Google’s John Mueller clarified an important question about how Google treats nofollow links that are internal. This is important to publishers who use the nofollow attribute to block Google from thin or duplicate content.

In his answer, Mueller stated that the nofollow change was primarily for outbound links.

Yet he also affirmed that internal nofollows are no longer directives while also confirming Google will still regard nofollows as links the publisher doesn’t want Google to follow.

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How Google Handles Nofollow on Internal Links

No Follow Links on Faceted Navigation

The person asking the question was concerned about how Google handles nofollowed links on faceted navigation.

Faceted navigation allows site visitors on an eCommerce site to filter and sort the products choices.

Nofollow Hint Plan is Not 100% Defined

Google’s John Mueller started out by explaining that the nofollow hint plan is not 100% defined. That was interesting because it seemed to mean that Google is still evolving this new way of treating nofollows as hints.

How Google Uses Internal Nofollow Links

This is Mueller’s answer:

“It’s not 100% defined but the plan is to make it so that you don’t have to make any changes, so that we will continue to use these internal nofollow links as a sign that you’re telling us:

  • These pages are not as interesting
  • Google doesn’t need to crawl them
  • They don’t need to be used for ranking, for indexing.”
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John Mueller affirms that they will use nofollows on internal links but states that it is not a directive.

Previous to Google’s change in how it handled nofollows, the nofollow attribute was a directive.

Here is what Mueller said:

“So it’s not a 100% directive like robots.txt, where you say these are never going to be crawled. But it does tell us that we don’t need to focus on them as much.”

Nofollow Hints is About Outbound Links

John Mueller then made it more explicit that treating nofollow as a hint and the new nofollow attributes are primarily for outbound links.

This is how John Mueller explained it:

“So for us, the main change with nofollow and these new attributes is for outbound links… from your website to another website.”

That statement is in line with what Gary Illyes was reported to have said about the reason for treating nofollows as a hint.

According to what I was told, Gary said the motivation was to capture more of the link signal in order to return better search results.

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Internal Nofollows for Faceted Navigation Continue to Work

John Mueller further clarified that nofollows on internal links will continue to work.

“Within the website, for these kinds of faceted navigation for categories and sorting and things like that, that continues to work.”

Takeaway on Nofollow Hints and Internal Links

It appears that Google’s nofollow hint change is primarily to reclaim nofollowed link signals on outbound links for the purpose of improving search results.

This may explain why nofollow links on internal links will almost continue to work as before. I say almost because, according to John Mueller, internal nofollow links are no longer treated as directives.

So if the nofollow attribute on internal links is no longer a directive that means Google is treating internal nofollows as a hint. But he also said they will continue to work.

If that sounds a little convoluted, the reason might be because how this is going to work hasn’t been defined 100%, per John Mueller. It almost sounds like they’re still working this out.

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Internal nofollow links tend to be nofollowed for real reasons that are important to the publisher. Thus it makes sense for Google to continue to respect the nofollow attribute when applied to internal links.