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WordPress 5.3 Will Change How it Blocks Indexing

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WordPress 5.3 Will Change How it Blocks Indexing


WordPress announced an important change to how it will block search engines from indexing websites. This change abandons the traditional Robots.txt solution in favor of the Robots Meta Tag approach. The change brings WordPress in line with the reason for blocking Google, which is to keep the blocked pages from showing in Google’s search results.

This is the Robots Meta Tag that WordPress will use:

<meta name=’robots’ content=’noindex,nofollow’ />

Blocking Google From Indexing

It has long been a standard practice to use Robots.txt to block the “indexing” of a website.

The word “indexing” meant crawling of the site by GoogleBot. By using the Robots.txt blocking feature you could stop Google from downloading the specified web page and, it was assumed,  Google would be unable to show your pages in the Search Results.

But that robots.txt directive only stopped Google from crawling the page. Google was still free to add it to its index if it was able to discover the URL.

So to block a site from appearing in the index, a publisher would block Google from “indexing” the pages. Which wasn’t consistently effective.

WordPress 5.3 Will Truly Prevent Indexing

WordPress adapted the Robots.txt approach. But that’s changing in version 5.3.

When a publisher currently selects “discourage search engines from indexing this site” what that does is add an entry to the site’s robots.txt that prohibits Google from crawling a site.

Starting with WordPress 5.3, WordPress will adopt the more reliable Robots Meta Tag approach for preventing the indexing of a website.

This change will affect the “discourage search engines from indexing this site” setting. 

This change is an improvement. WordPress publishers can be more secure in knowing that the blocked web pages will not be shown in Google’s search results.

Screenshot of WordPress 5.3 announcement, with the following text: "In WordPress 5.3 the method used to discourage indexing will change on sites enabling the option “discourage search engines from indexing this site” in the WordPress dashboard. These changes were made as part of ticket #43590. These changes are intended to better discourage search engines from listing a site rather than only preventing them from crawling the site."Screenshot of the announcement of the change coming to WordPress 5.3.

Why Did WordPress Use Robots.txt?

WordPress relied on Robots.txt for blocking the indexing of a website because that’s how everybody kept pages from showing in Google’s search results. That was the standard way of doing it.

Yet even though everybody did it that way, as has been explained, it was an unreliable approach.

The word “indexing” has two meanings:

  1. Indexing means crawling, as when Googlebot visits and downloads web pages.
  2. Indexing can also mean adding a web page to Google’s database of web pages (which is called The Index).

Blocking Google from “indexing” a web page will keep it from seeing the web page but Google could still index the web page and add it to Google’s index. Make sense?

Robots.txt Versus Robots Meta Tag

Keeping a web page out of Google’s index was not the intent of the Robots.txt solution. Doing that is the job of the Robots Meta Tag.

So it’s good to see WordPress embrace the Robots Meta Tag as the solution to blocking web pages from showing in the search engines.

WordPress 5.3 is scheduled to be released in November 2019.

Read the WordPress announcement:

Changes to Prevent Search Engines Indexing Sites

Read Google’s Authoritative Documentation

  1. Robots meta tag and X-Robots-Tag HTTP header specifications
  2. Block search indexing with ‘noindex’



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Yoast 12.1 adds custom favicons to the mobile snippet preview

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Yoast 12.1 adds custom favicons to the mobile snippet preview


Yoast has released version 12.1 of its WordPress plugin; the update adds your custom favicon to the mobile snippet preview, matches Google’s font sizes on desktop search results and introduces new schema filters.

Yoast’s mobile snippet preview with custom favicon. Source: Yoast.

Why we should care

An accurate preview of your mobile and desktop listings enables you to get a better idea of what your customers see before they click through, which may help you optimize your snippets and encourage them to click on your results.

The new filters introduced in this update can also be used to control your schema output and provide searchers with pertinent information about your brand.

More on the announcement

Yoast 12.1 also adds the following filters for more granular control over schema output:

  • wpseo_schema_organization_social_profiles filters an entity’s social profiles. You can use it to customize social profiles within the Organization schema object.
  • wpseo_schema_company_name and wpseo_schema_company_logo_id filter your company’s name and logo from the theme options if it hasn’t been designated in Yoast SEO’s settings.
  • wpseo_enable_structured_data_blocks disables Yoast’s structured data block editor blocks.

For more on Yoast’s structured data implementation updates, check out our coverage on Yoast SEO 11.0 (general schema implementation), 11.1 (images and video structured data), 11.2 (custom schema), 11.3 (personal image and avatar structured data), 11.4 (FAQ structured data), 11.5 (mobile snippet preview) and 11.6 (updated How-to structured data block).


About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.

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Google Updates Reviews Rich Results – Check Your Structured Data

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Google Updates Reviews Rich Results - Check Your Structured Data


Google announced an update to Reviews Rich Results. The goal is to improve the Reviews Rich Results for users and to
“address” abusive implementation and impose limits to where rich results trigger. Additionally,the “name” property
becomes required.

Reviews Rich Results

The reviews rich results are explained in Google’s Review Snippet developer page. Google takes your schema structured data related to reviews and show stars in the search results.

Screenshot of a Reviews Rich Result

The rich snippets developer page states:

“Review snippets may appear in rich results or Google Knowledge Panels.”

It’s the guidelines on their appearance in the rich results that is affected.

Limits Imposed on When Rich Results Reviews are Shown

Google announced that the display of rich results reviews will be limited. This means that any reviews outside of those limits will no longer show review snippets.

