Next and Previous tags are no more

In a surprising turn of events, Google removed the Next and Previous tags from their ranking signals… years ago.

Since 2011 this has been one of the staples of any best practice SEO strategy, making sure that Google had access to (and could therefore index) the whole of a site.

The disappearance of the relevant documentation on the Google support site was noticed yesterday (20/03/2019) and reported on by Barry Schwartz. Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller later responded with the following tweet:

Understandably, the SEO community were a little shocked by this, with some long-time players expressing their not-so-diplomatic dismay:

What was rel=next/prev?

Rel=next/prev was specific markup that identifies a page as part of a wider set of pages. Search engines can then use these tags to map out all of the pages in a set until they run out of Next tags – so if your content split into several pages, Google should have been able to tell that they were all part of the same set and judge them as a single entity.

While some (questionable) sites used this to split content such as articles across different pages, a more realistic use of these tags is for product listings style pages. I think everyone agrees the ad-heavy click-bait articles spread across 10 pages spark no joy.

Is it that surprising?

The knee-jerk reaction to this news is perhaps a little unnecessary; what Google are saying here is that they haven’t used Next or Previous tags for indexing purposes in a long time.

This means the tags are absolutely still important for crawling purposes. For large eCommerce sites that serve their products on multiple pages, this is one of the main ways to have your products discovered by a search engine – especially if an XML sitemap is broken/out of date/doesn’t exist. If you’ve been poking around the new Search Console interface you’ll notice it’s very easy to see when certain pages have been excluded from indexing because of canonical alternatives or duplicates, and paginated pages are often exactly the type of page to get excluded.

What does Google recommend now?

Google has suggested putting content onto a single page and avoid breaking it into multiple pages for the same piece of content.

Google posted on Twitter “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!”

In some situations putting everything on one page is a massive over-simplification and likely won’t work, but Google are once again reminding us to focus on what’s best for the user and create the best content for them.

Written by:

Barry Bell


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