paginated pages on a single document. Google claims to detect View-All Pages, as well as rank them higher than their paginated counterparts.
They have also stated searchers “preferred a single-page version of content over a component page containing only a portion of the same information with arbitrary page breaks (which cause the user to click “next” and load another URL).”
If a view-all page isn’t appropriate for your eCommerce site, you can use the rel=”next” and rel=”prev” attribute to instruct Google to identify the series of pages and still show the component page in search results.
Don’t Include Pagination Pages in Your XML Sitemap
An XML sitemap is a list of your website’s URLs. Even though paginated URLs are technically indexable, they aren’t an SEO priority, so it’s not worthwhile including them as it increases crawl depth. For any page with pagination, link to the View-All version instead. Of course, you should include the content itself, so the products, or blogs or whatever you are paginating.
Link Pages Sequentially
You always want to make sure search engines understand the relationship between pages of paginated content. To achieve this, include links from each page to the following page using a href tags. This helps Google bots find subsequent pages.
Also, consider linking from all individual pages in a collection back to the first page of the collection to emphasize the start of the collection to search engines. This lets Google know that the first page of a collection is likely a better landing page than the one that follows.
Control Keyword Cannibalization
Keyword cannibalization occurs when eCommerce websites have too many identical or similar keywords spread throughout their content. Therefore, you need to make sure paginated pages are not competing with the root page in search results.
Using relevant internal linking and anchor text around the first paginated page provides strong signals to search engines around which page you want to rank for specific keywords and topics.
Consider User Experience
A lot of what we’ve touched on is geared towards improving crawling and indexing, which has an impact on user experience. Yet, when you implement pagination, you should consider on-page user experience.
We’ve already mentioned users tend to respond better to a single page of content. Although this might be impossible, you can still provide them with some control by setting parameters for the number of records (products, for example) viewed per page.
So, you might let them decide to view 10 or 25, or 50 products. Potential users have their own idiosyncratic patterns when browsing online. This type of thoughtful flexibility filters down to all design considerations and can cultivate greater user satisfaction.
While WordPress plugins make pagination optimization easier, it is useful to have some technical know-how. As a rule of thumb, always stick to simple navigation. If you have a WordPress eCommerce store and need to improve or implement pagination, we can help.