What is Pagination: A Beginners Guide to SEO

Websites come in all sizes. From straightforward, single-page websites to robust e-commerce websites with dozens or hundreds of pages, there is no one-size-fits-all for web design. When you have a website with multiple pages, pagination is the intentional organization of those pages to benefit the user experience.

What is Pagination, Exactly?

Think of browsing the website of your favorite retailer. When you click on a product category, dozens of thumbnail pictures are displayed representing different products. But it is likely that the entire catalog simply won’t fit on a single page without endless scrolling. The typical presentation is to show a handful of items with page number or arrow buttons towards the bottom to advance through additional pages of products. Pagination is the arrangement of content across multiple pages in order to present a well-organized and manageable selection of content.

Related: Beginners Guide to SEO

Why You Should Use Pagination

Pagination is effective at organizing large amounts of content to improve the user experience. While your visitors want to see a large selection of merchandise or information, they don’t want to be bombarded or overwhelmed. Pagination helps e-commerce websites sell more products, and service-based websites secure more leads.

web design sketch

How Pagination Affects Search Engine Ranking

The word on the street is that users prefer single-page content. And that might lead some people to believe that paginated websites get dinged just for having multiple pages. Major search engines like Google says that isn’t true. But there are some things that some sites tend to do in conjunction with pagination that does hurt their rankings. Here is what to watch out for.

Overwhelming Search Bots

Search engines use bots to crawl and index all of the pages on every website so that they can categorize web pages and show them in relevant search results. Extensive, paginated websites simply overwhelm search bots which results in ineffective crawling. Instead of essential indexing pages on the website, the search bots will follow paths dictated by the pagination, and that hurts page ranking. The fix is to prioritize pages on paginated sites to tell search engines which pages should be crawled.

Waters Down Content Quality

Search engines reward websites with unique, thorough content on all web pages. As paginated sites add more pages, the content quality becomes considerably lower. It is ok to use pagination as long as you are not spreading too little content over too many pages. E-commerce websites can focus on providing high-quality product descriptions that meet word count targets in order to keep the amount of unique, high-quality content comparable to the number of web pages.

Related: Website Management Tips for Your Small Business

Creates Duplicate Content

Another penalty that is associated with low-quality websites is duplicate content. Many e-commerce websites make the mistake of duplicating product descriptions with only minor changes across hundreds of web pages. The fix for duplicate content strikes on paginated pages is to focus on variety in meta descriptions, H1 tags, anchor text, and CTA’s.

Diluted Ranking Signals

Another indicator that search engines use to assess the street cred of a website is how many high-authority domains link to that site. The more pages that a website contains, the more links it needs to impact ranking signals.

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Examples of Paginated Pages

Pagination is well-utilized across the world wide web. From news websites and e-commerce to music or video services, there are many websites with the need to use pagination. On news websites, the most common example of pagination is story previews. You will often see the first paragraph or two of a story with an opt-in to finish the story.

Any website that features a catalog for products, music, or movies is another example of pagination. How about a website builder service that features a catalog of templates? Category pages show a selection of templates with different page numbers or arrows at the bottom of the page to expand the selection available.

browsing a paginated website on a laptop

How to Use Pagination Correctly

Even though there are plenty of pitfalls to tank search engine ranking when using pagination, don’t give up. There are many cases when pagination is necessary and preferred for the user experience. Could you imagine all of the products in the Walmart catalog on a single web page?

Here is what to do to get it right:

Provide Unique, Relevant Content on Every Page

Copy and pasting product descriptions isn’t going to cut it. If you use pagination, make sure that all pages contain enough useful content to justify using separate web pages. Meta descriptions, header tags, anchor text, and CTA’s are the most important. Also, consider varying content formatting on product description pages.

Related: Organization Strategies for Your Small Business

Use Keywords

Keywords are essential on all web pages. But on paginated sites, how keywords are used is even more important. Keywords on subpages should be used as anchor text that links back to top-level pages. And keyword varieties should be used generously to keep pages from competing with each other.

Page Order is Important

Link your most important information and most popular pages to the main level or landing pages. Less essential pages can link from subpages. Paginated websites contain many pages, often too many for search engine bots to index effectively. Page order is currently the best way to dictate which pages should be indexed.

The Bottom Line on Pagination

Although some naysayers may voice compelling opinions against paginated websites, there are dozens of reasons why it is necessary to use pagination. When comparing all of the pros and cons of pagination, consider user design as the most important factor. If using pagination will improve the experience for visitors and keep them from getting overwhelmed, then it’s a no-brainer.