Panic gripped the SEO community last month when Google announced not only that it was no longer recognising the rel=prev/next markup, but that it hadn’t been a factor in their indexing for several years!
Our intense feelings of betrayal at Google’s failure to disclose this information sooner had to be put to one side as we assessed the impact this earth-shattering news would have going forward. We at TSA Towers asked ourselves a number of questions:
- If this markup hasn’t been supported for a long time, why aren’t SERPs filled with multiple pages from the same pieces of content?
- What should we recommend going forward to mitigate against the issues we’ve been saying pagination markup resolves?
- What does Google’s decision to abandon rel=next/prev tell us about how it wants us to write content and build sites going forward?
- And finally, do we really have to tell our clients to unpick all pagination markup from their source code?
So, how is Google detecting pagination without the markup?
Google have been typically opaque about this, but it’s safe to assume their crawlers are now sophisticated enough to understand the relationship between paginated parts of a site without explicit direction. This is in line with other advances over the previous few years, all of which have brought crawlers’ understanding of sites closer to that of a human being’s.
Going forward, what should be recommended in lieu of rel=prev/next markup?
Since Google’s crawlers are getting closer and closer to seeing and using sites as you or I do, then the best approach is a user-centric one. Clarity is key – if your content is paginated, then it needs to be obvious to the user.
If you’re publishing content over multiple pages, be as on-the-nose as possible when directing the user to the next page by using a link labelled exactly that at the bottom of each part – don’t try to be clever and include it in the copy, or Google is likely to see two or more individual pages that don’t make a whole lot of sense.
Category pages on ecommerce sites and blogs should include prominent links to page two, three, four and as many others as can be included without compromising on the look of the site. Include an option to jump to the last page of the set alongside these.
Finally – and only if it makes sense to – consider including “part xx” or “page xx” in each part’s H1. Remember, if the pagination is clear to the user, then it’s clear to Google’s crawlers.
Through this decision, can we predict how Google wants us to present sites and content in the future?
No need to predict – Google have made it pretty clear. To quote: “Studies show that users love single-page content, aim for that when possible, but multi-part is also fine for Google Search.”
As we evaluated our indexing signals, we decided to retire rel=prev/next.
Studies show that users love single-page content, aim for that when possible, but multi-part is also fine for Google Search. Know and do what’s best for *your* users! #springiscoming pic.twitter.com/hCODPoKgKp
— Google Webmasters (@googlewmc) March 21, 2019
“Fine,” as I’ve learned from previous relationships, more than likely means “very much not fine.”
Consider the rapid changes in web usage habits since 2013 to 2014, and in particular Google’s 2018 confirmation that it would be rolling out mobile-first indexation, considering a site’s mobile experience before its desktop UX. How irritating is it to have to load five separate pages on a phone with a wibbly 4G connection just to read one piece of content?
Factor in the advantages that long-form content has over shorter pieces (something Google may perceive your paginated content as being) and you have yourself a no-brainer: Single-page, long-form content wins out every time.
The devs won’t be happy when I give them this news. Do I really have to tell them to remove the markup?
Hold your horses and leave that markup where it is. Bing and Yahoo still recognise rel=next/prev, so if you want to remain confident that the tiny percentage of your traffic that they represent is safe, it’s best that it stays put. Google will simply ignore the markup, so there won’t be any adverse effects.
On future projects, use time and resources that would have been spent implementing rel=prev/next to do things that we know for sure will benefit a site’s SEO. Then hope Google doesn’t stop supporting any of those without telling us.