There have been many questions and doubts since Google stopped supporting the rel=prev/next tags during the indexing process. What will happen with subpages on your website and how will it affect SEO? We’re going to discuss this issue at lengths in our today’s entry.
In this article you’ll find out:
- what the tag rel=prev/next is,
- how it’s been supporting SEO until now,
- what changes were introduced by Google,
- how these modifications have affected SEO,
- why, despite all of this, it’s still worth using the rel=prev/next tag.
The rel=prev/next Tag – What Is It And How Has It Supported SEO Until Now?
Pagination is introduced in order to enhance the usability and efficiency of websites. In practice, it means that the content of the site, for example an article, a blog entry or a product list is divided into several subpages. Such a process is introduced so that the users can more easily browse through a large amount of content and the website isn’t overloaded with images which would significantly slow its loading time and performance. The visitors are fully informed on which subpage they’re in a particular moment and how many of them are still left to be browsed.
The rel=prev/next tag is implemented to ensure that Google robots treat all subpages as individual elements of a bigger unit. This tag indicates that several subpages constitute a whole unit and additionally, by signaling the order of the pages, it supports the pagination process. Moreover, the information and pictures on these subpages shouldn’t be considered as duplicate content.
The rel=prev/next tag was introduced in 2011 and it was supposed to inform Google robots about:
- Consolidation of links from individual pages which should be treated as a whole unit.
- Providing the user with the most appropriate URL, usually to the first subpage of the bigger unit.
Google Doesn’t Support The rel=prev/next Tag Anymore
21 March 2019 was a groundbreaking day that raised many questions and caused the indignation of numerous SEO specialists. On that day, Google officially announced that the rel=prev/next tag was no longer supported:
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
This caused a great deal of dissatisfaction and outrage among the specialists. What’s more, several Tweets published by John Muller who stated that the situation had been going on for a few years added insult to injury:
Well, that would be news to me. John has always explained that rel next/prev should be used to signal the relationship b/t paginated pages. The video from Maile is still available: https://t.co/Dv8WAQN2iN & G’s post about rel canonical still recos it: https://t.co/Zs1YlqKzU2 https://t.co/MlJCdxfv87
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) March 21, 2019
It’s paradoxical that Google’s communication is so inconsistent. A few years ago Google recommended using the rel=prev/next tags during the pagination process, now it stops supporting it and states that users prefer one-page content. No wonder that it triggered a large number of Tweets expressing confusion with the current state of affairs.
If users love single-page content, why aren’t Google search results on a single page?
— Kevin_Indig (@Kevin_Indig) March 21, 2019
So what other expensive processes have your engineers been instructing us to use *for years* that you’ve been ignoring *for years*?
— Paul Thompson (@thompsonpaul) March 21, 2019
How Do These Changes Affect SEO?
The situation begs the question what to do with the rel=prev/next tags. Should you still use them or maybe it’s better to stop? And more importantly, what happened to the subpages which had already been paginated?
According to Google’s web performance engineer Ilya Grigorik, Google robots are smart enough to find the next page using only the URLs.
no, use pagination. let me reframe it.. Googlebot is smart enough to find your next page by looking at the links on the page, we don’t need an explicit “prev, next” signal. and yes, there are other great reasons (e.g. a11y) for why you may want or need to add those still.
— Ilya Grigorik (@igrigorik) March 22, 2019
Google suggests not to change the current ways of pagination. It was also pointed out that you shouldn’t suddenly create a large page with content that ought to be placed on several subpages. However, Google also stresses that before using the rel=prev/next tag you should make sure that each subpage can become a stand alone page.
What to do to ensure that your subpages are indexed properly?
- Make sure that there is more text on the first page. The product description with key phrases will be helpful in indexing the subpage. Photos and videos should be also published on the first page.
- Remember about adding the alt attributes to the photos. It’s a small but extremely important element that can’t be omitted.
- It’s advisable to add a large number of items to one category. However, at the same time you need to ensure that the site isn’t overloaded. It’ll be difficult if you’ve more than 10 000 products in the category. In such a situation you need to consider how to create more categories.
- Ensure that your content is unique.
Why Is It Still Worth Using The rel=prev/next Tag?
Surely you shouldn’t remove this tag from the pages that already have it. It doesn’t have an adverse effect on SEO, moreover, remember that Google isn’t the only search engine in the world. As Frédéric Dubut points out, other search engines still use the rel=prev/next tag to identify websites and define their structure:
We’re using rel prev/next (like most markup) as hints for page discovery and site structure understanding. At this point we’re not merging pages together in the index based on these and we’re not using prev/next in the ranking model. https://t.co/ZwbSZkn3Jf
— Frédéric Dubut (@CoperniX) March 21, 2019
Therefore, it’s still worth using the rel=prev/next tags to maintain the website structure. Remember that they don’t affect the page indexing process. When it comes to online shops, it’s a good idea to reflect on the structure of the product categories and update them if possible.
Google robots don’t pay attention to the rel=prev/next tag anymore, however, they’ve other methods to find out which subpage is first and which ones are next. Page pagination still makes a lot of sense but maybe you should change your approach on how to implement it.