Infinite scroll or pagination for SEO? My guide.

In this article, I discuss the pros and cons of two web design options: infinite scroll and pagination. Both techniques affect user experience and SEO, which is critical for any marketing manager or CMO looking to optimize their organization’s online presence. I will explore the technical aspects, SEO implications and user experience of both methods to help you make an informed decision about which strategy is best for your website.

Reading tip: Check out my guide to paginated pages and SEO here.

Infinite scroll and SEO

If you’ve ever scrolled through your Instagram feed and noticed that the content seemed endless, you’ve already been introduced to infinite scroll. Simply put, infinite scroll is a web design technique that automatically loads new content when you get to the end of the page.

It eliminates the need for users to click to the next page because the next pieces of content appear automatically. This can be particularly useful for websites with lots of visual content or a stream of posts, such as social media platforms, because it provides a fluid and engaging user experience.(1)

Benefits of infinite scroll for the user experience

Infinite scroll can increase engagement and time on the page by providing a seamless and interruption-free experience. It is especially effective for mobile users, where tapping on small page numbers or navigation buttons can be frustrating.

Moreover, it can create the perception of a rich, never-ending stream of content, which is especially useful for platforms that want users to keep discovering and consuming. This is especially interesting for apps, but is increasingly being applied to desktop for such an app-like environment.

Challenges of infinite scroll in SEO

While it has benefits, infinite scroll also brings SEO challenges. Search engines crawl pages by following links and loading new pages, something that does not happen naturally with infinite scroll. As a result, content available after the first loading page may not be indexed or seen by search engines.

It can also be difficult for users to bookmark a specific location on the page, which can reduce usability for people who want to return to a specific piece of content. So, in short, some disadvantages of infinite scroll for SEO:

  1. a lower number of pages in the index;
  2. fewer internal links on the website;
  3. more difficult tracking of user behavior (except with a complex GTM construct);
  4. slower load times (due to larger pages);
  5. lack of clear content hierarchy;
  6. fewer opportunities for content optimization.

In practice, many things become more technical and complex. I think you always have to ask yourself whether, first of all, you feel like doing this at all and, secondly, whether you have the resources internally to set this up.

More on pagination and SEO

Pagination is the process of distributing digital content across multiple pages, which users can navigate by clicking page numbers or buttons. It is a traditional and still widely used method of organizing content, especially for e-commerce websites.

To implement pagination, you need to divide your content into clear segments and ensure that each page can be crawled and indexed separately by search engines, which you can facilitate with a clear URL structure and the use of rel=”next” and rel=”prev” tags.(2)

How pagination can improve user experience

Pagination can improve the user experience by providing structure and order. It allows users to easily navigate to specific sections of your content and allows them to easily bookmark their place for future use. For e-commerce websites, this can mean that customers can easily return to where they were in a product listing, which can increase usability and ultimately conversions.

SEO benefits and challenges of pagination

Pagination can provide SEO benefits by providing search engines with clear, crawlable paths through your content. However, it can also lead to problems such as duplicate content if the same items or content appear on multiple pages. Some possible disadvantages of pagination and SEO:

  1. loss of link value;
  2. fewer organic search results because of paginated pages;
  3. broken user experience;
  4. indexing problems;
  5. decreased authority of pages (vs. infinite scroll);
  6. duplicate content risk.

It is not difficult to strike a balance and ensure that pagination is implemented in a way that benefits both the user experience and search engine optimization. When paginated pages are properly set up, they should not pose a problem for SEO (especially consider the right canonicals in the right place).

Technical SEO considerations

Website speed

With either option, it is possible to simply get it right. However, infinite scroll will take more to do (technically speaking).

Loading speed is crucial not only for user experience, but also for Google. When I look at infinite scroll and pagination, it is essential to understand that both methods have their own loading speed and performance challenges. For example, with infinite scroll, the constant loading of new items can tax the browser and slow down performance as the user scrolls further.(3)

On the other hand, pagination can lead to more HTTP requests when users navigate to different pages. Optimizing images, minimizing code and leveraging browser caching are some of the techniques I use to address these challenges and optimize loading speed. This should not be a major problem.

So if you’re talking about perceived pagespeed of the initial load of a page, the paginated construction will win more often than not.

Mobile experience: taking different devices into account

In a world where mobile browsing has surpassed desktop, optimizing for different devices is no longer an option, but a necessity. Infinite scroll often provides a smoother experience for mobile users, who prefer natural scrolling to tapping page numbers.

