Back in September of 2019, Google announced that they were "evolving" the nofollow link attribute and the way it interprets and uses it when passing link juice from one page to another via links.

Just to recap, this "evolution" came in 3 parts:

  • The introduction of the rel="sponsored” link attribute. This attribute identifies links that you place on your site as part of advertisements, partnerships or other agreements in which one person pays the other for the link.

  • The introduction of the rel="ugc” link attribute. "UGC” stands for “user-generated content”. User-generated content refers to things like blog comments, forum posts or some other way a website might allow its users to create content that contains links. The nofollow link attribute was originally created as a way to combat the old blog comment spam link building technique.

  • Reinterpreting the rel="nofollow” attribute as a hint rather than a directive. When Google saw the nofollow attribute, it would ignore the link for indexing purposes. Meaning, Google wouldn’t visit the linked page.

Starting March 1, however, that last bullet point will change. The nofollow attribute will still be website owners’ way of telling Google not to follow a link, but Google will see that only as a suggestion — or "hint" as Google puts it — rather than something they have to do.

In fact, Google will be using all rel= types as hints.

What will this Change Do?

In a way, this update likely won’t change much for most people. Google has been able to use nofollow links when ranking pages in search results and has done so for a while. So if your website has backlinks pointed to your website that use the nofollow attribute, don’t expect any sudden increase in link juice for your pages.

This has been confirmed by Gary Illyes:

And John Mueller:

Both Gary and John are prominent Googlers.

What You Should Do Regarding the NoFollow Update

You only need to make any changes or updates to your site if you’ve been relying solely on nofollow internal links to prevent Google from finding pages on your site. Which you shouldn’t be doing because that would be a wildly ineffective way of keeping pages out of Google search results.

For any pages you want to keep out of search results, you should instead rely on these methods:

  • Robots.txt: Make sure the page is disallowed in your website’s robots.txt file. You can check the "Disallowed Pages" tab in the Indexing section of WooRank’s Site Crawl to check for pages that have been disallowed by robots.txt. Any pages disallowed by robots.txt will appear here:

    Pages disallowed by robots.txt in WooRank Site Crawl

    Alternatively, you can check an individual page using the URL inspection tool in Google Search Console.

  • Noindex tag: Individual pages you don’t want to appear in search results should include what’s known as the "noindex tag". These tags are when you add the rel=”noindex” attribute to a page’s meta robots tag. When search engines visit a page and read its code, they will see the noindex tag and know not to include that content in their indexes. Pages that have been noindexed will appear in the “Non-Indexable Pages” tab of the “Indexing” section of Site Crawl.

For any pages you want to keep out of search results should use both methods so that Google will see this information regardless of how it reaches a page.

If you’re already doing this, then congrats! There’s nothing you need (or can) do in light of this update. If you aren’t already using your robots.txt file and noindex tags to keep pages out of Google’s index you must start doing so now.

Why is Google Changing NoFollow?

Gary Illyes addressed this during his talk at PubCon Las Vegas 2020. One of the big drivers of this change was the fact that nofollowed links were preventing Google from seeing and understanding parts of the web.

By treating nofollow as a hint going forward, Google will be able to better use these links when trying to improve their various crawling, indexing and ranking systems.

So do you anticipate this change to impact your website much? Are you using nofollow links in your internal linking? Have you made any changes to adjust?