Overview: Google’s March 1 indexing update

Google is rolling out a nofollow update on March 1, 2020. That will make nofollow links a hint, rather than directive. This article explains Google’s March 1 indexing update. Then it advises what webmasters need to do to keep up with the times.

Google march 1 indexing update
Image: Yoast.com

Google rolled out the first part of this update in October 2019. That changed the no-follow from a directive to a hint. Before the change, Google crawlers would be unable to look at no-follow links. Now, crawlers can look at links as they need to. This way, crawlers can skim no-follow pages to see if they are missing out on relevant information.

What are no-follow links?

Google introduced the nofollow attribute over 15 years ago. At first, it was a means to keep comment spam out of search results. Soon, it also became a method for Google to filter ads and sponsored links.

Most webmasters have made use of the no-follow directive in a few ways:

  • No-follow advertising links
  • Hide landing pages, thank you forms, etc
  • No-follow pages under development

In September 2019, Google released a blog post outlining changes to the no-follow system. First, no-follow then became available in three flavors:

  1. Sponsored: use to identify links on your site created as part of ads, sponsorships or other paid links.
  2. UGC: UGC stands for User Generated Content. Use this for things like comments and forum posts.
  3. Nofollow: use this when you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement.

March update Google FAQ

Here is a condensed summary of everything you need to know about the March 1 update. Info taken direct from Google.

Do I have to change existing no-follows?

No. Google will continue to support no-follow as a way to block sponsored or Amazon links.

There’s absolutely no need to change any nofollow links that you already have.

Can I combine rel values in one link?

Yes. For example, Google says rel=”ugc sponsored” is fine. It shows that it’s a sponsored link from user-generated content. Another example is rel=”nofollow ugc”. This will let you be compatible with other search engines that don’t support the new attributes.

Can affiliate sites keep using no-follow?

No. You can keep using nofollow to flag links and avoid link scheme penalties.

However, we recommend switching over to rel=”sponsored” if or when it is convenient.

Yes. You can use either rel=”sponsored” or rel=”nofollow”.

We prefer the use of “sponsored,” but either is fine and will be treated the same, for this purpose.

What happens if I use the wrong attribute?

The only wrong attribute possible is with sponsored links. The only mistake you can make it forgetting to flag them. In this case, you are at risk of a links penalty.

From Google: “Any link that is clearly an ad or sponsored should use ‘sponsored’ or ‘nofollow’. Using ‘sponsored’ is preferred, but ‘nofollow’ is acceptable.”

What happens on March 1?

For crawling and indexing, the nofollow directive will become a hint on March 1, 2020.

De-indexing after March 1

The first thing you should do after March 1 is to consider using “sponsored” instead of “no-follow” on advertising links.

The second thing is to make sure never to use no-follow to block your own site’s pages from Google’s index.

Instead, Google suggests these methods:

  • Remove content: this is the surest way to make sure it does not get indexed in Google.
  • Use password-protection: Googlebot and other web crawlers can’t access content in password-protected directories.
  • Images: use robots.txt to exclude images (you can’t do the same for content urls).
  • No-index: setting to no-index (instead of no-follow) still works.
  • Opt out in GSC: from your Google Search Console, you can tell Google to ignore some content on your site.
  • No-snippet tag: this prevents your page from showing up in Google’s featured snippets. Be careful with this. It can also generate confusion in SERPs (“no snippet available”).

Conclusion

There are significant procedure changes coming on March 1, but not webmasters won’t need to scramble. Until March 1, the best practice is still to no-follow affiliate or sponsored links. Moving forward, it’s worth introducing rel=”sponsored” into your workflow.

Webmasters with live staging or development sites on their server should be careful. Use password-protection or another trusted method. Failing to do so might result in your staging site URLs appearing in Google. That can lead to a massive duplicate content penalty that can crush your rankings.

For link-builders, some no-follow and UGC links will start to pass link juice. This won’t be as significant as do-follow, but they will have an effect.

About the Author

Anil Ramsey has been a media pro in Asia for 15+ years. He is a former print editor (Japan and Korea), NGO media director (China) and ad agency executive (SE Asia). He currently leads the production of several affiliate and authority websites. In his spare time, he shares what he learns as a part-time consultant.

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