This guest post is by Keith Bishop of Online Digital Junkie.
Google’s Panda Update, as well as the recent post from Darren about hosting a guest post series, has prompted me to take a deeper look into the implementation and search benefits associated with putting series on my own sites.
What I found tells me that publishing a series can be a good move if it’s done correctly. So let’s look at when a series is a good idea, as well as some of the issues that need to be avoided for the optimal search performance of the series you publish.
When to use a series
A series is best used when you have a lot of material and media that would slow your page load time if you published it all in one article. Long load times can have a negative effect on your search ranking, as well as causing users to hit the Back button before your post ever finishes loading.
You can check page download speeds on sites like Pingdom. My personal goals are to have all of my main landing pages load with 1.5 seconds, and the rest no longer than two seconds.
Another great time to use series is if you find a group of posts on your site that have similar content with overlapping keywords. This scenario causes your own pages to compete with each other and suffer in search rank. Under these circumstances it would be beneficial to rework your content into a series and allow it to build upon itself. The result of this, as I will explain later, will harness all of the combined SEO benefits and push your series up in the SERP.
The last, and probably most applicable, reason to publish series is when you have a lengthy subject that you are covering over an extended period of time. I certainly don’t want to read a 10,000 word article on the same subject—or have it delivered to my email. Everyone needs a little variety.
The negative aspects of series
Series have their downsides, as far as usability and search rank go. The worst part is the increased load time that the user experiences while navigating to each article, instead of having it load all at once on a single page. Most of the time, this is a good trade-off—the only exception being a long text article which will likely load quickly as a single post, and won’t benefit from being split into parts.
Another issue arises when the middle or last part of the series ranks better in the search results than the first part, and that becomes the landing page for search users. This is sort of like showing a guest your home by walking them through the garage first, and it’s something you want to avoid. The solution? Optimizing your series navigation.
How to link your series for greatest SEO and usability
Proper linking is accomplished by using the [link] element in the [head] section of the post page. This hints to Google that the page is part of a series, and also indicates the position of the document within the series.
To accomplish page ordering, we use the [rel=”prev” and rel=”next”] attributes that in the [link] pagination. This will ensure that the first part of your series will almost always be the one to show up in the search results. Note, though, that Google says “almost always” when it discusses this, so there must be occasions where the search engine likes an article deeper in the series for some reason.
Pagination is easy in WordPress, and there are probably some short codes for the other content management systems that will make it easy to implement in those as well.
Let’s imagine that you want to publish all the material in a series at once. All you need to do in WP is to put the entire series of articles into one post, then add [<!–nextpage–>] wherever you want to break the content up into separate pages or parts. You can then modify the look of your pagination links with CSS.
If you want to drip-feed your series to users over an extended period of time—perhaps in weekly installments—use a head injection plugin that will allow you to add the
 information to the series manually as you publish each article.
A good WordPress plugin that takes care of this is HiFi (Head injection / Foot injection).
Hand-coded blogs will need to have this information added manually into the head section. Here is an example of what the code looks like.
<title>Your Page Title</title>
<link rel=”prev” href=”http://yoursite.com/previouspage/”>
<link rel=”next” href=”http://yoursite.com/nextpage/”>
Naturally, the first page in the series will not have a [prev] attribute and the last page will not have a [next] attribute. This is how the search bots know where the series starts and ends. Clickable navigation links will also need to be coded at the end of each article in the series.
The most beneficial reason to use the [prev/next] attributes is that the search engines will count the series as one article and funnel all the SEO benefits from the series through to the page that’s shown in the search results.
This means that all of the likes, G+, tweets, and links back from the entire series will count together, instead of competing with one another. I don’t know about you, but that gets me excited.
What not to do
You may still find information about this online, but what you do not want to do is link your series using the [rel=”canonical”] attribute on your links.
This method will prevent the wrong post (e.g. a later part in a series) from ranking higher than the one you wanted (the first part in the series), but it also tells the search engine that this is duplicate content and it shouldn’t be indexed. The canonical attribute was used in the past under a slightly different set of circumstances, and is no longer applicable to series.
Too bad there isn’t some way to certify our content so that we could get the SEO benefits from our content when it gets scraped or syndicated. That would be awesome, but it is likely a dream for another day…