These are the allowed schema types:

Self-serving Reviews Not Allowed

Self-serving reviews are reviews of oneself. Google will no longer display self-serving reviews in the featured snippets.

This is how Google explained it:

“We call reviews “self-serving” when a review about entity A is placed on the website of entity A – either directly in their markup or via an embedded 3rd party widget. “

“name” Property is Now Required

In perhaps the biggest change to Reviews Rich Results is the mandatory requirement of the name property in the featured snippets.

Publishers who rely on schema structured data plugins, including Reviews WordPress Plugins, should check if their plugin is currently including the “name” property.

If the name property is not included with your plugin then look for an update to your plugin and update it. If there is no “name” update then it may be something your plugin maker has in a future update.

You may wish to contact your plugin maker to find out when this is coming because the “name” property is now important.

Will Rich Results Disappear if “name” Property Missing?

Google did not say if failure to have the “name” property in the structured data will result in a loss of the Reviews Rich Result. They only said it’s required.

“With this update, the name property is now required, so you’ll want to make sure that you specify the name of the item that’s being reviewed.”

This is an important update for publishers who use reviews structured data. Make sure your structured data is properly updated in order to continue to show rich results for your structured data.

Read Google’s announcement here

Making Review Rich Results more Helpful



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What really matters in Google’s nofollow changes? SEOs ask

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What really matters in Google's nofollow changes? SEOs ask


Google’s news Tuesday that it is treating the nofollow attribute as a “hint” for ranking rather than a directive to ignore a link, and the introduction of rel="sponsored"andrel="ugc" raised reactions and questions from SEOs about next steps and the impact of the change to a nearly 15-year-old link attribute.

Choices for choice sake?

As Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan stated in a tweet Tuesday, the announcement expands the options for site owners and SEOs to specify the nature of a link beyond the singular nofollow attribute. The additional sponsored and ugc attributes are aimed at giving Google more granular signals about the nature of link content.

As a point of clarification, Google’s Gary Illyes tweeted that nofollow in meta robots will also be treated as a “hint,” but there are no ugc or sponsored robot meta tags. He also stated that he’ll be updating the official documentation to explicitly reflect this.

There is no real benefit for the sites that implement these new attributes instead of nofollow, other than organizational classification if it’s helpful. That has some viewing it through a lens of skepticism.

“Massive impact” whether you adopt or not

Drawing the focus back to that the key change that nofollow is now a ranking “hint,” not a directive, Sullivan tweeted, “As Gary says, that’s very helpful to our systems that impact *lots* of people. The new attributes are a minor aspect.”

That was in reference to Illyes earlier tweet that the treatment of nofollow could have a “massive impact on the end user.”

It can be hard to reconcile hearing that the change could mean significant improvements in search results for users while also being told that most sites won’t see any ranking affect from the new nofollow treatment.

According to the announcement, these changes have already taken effect (save for nofollow being used as a crawling and indexing “hint,” which goes into effect in March 2020). “In most cases, the move to a hint model won’t change the nature of how we treat such links,” Sullivan and Illyes wrote in the announcement. “We’ll generally treat them as we did with nofollow before and not consider them for ranking purposes.”

Who benefits from the new attributes?

Implementing the more granular sponsored andugc attributes is optional, and Google clearly stated there is no need for SEOs to go back and update any existing nofollows. So will site owners adopt the new attributes if they don’t have to?

As Sullivan has stated, the purpose of them is to provide options to help it classify these kinds of links more clearly. The nuances Google looks at between nofollow,sponsored and ugc attributes won’t have an impact on your own site and the new attributes are voluntary to implement. “If you do want to help us understand the web better, implement them. If you don’t want to, don’t,” tweeted Illyes.

More work?

Making the new attributes voluntary means you don’t have to bang down IT’s door, but it could also mean the change request may fall to the bottom of the priority list for a lot of companies and never get implemented. As consultant Kristine Schachinger expressed in the tweet below, even the slightest SEO change can be hard to get implemented.

Google seems very clearly fine with that. At this stage, the actual work involved should be minimal. If your dev teams can’t implement a code change to incorporate ugc or sponsored attributes for several more sprints, or quarters (and you’ve been implementing nofollow when appropriate), you don’t have to fret.

For WordPress sites, Yoast SEO plugin founder and Chief Product Officer Joost de Valk said Tuesday that support will be coming in the next release.

“It’s quite easy,” said de Valk. If other vendors follow suit, it could speed up adoption of the new attributes.

An opportunity for manipulation?

Now that nofollow is a “hint,” some are also concerned about spammers that might want to test out whether their tactics have a new lease on life.

Google says this shouldn’t spur spammers because most links will still be ignored just as before, whether they use the nofollow, ugc or sponsored attributes. Further, given that one of the stated reasons Google made the change to consider nofollow a “hint” is to be able to better understand link schemes, this spam tactic could be more risky than before.

What now?

This change should not have you overhauling your nofollow strategy. If you publish sponsored content or host forums or comments on your site, consider implementing the new attributes when you are able to make a code change. If you can’t or just don’t want to, there’s no harm in that either.

“On the surface, this only benefits Google,” Chris Silver Smith, president of Argent Media, commented via Facebook. “But, if you read between the lines, ‘hints’ mean a passing of PageRank or equivalent values. They’re already using Nofollowed links in some cases. They just want it easier to choose between links to use now in more cases.”


About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.

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