There was big hoo-ha this week in the SEO world. It had recently come to light that Google had secretly stopped using the Rel=prev/next indexing signal a few years ago, whilst actively encouraging publishers in the meantime to continue using it.
Why are people up in arms about this? Because the super secret squirrels at Google casually dropped the news in a tweet, years after the event.
It’s safe to say that website owners (and people involved in the SEO community) are disgruntled with Google’s latest announcement.
What is Rel=prev/next indexing signal?
You’ll know all about Rel=prev/next if you use the indexing signal to group related pages on your site. Google was advising publishers for years to do this, because it makes Google’s life easier when indexing a complicated site.
By using Rel=prev/next, publishers had been able to break down lengthy documents into more user friendly shorter pages (supposedly boosting their SEO), whilst maintaining the document as an overall whole piece. A very useful tool if your site resembles Reddit, where forum discussions routinely go into double digit pages.
Google at some point had disagreed with this approach, as their announcement tweet stated that their studies had shown users don’t like this multi-page format, and so had retired the indexing signal, Rel=prev/next.
How did Rel=prev/next help SEO?
Essentially if you’re a news outlet and one of your stories runs to many pages, or you retail a lot of different products under the same category, you want a way to link pages together. By doing this, you show the search engines that the pages are all related, hence the incredibly handy Rel=prev/next indexing signal.
Breaking down lengthy content not only makes your website look cleaner, but it makes it easier for readers to engage with your content, hereby improving your SEO. And it’s on this point that Google disagreed, hence why they stopped using the indexing signal.
However, it is worth noting, that whilst Rel=prev/next may not be aiding your SEO currently, it is still a relevant part of HTML, and so there is no need to remove any existing code that you may have created.
Should Google have told publishers?
Whether Google should have told publishers they’d removed the indexing signal years ago, remains to be seen. What they should have done is stopped encouraging publishers to keep paginating websites. Especially when they knew full well that it wasn’t making a blind bit of difference to SEO efforts.
Matt Cutts has strived to make Google more open to publishers, and to aid in their efforts to optimise their sites, whilst adhering to Google best practices. So this latest move has blindsided a lot of people, especially as John Mueller, as recently as January 2019, affirmed that Google ‘tries to use the Rel=prev/next indexing signal’.
Talk about mixed signals.
How else you can optimise your site?
Have a read of our articles on the basic SEO principles and 7 SEO mistakes everyone makes, and do your keyword research and development. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was a great, high ranking website.