Last year, Google announced there would be an algorithm update to how it treats nofollow links. The update has been carried out in two parts. The first part, which affects rankings, has come and gone. The second part of the update is taking place at the beginning of March. This time around it will directly impact the crawling and indexing of your nofollow links.
Traditionally, Google treats nofollow links as an instruction, so it won’t crawl or index the associated pages. Often, the nofollow value is attributed to links to tell Google not to associate your website with the external links and not to crawl the links from your page. Typically if these are internal page links that you don’t want Google to crawl and index, then you’d use the robots.txt Disallow rule or you might use the noindex robots rule.
Instead, Google is considering nofollows as hints for the purposes of crawling and indexing. This algorithm update is forcing everyone to investigate how and where they’ve attributed the nofollow value. If you’re using nofollow links to block Google from specific pages intentionally, then now is the time to change your ways. Consider qualifying your outbound links to Google by attributing different values such as marking links as sponsored or as user-generated content (UGC). And, as already mentioned, the robots.txt Disallow rule or the noindex robots rule should be used if the nofollow value is an incorrect attribution. In a nutshell, check how you’ve used nofollows and fix the issues that crop up.
But it’s difficult to know exactly what to expect from this particular update. Unfortunately, we need to wait for Google to share the criteria as to how it will choose what pages to index or not. For now, it’s best to be aware that your rankings and traffic may fluctuate after the beginning of March and you must investigate your nofollow policy.
Ahrefs’ Patrick Stox unpacked this topic in his presentation at SMX West this past week. He reviewed the top 110,000 sites in Ahrefs for nofollows, UGCs and sponsored attributes. Here’s the SlideShare of his findings and presentation.
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