Mobile SEO: PaginationMarch 4, 2011
Mobile SEO: Pagination – Articles & eCommerce
There is a divide in the mobile community about the value of pagination. Pagination is the act of breaking long articles into multiple urls or pages on the web. It was quite popular in the early days of ‘web’ and was also quite popular in the early days of ‘mobile web’ but I am not convinced that it will stay around for long. There are strategic costs and benefits on both sides, so it requires a deeper look.
Let’s start by reviewing the reasons that people decide to use pagination. The first and simplest warrant is that some people believe that pagination improves the user experience; they surmise that people are less likely to quit reading an article that appears to be short or less likely to get lost in long articles if content is split among multiple pages. Another less obvious reason to break an article into multiple pages is that shorter pages load more quickly, which is quite important in the mobile world. This is especially true if there are lots of images included in the article. The last justification is that with the topics of an article sub-divided among multiple pages there is more possibility for ranking one article on a larger variety of terms.
My prediction is that the pagination trend in mobile will [continue to] fade. This is mostly based on empirical evidence from the traditional web; as traditional internet access got faster and faster, the impact that extra text and images on the page had to load time became negligible. Beyond that, the search algorithm began to give more preference to a consolidation of SEO value on one page, rather than favoring sites based on the number of pages and internal links. At about the same time, external link-counts became much more important, and splitting links-counts across a higher number of pages became a disadvantage.
I believe that we are following the same path with mobile as we did in traditional web. The network speeds and rendering capabilities on mobile phones are constantly improving; load time is becoming less of a concern in the mobile user experience, and would not be greatly impacted by the simple removal from text on a page (though lots of images and heavy code are totally a different story). Mobile rendering has come a very long way from the WAP-web, which was unformatted black and white text meant for very slow connection speeds. Now, things like true-web-rendering and mobile-specific design make articles (even long ones) pretty easy to read without getting lost.
Pagination for Long Articles
I tend to believe that pagination creates a bad user experience, especially for articles, because all of the pages in an article have the opportunity to rank in search engines, but users who click-through are forced to start an article in the middle. Unless the article has been updated to accommodate this kind of situation, it can be quite confusing, and even frustrating.
Pagination for Mobile eCommerce
It is rare that I will suggest pagination – at least for long articles. But pagination also comes up on things that are harder to SEO for, like search results pages or product list pages within a site. This is common, when there are a large number of results for a product search, so they are the results are broken onto multiple pages. Often, you given options for how many products you would like to see on a page, and you can click through the pages of products just like you would click from page one to page two of search results in Google. In this case pagination makes much more sense, but how do you optimize those pages that in a way that is good for mobile search engines? There are a couple tactics.
Your Mobile Pagination Strategy
If you decide to use pagination on your mobile site the first option is what I like to call ‘Close Your Eyes and Cross Your Fingers;’ (CYECYF for short). With this tactic, you simply break the article or the product results into pages, and optimize each of them to the best of your ability. In this strategy, the hopes are that all of the various pages rank on their own accord for their own set of keywords. This could happen, especially if the keywords that you are targeting are relatively niche or long-tail. This is actually much more likely to happen in long articles (as compared to ecommerce), because you will naturally create unique sets of keywords to target for each page, based on the material that is covered in that section of the article. It is much more difficult if you are trying to optimize five pages of similar product results pages – for instance, five pages of lawnmowers will all compete against each other for the same set of keywords.
The second option, which I think is generally preferable for both articles and ecommerce, is to push all the SEO value to the first page of the article or product results page using a canonical tag. This has two primary benefits; first, users will never be delivered to the middle of an article, and have to page backward to get to the beginning of the article or a set of product listings. Second, you do not split the links or SEO value among multiple pages, but instead you consolidate it all into one page. The first page will have more potential to make it to top search engine results when the SEO value is consolidated than multiple pages would with the same amount of value divided between them.
Beyond using the canonical tag, easiest way to do this is actually by going against some SEO Best Practices on all of the pages after the first page of the pagination. Do this by creating dynamic file name that place information about the page into the address bar. If you are generating product pages, you can actually pass number variables into the address bar to control the page. You can take this a step further by adding the dynamic controls into the urls of the subsequent pages after a hash tag (#). This will essentially push all the value of the multiple pages to the primary page because search engines don’t index anything in a url that is put after a hash tag.