SEO - Working With Paginated Content on the Web

By: Daniel Imbellino
Updated: Jan 28, 2013

So what happens if you write an article and span that article across several webpage’s? How will these pages appear in search results within search engines? The answer is, any one of these pages could show up, or all of them for that matter. This is known as paginated content, and as confusing as it may seem there are simple things you can do to let search engines know how you want your content presented to users within search results. Maybe you only want the first page of an article to appear to users. Here I’m going to show you how you can set directives in your HTML that will help to let search engines know how you want them to handle your pages sequence.

Our example will consist of 4 pages about xbox 360 games. We will name our pages:

xbox-games-part-one.html

xbox-games-part-two.html

xbox-games-part-three.html

xbox-games-part-four.html

Assuming we are starting with the first xbox page, you would declare a special link tag within the head section of the document, like so:

<link rel=”next” href="http://example.com/xbox-games-part-two.html"/>

The “rel” attribute simply means “releationship”, and we are referring to the relationship between this document and another, in this case our second xbox games page. We follow the “rel” attribute with the corresponding URL of the file who’s relationship to this one that we are referring too.

Now from the head section of the second xbox games document we can refer to the next preceding document as well as the previous document, like so:

<link rel=”next” href="http://example.com/xbox-games-part-three.html"/>

<link rel=”prev” href="http://example-com/xbox-games-part-one.html"/>

Notice we use the “rel=”next” attribute and attribute value to point to the next preceding xbox games document, which would be part 3. Also notice we indicated another attribute value, “link rel=”prev”, which points to the previous page of our 4 page article.

Now we move onto to page 3:

<link rel=”next” href="http://example.com/xbox-games-part-four.html"/>

<link rel=”prev” href="http://example.com/xbox-games-part-two.html"/>

And the last page, part 4:

<link rel=”prev” href="http://example.com/xbox-games-part-three.html"/>

Notice with the last page we only needed to reference the one prior page to it, which was part three since there are no more preceding pages to account for.

Now what we’ve done is used the “rel=”next” and “rel=”prev” attribute value pairs to tell search engines how we want them to take preference when considering which pages to return to users within their results pages. Keep in mind though, using these attributes and their values is only considered a suggestion of how you want your content to be handled and displayed. Search engines generally intend to return results to users that are the most relevant to a particular search query, and in some cases search engines may return, say page four if it were to contain the most relevant information to the user. In cases where you feel you really need the user to read the article from the beginning, it just makes to set these directives before publishing your content to the web.

In some cases your site may be returned in search results using a number of different URL’s for the same page, such as returning a page as, www.example-website.com, or “example.com” without the www included. When referencing your pages you should use URL you prefer for your domain as it you would like it to be returned in search results when specifying your relationships between webpage’s.

In other cases it’s possible your webpage’s may be returned in search engines using www and non www URL’s. In this case you should either use 301 redirects or use the “canonical link tag” in head section of your HTML documents so that Google and others can see which is your preferred domain for all your sites pages. It’s best to use server side 301 redirects but you can by all means use the canonical tag as well. Your canonical domain is considered your “preferred domain.”

You should also tell Google what your preferred address is for your site, whether being www or non www. You can do this from your webmaster tools account by adding both the www and non www versions of your site, and choosing the preferred version by clicking your site from the homepage, clicking configuration, settings, and then setting the preferred domain for your website by checking the corresponding box for your choice.

If your pages are returned in search engines using multiple URL’s, and you are unable to implement 301 redirects for your pages, then you can add the canonical tag to your pages head section like so:

<link rel=”canonical” href="http://example-site.com"/>

Or with www:

<link rel=”canonical” href="http://www.example-site.com"/>

You can also use the the “rel=”next”, and “rel=”prev” attribute values along with the “rel=”canonical” attribute like so:

<link rel=”next” href="http://www.your-site.com/page-two.html"/>

<link rel=”canonical” href="http://www.your-site.com/page-one.html"/>

Now we have given a directive to various search engines as what sequence we want our pages to follow as well as what our preferred domain should be. It’s a really good idea to make sure that your site and its pages are all returned using the same URL structure since, when other pages link their relavent content to your content, Google and others see these links as being “votes” for your site and its content. This is known as page rank, and if links are pointing to multiple URL’s, such as "www.my-site.com/xbox-games-part-one.html", and http://my-site.com/xbox-games-part-one.html”, these could be seen as being two separate URL’s and the page rank could effectively be divided between both of them, despite they point to the same exact page! You would most likely want all your backlinks (votes) to be pointing to one domain and to individual URL’s, not two, three, or four separate URL’s that all point to the same place.

Just be sure to implement the “rel” attribute using a link tag within the head section of your document when declaring this, it will not work anywhere else in your HTML.

If you are not sure how Google or other engines are returning your content to users, you can use the “site:search” parameter in any search engine to see how your domains pages have been indexed.

You could use “site:http://my-website.com” without the quotes in order to see if any of your pages are indexed as being non-www.

Or you could use the “site:www.my-website.com” again, without the quotes, to see if your sites pages have been indexed using the www parameter.

Now if you do have canonical link issues (meaning you have duplicate URL’s for the same pages), you can use the canonical link tag to help resolve the issue. It takes time to see these changes appear in search result pages, and Google seems to take sometimes months before the changes will appear, but they will happen.


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