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Expect ranking drop after splitting established page into 3?

7:16 am on May 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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The MBAs have taken to splitting some established pages into pieces to amp up the pageviews on a generally well-ranked content website. Usability and user-friendliness issues aside, should I expect a dropoff in search traffic to these pages?

For example, there was a single-page, 550-word article that had been online for many years, ranked solidly #2 in Google (just behind Wikipedia) for its key phrase. It drives a few hundred search visits per day.

Now it's in 3 pieces, hosted on 3 pages. The URL structure was:
and is now:

This creates multiple concerns and questions:

The 2nd and 3rd pages don't have any offsite backlinks, but eventually might. At that point, won't they compete with page 1 for its main search phrase? AFAIK, the 'rel=canonical' tag is not intended to resolve pagination issues and therefore is not a solution.

All three pages currently have duplicate titles and META description tags; this is almost certainly a problem. Can it be resolved by simply appending a page number, e.g. 'page 2' to the title and description?

The first page is now missing about 60% of its original content. Could this force Google to devalue it? In other contexts, I have seen highly-ranked pages drop in the SERPs when their content is significantly shortened.

For this specific example page, we're 6-weeks into the breakup and have maintained our #2 rank in Google. If anyone has experience suggesting that this is likely to change, I'd love to hear it.

5:19 pm on May 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

joined:May 26, 2000
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If you were going to see ranking drops, I'd imagine they would have shown up by now. It does seem like splitting a 550 word article into three pages is overkill, though.

I've had excellent results with getting deep pagination to attract search traffic by creating totally unique and page-specific titles, descriptions and h1, with the url still showing the pagination. I also use <link rel="next"> in the header, plus other on-page visual information for the end user to keep the paginated relationships clear.