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What to make of Google's official rollout of nofollow updates

Google's official rollout of no-follow updates for crawling and indexing purposes has begun, following its announcement on March 1.

For those that missed it, the tech giant revealed that the no-follow link attribute would evolve to become a hint in September. This would result in a link now marked as a no-follow, which Search may consider or exclude rather than blanket ignore.

Together with the introduction of two new link attributes, sponsored and UGC, this news signals the first update to the no-follow link attribute since its introduction in 2005.

Although Google has said this update shouldn’t bring about significant change to its rankings, the rollout is indicative of Google wanting to better understand links which, in time, will undoubtedly lead to changes to the SERP.

In my eyes, this update affirms the need for targeted and well-thought out link building strategies to ensure any links a brand builds, are given the right credit by Google to safeguard positive search and brand awareness outcomes. With such a robust and targeted link building strategy, you should also therefore have the ability to sidestep or pinpoint certain links and this could include links with the aforementioned link attributes.

This update ultimately calls for brands to reassess their link building strategies which are likely (hopefully) being served by digital PR efforts. If you’re not already employing a targeted link building strategy, it’s time that you do, and my advice would be getting digital PR and SEO into a room as soon as possible. 

The impact of a change

From an SEO’s perspective, Builtvisible's head of SEO, Will Nye, says: "While most of the focus for this update will be the potential impact on external links, it is also important to acknowledge that rel="nofollow" has been widely utilised on internal links to control crawling and indexing.

"Previously, no-follow was a directive – a set of instructions that Googlebot always obeyed – and was comparable to a robots.txt disallow or meta robots tag. Now, it has become a ‘strong hint’, much like a canonical tag. This is clear in the language within the new documentation which states that links using the attribute will “generally not be followed”.

"Given that canonical tags are often ignored by Google when they are being used as a method for controlling indexing, we would strongly recommend that brands heed Google’s advice to stop relying on the nofollow link attribute and switch to an alternative approach ASAP.

"That said, we also feel that the attribute will continue to be a useful mechanism for reducing crawling. Ultimately, it is another signal that can be provided by webmasters – alongside others like canonicals and the settings within the Search Console URL Parameters tool – to influence Googlebot’s behaviour."

What next?
Review, iterate and monitor your link building strategies as a first port of call, making the most of both SEO and Digital PR experts – the two disciplines, after all, go hand in hand and can together supercharge a brand’s performance in search and much, much more.

Olivia Wiltshire, senior digital PR consultant at Builtvisible.

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