Google has this week launched new advice on how to mark up a series of related pages in order to allow it to better understand the relationship between those pages. This could offer you the benefit of consolidating the pages into a single page for ranking calculations - which could be very helpful to say the least. Examples of pages that may gain from using this markup, which involves using rel=prev and rel=next tags in a page's head section, are
- an article or forum thread spread across multiple pages, perhaps to derive greater advertising revenues or keep the text short and easy to consume
- a product category consisting of so many products that they can't fit on one page. An example would be a top level category such as "Family Cars", before many filters had been applied to create smaller sub-categories that could easily fit on a page (e.g. "red 1.8L diesel automatic Volkswagen family cars near Kettering")
For more details on how to implement these tags see Google Webmaster Central: Pagination with rel=“next” and rel=“prev”. The article is well-written and gives very clear implementation advice. It includes a reference to a related Google post, Google Webmaster Central: View-all in search results, which describes how a rel=canonical tag can be used to specify a "View-all page", which is simply a single-page version of the content that may be presented elsewhere as a series of pages. Google makes the claim in this article that "searchers much prefer the View-all, single-page version of content".
But do searchers much prefer View-all pages? I'm sure they do if the View-all page is relatively short. Using a couple of Google's own examples of where rel=prev and rel=next may be useful, however:
- a forum thread spread across multiple pages. I moderate forums and some threads can easily spread to 1000 or more responses. It's unlikely a member would want all of these on a single page for viewing
- a product category consisting of many products. Again, a top level category could easily consist of over 1000 products.
It's interesting to note that a typical Google search yields millions of results and Google will display up to 1000 of them, by default across 100 pages at 10 results to a page. Google isn't implementing a View-all page there!
I think the example that Google really has in mind when they state that searchers "prefer the View-all version of content" is the article that might spread over three pages or so: reducing that to one page for indexing. This seems a fine idea.
But what to do about the long forum threads and product categories? Should we create View-all pages for those? I think not. Such pages could be too big and unwieldy, and could take too long too load, which (especially given that load time is now a ranking factor) could work against the SEO rather than for it.
Another option would be to create a View-all page containing less information, e.g. a cut down version of each post in the forum or each product in the category. This might be a good solution. Bear in mind, however, that Google is looking to rank this View-all page in preference to a paginated page, so
- don't cut out content that contains long-tail keywords for ranking and
- make sure if this page is going to rank well that it's a good landing page that can help the searcher achieve what you want them to achieve on your site
Another option is to deploy this strategy:
- if your default posts or products "per-page" count is a small number (such as 10 products/page), consider changing it to a bigger number now (such as 50). This will reduce the number of pages in your page sequences dramatically. It will also increase the size of each page but technology has moved on - the 10 number became the standard when the Web was a lot slower than it is now and 50 seems a more appropriate number to me. It's a good number of products to compare in one go, for example.
- once you have shorter series of larger pages, use the rel=prev and rel=next tags as described by Google.
- If it's a product sequence, add a rel=canonical tag to each page in the series to make the URL of the first page in the series the canonical URL. It's OK to do this for a product sequence, as Google's rel=canonical documentation stated that "the sort order of a table of products" was an acceptable use of a rel=canonical tag. Since it's unlikely you would want to change the sort order of a set of article pages or forum posts, it wouldn't be as good to use a canonical tag on those series versus a product sequence.
For example, let's suppose you currently have a category of Family Cars that consists of 238 cars with 10 cars per page giving a series of 24 pages with the following URLs:
Here's what you could do:
- Increase the default number of cars per page from 10 to 50. Now only 5 pages are needed to cover the series: /cars/family/1 ... /cars/family/5
- Add a rel=next tag to /cars/family/1, a rel=prev tag to /cars/family/5, and both a rel=prev and a rel=next tag to the intervening three pages, as described by Google
- Add rel=canonical tags to all five pages, citing /cars/family/1 as the canonical URL.