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Pagination in 2020 – Modern websites and testing your paginated series

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

Pagination was a major discussion in the SEO industry last year in March as Google announced it was retiring rel=prev/next as studies showed users preferred single-page content.

However, certain tests taking place before this announcement suggested that Googlebot hadn’t been using this function to discover paginated pages for a while before this update was announced.

Websites could be facing pagination issues most recently due to Google moving forward with mobile-first indexing and a website’s mobile version not implementing pagination in a way that Googlebot Smartphone can discover.

In this post, I want to explain..

  • Why pagination is still important in 2020
  • Misconceptions and issues with modern pagination
  • How to implement pagination that is good for user experience and search engines. 
  • How to test your website’s pagination

Why is pagination still important in 2020?

For anyone new to Technical SEO and/or focusing on pagination within SEO, pagination is the process of delivering content across a series of pages. Pagination allows websites to separate items such as products and articles.

Most websites that you visit on a day-to-day basis will have some reliance on its pagination to serve content to search engine robots, be that an ecommerce website with millions of products, or a news website with hundreds of articles going live daily.

Pagination is an important aspect of your website as it can dictate the way search engines discover products/articles on your website. Closing off your pagination from search engine robots would mean having to rely more on an internal linking structure elsewhere which could not currently exist. With no internal links to your products or articles, Google would not be able to index, and therefore, not be able to rank certain pages.

Misconceptions around modern pagination

There are a lot of misconceptions that pagination can cause duplicate content issues along with crawling and indexing issues.

John Mueller explains in this Webmaster Hangout that Google can identify a paginated series mainly through the way the paginated series is linked but also by headings and page titles.

To ensure to your pagination signals are as strong as possible, I would recommend to:

  • Introduce the page number in your page titles and H1s
    • “Page 2 | Category Name | Brand”
  • Remove body content from your paginated series to avoid duplicate content
  • Don’t include your paginated series in your XML sitemaps

Crawler and indexing considerations 

The main issue from a crawling and indexing focus is where Googlebot begins to guess URL patterns through your pagination such as ?page-30 / ?page-31 and these pages return a 200 status code, however, these pages are actually empty or present duplicate items to another page.

In order to avoid this issue, I would recommend on serving a 404 status code on pages that don’t exist within your paginated series

Issues with modern pagination

In 2019, Adam Gent of Deepcrawl produced the State of the web which highlighted that 65% websites tested had pagination that was not search friendly. 

From my personal experience, here are the most common examples of pagination not being implemented to the desired effect: 

Canonicalised to the main category

One of the most popular pagination methods I often see is aiming to consolidate the paginated series to one page using canonical tags. 

The main issue here is that if the canonical is accepted, all internal links to products/items across page 2 and onwards will be disregarded.

No-indexing your paginated series 

This a more severe scenario compared to the canonical scenario, which is to no-index your paginated series with the intention of allowing Google to still follow the links. However, John Mueller has confirmed that long term noindex, follow commands will eventually lead to a noindex, nofollow directive.

This approach has become more common due to the emergence of mobile-first web and users preferring single page content, however, this can cause issues with search engine robots as they don’t navigate like normal users.

In order to provide an SEO friendly solution to this, your page will need to provide anchor links to the paginated series which are accessible even without Javascript enabled. Our head of SEO, Petar, wrote around using pushState in 2017 and this is still relevant today. John Muller has also created a demo showcasing this functionality.

In summary, these examples are scenarios where a search engine isn’t able to crawl and index the paginated series, and therefore, will not be able to discover pages through this area. 

Does your website rely on pagination?

Identifying if your products/articles rely on your pagination will be a key part of your auditing process and within this section, we can identify if your website’s internal linking structure is reliant on pagination.

You may believe that even though your pagination adopts one of the approaches above, your range of category pages allows you to deliver a range of single page content which provides internal links to all pages, but I would recommend following the following steps to test out if this is the case. 

Step one – Run a crawl across your website using your favourite crawling software

Step two – Run a second a crawl but block the paginated series in the crawler set-up so your crawler can’t access them. 

This process should show you whether your product/articles pages rely on a paginated series. If they do, I would recommend prioritising search engines able to crawl and index your paginated series. 


Do not fear opening your pagination up for search engines to crawl! Pagination is a great way for your website to provide internal links to your products and articles. 

There are specific tasks you can do to optimise your pagination which helps Google identify your pages as a paginated series and make sure you’re not serving indexable empty pages within your series.

Avoid no-indexing your pagination as this means search engines won’t be able to discover pages unless they are internally linked to elsewhere. You can test this out by using crawling software.

With single page content becoming more popular in our mobile-first world, make sure your pagination is correctly aligned with this.

Do you have any pagination or wider Technical SEO questions? Hit me up on Twitter (@EddJTW)