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A trend often found on popular websites is to have an article spread over multiple pages, along with a "read whole article" link to see all the sections in a single page.

Now, I was wondering, what is the purpose of that?

As far as I know, internal linking is a major concept in SEO. This method would seem great for that, as every single article of the series (+ the "whole article" page) would have multiple internal links just to begin with.

Another concept promoted in SEO, as far as I can tell, is however to avoid duplicate content. In this case, however, the full article would have content at least partially duplicated content copied directly from the single sections.

Does this affect SEO? If so, in which way? Is this practice considered proper?

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I don’t think that it’s a good practice to paginate articles (unless they are so long that it would affect the performance in the browser), because having exactly one canonical URL is preferable for so many reasons.

I think there are two reasons why paginating articles was/is done:

  • It increases the pages views. If a visitor is reading an article split up into three pages, the visitor has to visit two more pages than if the article would be on a single page. More page views might increase ad revenue.
  • Some think that it’s better for usability. The assumptions are that visitors don’t like to scroll so much, or that it’s easier for visitors to read longer articles if they are split up, or that a long article might intimidate, etc.

If paginating articles and offering a "whole article" page, the canonical link type can be used to mitigate the SEO-related drawbacks. Each paginated page links to the "whole article" page, e.g. if /articles/foobar is the full article:

<!-- on /articles/foobar/1, which is the first page of the article -->
<link rel="canonical" href="/articles/foobar" />
<!-- on /articles/foobar/2 -->
<link rel="canonical" href="/articles/foobar" />
<!-- on /articles/foobar/3 -->
<link rel="canonical" href="/articles/foobar" />

However, in that case search engines might prefer to offer the link to the "whole article" page (instead of the link to the first page) in their results, so any benefits (if there were any to begin with) of having paginated articles are gone, because visitors would start with the "whole article" page directly.

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I would assume a big big reason for advertisement driven websites is that every time you change a page you can be presented with a different advertisement. I don't have enough points to make this just a comment. I see no other reason for the stumpy little pages some major websites offer.

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