Google Should Penalize Multi-Page Articles: Here’s Why
When writing most articles, I usually end up on some news blog at some point or another searching for facts, statistics, or a reference to back up my opinion. As a health nut, I often find myself browsing through nutrition or fitness blogs for updated findings on health.
The problem is that many of these informational or news websites make it extremely difficult to do what I do best when I need to digest a bunch of information in a short amount of time: skim the content quickly to pick up the main points. Why is so hard to skim these articles? Because the blogs break up the information into several pages. These multi-page articles (also called slideshow or pagination posts) require me to click somewhere on the page to get to the next section in the article, thereby forcing me to spend way more time than necessary reading an article.
I am not the only one who hates multi-page articles either. In fact, it seems that many bloggers, web designers, and SEO experts rant and rave about the paginated article practice quite loudly. Farhad ManJoo of Slate calls multi-page stories a "contemptuous, myopic, evil practice". He even beseeched the editor of Slate, David Plotz, to do away with pagination for articles (to which Plotz only agreed to keep articles of less than 1,200 words to a single page). He’s not the only one, though. Just take a look at the excerpts for this results list when used the search term "slideshow posts pros cons":
You may notice lots of negative words such as "darn thing", "banishing…forever", "first world problems", "stupid", "annoying", "pageview mongering", and my favorite, "despise…with the heat of a million suns". Yes, that last description from Josh Clark of GlobalMoxie.com describes my feelings exactly.
My conclusion? Google should severely punish websites that use pagination for articles. Now, in Google’s defense, it already makes it difficult for blogs to gain positive SEO benefits from multi-page articles. But apparently it isn’t enough to make the big blogs cease the practice.
Most web designers and SEO experts already do everything in their power to convince clients not to fall into this horrible article layout. But, let’s not fool ourselves, we ultimately have to do what our clients want. This brings us back to the plea with Google to use their unlimited power to stop such a horrific act on the web. Let’s take a closer look at multi-page articles and why Google should put them on the black list.
What are Multi-page Articles?
Most websites will break up lists of information, such as search results, using pagination. This simply means that if the list includes more than, say, 5 results, the next 5 results will be displayed on the next page, and so on and so forth. This is perfectly reasonable. If you use the right keywords in a search, you’ll usually find what you need within the first few results.
A search for “web design” on Vandelay’s blog turned up 1,226 results; pagination keeps the list manageable and loading quickly.
However, using pagination for articles is not so reasonable. Most websites that break up posts into several pages do so by section. So, the intro is one section, the first point another section, the second point another section, and so it goes until the conclusion. What if an article is a roundup or list? Well, then, each item in the list gets its own page, even if the list includes 25 items!
To get from one page to the next, multi-page articles require readers to click on a button or on the image to go to the next point on another page. Lots of clicking and waiting then ensues for the next however many minutes it takes to get through the entire piece.
Why Use Pagination for Posts?
Some websites claim that pagination is good for users. It breaks long articles into short chunks that are easier to digest (um, isn’t this what subheadings are for?) and that require less scrolling. However, I don’t buy it, mainly due to the fact that, yes, breaking an article into shorter chunks is why we have subheadings. And, also, scrolling is quite easy these days with all of the mouse models that include the scrolling wheel.
This slideshow article on NESN requires you to read the text, then scroll back up to above the image, and then click on the button. That seems like quite a bit of scrolling, clicking, and overall maneuvering compared to a long-page article.
Most websites use multi-page article layouts for extremely selfish reasons. Multi-page articles force readers to spend more time on the website and visit more pages. This increases the total pageviews per user, which the website can then show advertisers, "Look how popular we are! Look how many awesome impressions we serve!" Then advertisers are more likely to buy ad space from the website. (You may notice that all of the screen shots in this article reveal a side bar chock full of ads.)
Meanwhile, the website’s users are drowning in pages.
Google Likes Usability (Supposedly)
Google is on the side of users, which means it should like usability. And it does, for the most part. Yet, we still have these major informational blogs that present content in a very unusable layout.
One of the most obvious usability issues of slideshow posts I have already mentioned above. They aren’t skimmable. At all. You can skim the paragraph or two on that page, of course. But to get to the next point, you have to find the "next" button, click on it, and then wait for the next page to load.
Yes, you saw it right: 25 pages of slow loading recipes. At least Cooking Light provides a View All link that places the thumbnail images on a single page – but you still have to click on each one to see the details.
And this brings me to the other usability issues. First of all, even the fast loading pagination articles do not load nearly quickly enough for impatient readers like myself. I’m used to ingesting a 2,000 word article in less than a minute, maybe two minutes if I need to slow down on a technical point. So a slideshow-like layout slows me down so that it can take me up to 5 or even 10 minutes to read through an entire article.
Even worse is that each website lays out their pages differently. Some require readers to click on the image to move to the next slide. Others require readers to click on an arrow. Still others place a "Next" button. Then there’s the placement of the buttons. Some put it on the right side of the image or paragraph, while another may place it at the bottom of the page, depending on if the text is to the right or below the image.
Readers have to click on the tiny See More link to see the actual content of the article, but, wait, what about the confusing slideshow just below? Is that the right button to click to read this article?
Finally, what if I want to revisit the third point, once I’m finally through the entire post? Most require readers to click back through the pages in order, with no navigation buttons for skipping around.
Muli-Page Articles = Difficult SEO
Now for the point that SEO experts need to hear. If your client brings up multi-page articles as an idea for their website design, tell them just how bad it can be they could make for SEO purposes. If they already have a pagination setup for posts, then you may be able to convince them to exchange them for single-page articles on the basis of poor search engine results.
Vasilis Vryniotis of WebSEO Analytics Blog points out that "pagination causes massive problems on SEO". He mentions a drop in page rank, making it difficult for search engines to crawl and index pages, possible duplicate content problems, and even poor link architecture as SEO troubles associated with multi-page articles.
Keep in mind, too, that Google has in recent years made it very clear that long content is in. Pagination breaks what would be long content into short snippets across several pages, which doesn’t look good to Google.
There is actually more than one solution to this awful slideshow post problem. The first one may make news blogs (and web designers with very insistent clients) jump with joy: Give readers the option – at the top of the page! Multi-page articles should include a link at the very beginning of the article that readers can click to see the article as a single-page post. I have seen a few do this, such as Slate, except they all place the optional link at the bottom of the article. How helpful is that?
The second solution is to use hacks. This is obviously for a reader’s benefit. LifeHacker presents three excellent hacks for seeing a multi-page article in single page view, including opening it in printer-friendly view. Or you can use Page Zipper to unpack pagination into a single page view.
Another excellent idea is to simply do what has always worked with online articles from the beginning of usability efforts. Keep articles to a single page, but break it up with images, drop quotes, and subtitles. Wow, what a brilliant idea!
The final solution is simply an embarrassing, grovel-like plea with Google to use their super powers to punish these hateful, selfish multi-page article websites. After all, Google, aren’t you the knight in shining armor for web users? Web designers, developers, SEO experts, and bloggers can only do so much to beg with website owners to keep a design usable. In the end, it’s ultimately up to you, Google, to save us all from the fire-breathing, time-sucking dragon that are multi-page articles.