Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller advises that the nofollow link attribute isn’t a substitute for the noindex directive.
Googlebot is capable of can finding and indexing nofollowed links. So it should not be used in hopes of keeping a page out of Google’s search index.
This topic is discussed during the Google Search Central SEO office-hours hangout recorded on January 7.
Mueller addresses a submitted question asking if rel=”nofollow” can be used as noindex.
The person who submitted the question notes they’ve been nofollowing internal links to pages that they don’t want indexed in search results.
While there won’t be any issues caused by doing that, adding a nofollow attribute to internal links won’t prevent the pages from being indexed in search results.
See more from Mueller on this subject in the section below.
Nofollow Does Not Equal Noindex
When asked if rel=”nofollow” can be used to keep a page out of Google’s search index, Mueller says:
“No. Essentially, nofollow tells us not to pass any PageRank to those pages, but it doesn’t mean that we will never index that page. So if you really want a page to be blocked from indexing, make sure it has a noindex on it.
Don’t rely on us not accidentally running across a random link to that page. So I would not assume that those two are the same.”
Mueller goes on to reference an article from Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes, which explains the difference between nofollow and other types of link attributes.
In the article, Illyes explains how nofollow is treated as a hint and not a directive.
That means it can’t always be relied upon to do what it’s designed for.
Nofollow tells Google that a site doesn’t want to pass PageRank from one URL to another, but Google may decide to do so anyway.
With that being the case, it’s sometimes used by Google as a signal for link discovery.
“And in particular, with regards to new content on the web, I think Gary did a blog post maybe a year or so ago about rel=”nofollow” and the different types of other rel attributes, where he mentioned that we do sometimes use this for discovery of URLs as well.
So on the one hand we might see that link without a nofollow. We might see it with a nofollow and still kind of look at it anyway. If you don’t want a page indexed, then make sure it’s noindexed.”
Unlike nofollow, which is a hint, the noindex attribute is a directive.
That means Google will honor the request of the website to not have a particular page indexed.
It’s the one way to ensure a webpage stays out of Google’s search results.
Hear Mueller’s full response in the video below:
Featured Image: Screenshot from YouTube.com/GoogleSearchCentral, January 2022.