I have worked with a lot of large retail clients (I do think this topic applies to most industries though) and this one has really been bugging me. What is the best way to deal with your pagination? Google basically says that you can use view all (they do recommend this one actually as #1), to see all the products that belong to that category (but don’t do this if the page will take too long to load), use rel next rel prev to connect all the products in the series of the pagination or rel canonical to push all the weight to your main category URL. But which one is performing better in the serps right now? Or is it one of those things that make sense to recommend in different situations? Well, in this post I try to answer that question. I have clear ideas on how to deal with this already, but am being objective for this study.
Page One Data
First, let’s take a look at what is ranking on page one for a query that would normally trigger a category.
Query: “Men’s Dress Shoes”
- This is an optimized category template with no pagination using rel canonical.
- On this page, Nordstrom has used a # in the URL. Google generally does not crawl anything after the # unless you add a ! to do a escape fragment optimization. So they also have a one URL strategy.
- Here we see a simple category template with infinite scroll. However, they have added rel next and rel prev on line 8048 in the code.
- This page uses rel canonical and does not have rel next rel prev. Also, it is interesting to note that it rel canonicals to page that is not ranking. Which is probably an error. <link rel=”canonical” href=”/dsw_shoes/Mens-Shoes/_/N-26zi” />
- Here we see a nice multilingual and multiregional optimization by Famous Footwear. They use rel next and rel prev.
- Shoebuy.com has a nice template with a rel canonical and no rel next and rel prev… I love templates like this…
- Here we see another international category optimization, complete with hreflang configuration. Aldo Shoes actually has no rel next or rel prev, or rel canonical. Also, if you go to a deeper page in their pagination their hreflang optimization is completely broken and throwing server error pages into the URL structure. This is a good example of something ranking, even though the optimization has errors.
- <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x-default” href=”http://www.aldoshoes.com/ca/en/serverErrorPage” />
- <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”fr-ca” href=”http://www.aldoshoes.com/ca/fr/serverErrorPage” />
- <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-us” href=”http://www.aldoshoes.com/us/en_US/serverErrorPage” />
- <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-ca” href=”http://www.aldoshoes.com/ca/en/serverErrorPage” />
- <link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-gb” href=”http://www.aldoshoes.com/uk/en_UK/serverErrorPage” />
- Next we have Amazon. Amazon does not have rel next rel prev. They do have a paginated series and map next using their own language in the code, but they do not have proper configuration. Google does not appear to have a cache of the paginated pages, so they are only seeing the main category page.
- Cole Haan is on the Demandware CMS, which is typical for retail, and they have a simple rel canonical with no connected pagination.
- Here we see a nice international URL structure, however, they do not have hreflang tag annotation in the HTML. I took the time to go through their index XML sitemap to see if they had hreflang annotations and there were none listed. Overall, the sitemaps were pretty bad…
- This site did have rel next and rel prev, however, they did not use the rel canonical annotation along with rel next and rel prev. This is not necessary, but many people do it.
- According to Google, “rel=”next” and rel=”previous” on the one hand and rel=”canonical” on the other constitute independent concepts. Both declarations can be included in the same page. For example, http://www.example.com/article?story=abc&page=2&sessionid=123 may contain:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.example.com/article?story=abc&page=2”/>
<link rel=”prev” href=”http://www.example.com/article?story=abc&page=1&sessionid=123″ />
<link rel=”next” href=”http://www.example.com/article?story=abc&page=3&sessionid=123″ />
Summing it Up
I know this is a really small study. I also know that external linking is a factor, brand strength and other on page ranking factors. But at the end of the day, here are the results.
- One page ranking strategy: 7
- Multiple page (rel next rel prev): 3
So here it goes… I am now going to give you my personal thoughts on the issue. A single URL, which a unique and well crafted template that is good for the user, ample products and has a variety of data, is going to rank better in most cases. I have seen this across many of our clients category rankings. However, if you have the correct technical optimization for rel next and rel prev and the products are all highly relevant (meaning that they reference the keyword you are optimizing the page for) inside of the text in the series, that has the opportunity to rank as well or better. At the end of the day, rel next shows depth, but you only want to show depth for a category if you can support that fully. Finally, I have seen a lot of errors with rel next and rel prev. So in most cases a one URL strategy, with an awesome template and specific products, is going to win the battle. Also, don’t be afraid to use hreflang for an international URL structure and language optimization. Google appreciates it and it can support healthy rankings.