Ah, pagination. On e-commerce sites, it’s mostly a holdover from back in the day when connection speeds were slower and it took a long time to load large pages. On content sites, it’s mostly a bid to ramp up page views.
Part 1: The Problem
Let’s quickly go through some of the SEO problems pagination can cause.
First, few people think to give each page of pagination its own title and description tag. And as we all know, each page needs its own title and description tag.
Also, the content on page 1 can look very similar to the content on page 5, especially in the case of product variants. If page one is full of links to product pages that only differ from each other in one respect, such as color or size, and have the same product name and description, you’re looking at duplicate content.
Since we know Google tries to exclude duplicate content from the index, Google might never crawl to your third page of pagination. So when someone searches for “large blue widgets,” if your large blue widgets are linked to from the third page, you won’t rank, because you’re not indexed. Problematic!
The third way pagination can cause duplicate content is that sometimes your CMS will attach the page number to the URL of pagination. This is fine in the case of page 2, 3 and so on. But it’s problematic when it happens to your first page. A very common scenario is when the link to the first page from the main navigation is http://www.example.com/blue-widgets. But the link to the first page of pagination from the other pages of pagination is http://www.example.com/blue-widgets-page-1. Now you have two URLs showing the same page. Bummer. Ian Lurie’s got a great writeup on this problem on his blog. Check out Duplicate content sin #1: Pagination. For an example of the problem, look at the New York Times. If you click on a link to the story, you get this URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/20/science/20dawkins.html. But let’s say you get done reading the story and want to link to its first page. If you click the 1 link in the pagination, you arrive at this URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/20/science/20dawkins.html?pagewanted=1. Now the link juice that would’ve gone to the story goes to this imposter URL.
Part 2: The Fix
First, just add the words “page x” (x being whatever page it is) to your title tags and meta descriptions. Bam, no more duplicate tags. This can usually be done programatically.
Next, create a view all page, with every item on every page of pagination linked from that page. Add a rel=”canonical” tag to the head section of all your paginated pages. The URL you’ll want to make canonical is the View All page. Now you can make it more likely that Google will crawl all those links. Easy peasy!