However, it is crucial to ensure that implementing infinite scroll does not lead to hidden footers and that important links and information remain accessible. For pagination, it is important to ensure touch-friendly, easy-to-navigate buttons and a responsive design that adapts to different screen sizes.

Indexing: how search engines deal with different structures

Search engines such as Google crawl and index websites by following the links and reading the content. With infinite scroll, this can be a challenge because new content is loaded only when the user scrolls. Therefore, I implement techniques such as using AJAX and implementing SEO-friendly URLs to ensure that all content is search engine accessible.

In pagination, it is essential to correctly use “rel=prev” and “rel=next” tags to help Google understand the relationship between pages and avoid duplicate content problems. These are not necessarily supported anymore, but I still like to use them in practice to make sure it looks right.

How infinite scroll and pagination affect bounce rate

Bounce rate is an important metric that reflects user engagement with your site. With infinite scroll, users can sometimes get frustrated if they cannot easily reach the footer or if the page loads slowly due to the constant addition of new items.

On the other hand, pagination can sometimes be perceived as interruptive, especially on mobile devices, which can also lead to a higher bounce rate. It’s a matter of weighing these factors and choosing the method that best suits your content and your audience.

Conversion: which method drives user action?

The final choice between infinite scroll and pagination should also be influenced by the impact on conversions. For e-commerce Web sites, for example, pagination may be preferable because it allows users to more easily navigate through product listings and return to a specific point.

On the other hand, a blog or media platform can take advantage of infinite scroll to retain users longer and encourage them to consume more content. It is crucial to run A/B tests and analyze data to understand which method is most effective in driving user actions and conversions on your specific site.

Making the choice

The choice between infinite scroll and pagination is not always easy and depends on several factors. In this final section, I offer a step-by-step guide to help you make an informed decision, taking into account both SEO and user experience.

Evaluating your website and content type

When choosing between infinite scroll and pagination, I always start with a thorough evaluation of the website and the type of content being offered. Ask yourself: What is the primary action you want users to take? If you have an e-commerce platform, pagination can be useful to allow users to easily browse products and find specific items.

For a news or content platform, on the other hand, infinite scroll can provide an immersive experience that encourages users to keep reading. It is essential to understand the nature of your content and the needs of your users to make an informed choice.

Implementation: tips for a smooth transition

Once the choice is made, smooth implementation is the next crucial step. I start by creating a detailed implementation plan that takes into account technical SEO, user experience and potential obstacles. It is also important to communicate the changes clearly to users, especially if your website has a regular visitor audience that is used to a certain navigation structure.

Provide clear guides or tooltips that explain new navigation, and be prepared for post-launch feedback. Monitoring, testing and quick response to any issues in the early stages of implementation will also help ensure a successful transition and minimize any negative impact on user experience and SEO.

Conclusion

The choice between infinite scroll and pagination depends on several factors, including the type of content on your website, the preferences of your target audience and your SEO goals. Both methods have their own strengths and weaknesses, and the best choice for your website may depend on specific usage scenarios and user needs. It is important to base your decision on data and user feedback, and be prepared to adjust your approach based on the performance of your website after implementing the chosen method.

Resources

  1. Neusesser, T. (2024, Jan. 19). Infinite Scrolling: When to Use It, When to Avoid It. Nielsen Norman Group. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/infinite-scrolling-tips/
  2. Hanna, K. T., & Wigmore, I. (2022, November 23). pagination. WhatIs. https://www.techtarget.com/whatis/definition/pagination
  3. Juviler, J. (2020, Oct. 1). Pagination vs. Infinite Scroll: Which Is Better for Your Content? HubSpot. https://blog.hubspot.com/website/pagination-vs-infinite-scroll
Senior SEO-specialist

Ralf van Veen

Senior SEO-specialist
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I have been working for 10 years as an independent SEO specialist for companies (in the Netherlands and abroad) that want to rank higher in Google in a sustainable manner. During this period I have consulted A-brands, set up large-scale international SEO campaigns and coached global development teams in the field of search engine optimization.

With this broad experience within SEO, I have developed the SEO course and helped hundreds of companies with improved findability in Google in a sustainable and transparent way. For this you can consult my portfolio, references and collaborations.

This article was originally published on 26 April 2024. The last update of this article was on 10 July 2024. The content of this page was written and approved by Ralf van Veen. Learn more about the creation of my articles in my editorial guidelines.