Much to the disappointment of many Google publishers, Google decided they would no longer be using the Rel=prev-next indexing signal. This wouldn’t have been so much of a problem as far as publishers were concerned, but it was the simple fact they were not notified of the changes. In fact, Google itself encouraged publishers to continue using the signal for years after they retired it, hence why many of them are now angry to find out it was pointless to implement into their web pages. Publishers have only recently found out of the changes because Google decided to announce it via Twitter.
What is the Indexing Signal?
For those web developers/content writers who had long pages of content, they could simply take advantage of the Rel=prev/next signal to break the content up into multiple sections/pages. This was specifically good for those wanting to get more indexed pages in the search engines without all of the content being wasted on just the one page. Search engine spiders love short content that’s easy to read, hence why publishers would use such signals to keep their content readable.
Why was it Such a Major Change?
While many SEO professionals decided it didn’t hurt their efforts too much, many others were hugely disappointed and regarded it as a major search engine change. This was because many publishers used the signal to help Google and other popular search engines navigate sites easily and with clear instructions.
Why Didn’t They Announce the Change?
Why Google didn’t announce the change officially as soon as they decided to remove it is beyond the SEO community. However, Google lost a lot of trust in retiring the indexing signal after announcing it years after. Publishers were also left confused when they opted to use the Google Support Pages to see why the indexing signal wasn’t being used any more – they were faced with just a 404-response error page. What was probably more baffling is the fact Google updated one of their blog posts from 2011 to say that the Rel=prev/next signal was no longer available.
Publishers are Unhappy with Google
It’s not uncommon for publishers and advertisers to be unhappy with some of Google’s decisions, but when they are making moves without updating their publishers, it causes major concern. Head of Google, Matt Cutts, promises to keep publishers up-to-date with any new changes, but he failed the SEO community. Publishers expect Google to help them improve their websites for their visitors, so they can convert more visitors into paying customers, and ensure their site is easy to navigate and use.
The Indexing Signal Continued to be Encouraged
Even as late as January 2019, John Mueller, an analyst at Google, was still encouraging the SEO community to continue using the signal, even though it was removed years ago. This all came about when a publisher asked John Mueller what he could do to ensure none of his inner pages were indexed within a pagination, but rather have the first page indexed. John responded and told the publisher that the best way of achieving such results was to take advantage of the Rel=prev/next indexing signal. He didn’t mention the fact that Google had already removed it. In fact, he told the publisher that Google was still very much using the signal.
Quite simply, although being an analyst for Google, John may not have known himself that Google removed the popular indexing signal. Why this was the case remains to be seen, but if their own analysts don’t know about such changes, the SEO community aren’t going to know either.
Should You Remove the Code from Your HTML Pages?
Many web developers have already gone ahead and removed the indexing signal from their code and, while this doesn’t pose so much of a problem, Edward Lewis, an internet marketer for nearly 25 years, has said that it’s still a relevant HTML element. So, while Google no longer uses the signal, other search engines still do.
Rel=prev/next Still Serves
The SEO community firmly believe that the signal played a major role in helping search engine spiders navigate sites easily, as it helps break up content that’s easier to digest. However, now that it’s been retired from Google, many online website auditors like Alan Bleiweiss feel that they can no longer “trust Google to sieve their way through hundreds of paginated content.” He still takes advantage of the indexing signal for other purposes, like targeting organic traffic from Bing and Yahoo search.
Big marketers like Cyrus Shephard have shared their own opinions on the actions Google has taken in recent years. He shares a more pragmatic response and feels that SEO professionals should no longer rely on the indexing signal, but concentrate on developing their internal links to ensure their content is still easy to navigate instead. This could mean creating more pages with less content or simply optimizing their internal pages to continue working with the search engine.
The fact is, Google is the boss of the online marketing world and the community has to abide by their rules and use the features they provide. Otherwise, they’re going to miss out on a chunk of the market which more or less every page visitor uses. Should web developers require organic traffic to flourish, they’re going to need to come up with unique ways to get their internal pages indexed, rather than relying on the Rel=prev/next indexing signal.
In conclusion, Google no longer uses Rel=prev/next indexing signals, which has hugely disappointed many publishers. However, while Google retired it, many publishers still have such code implemented, as they don’t really know how else Google can find the relevant content to be placed in the popular SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Whether Google will work with the signal again in the future remains to be seen, but what Google has done is lost a lot of love and support from their SEO community and publishers.