This week, SEOs learned that Google stopped supporting the rel=prev/next markup (that indicates a web page is part of a larger set of pages) within its indexing process years ago. Having factored rel=prev/next into their site design and investing time into maintaining those structures, site owners, web designers, and SEOs have some charged emotions about the lapsed announcement.
Here’s how Google broke the news:
As we evaluated our indexing signals, we decided to retire rel=prev/next.
Studies show that users love single-page content, aim for that when possible, but multi-part is also fine for Google Search. Know and do what’s best for *your* users! #springiscoming pic.twitter.com/hCODPoKgKp
— Google Webmasters (@googlewmc) March 21, 2019
Just prior to that, Google’s John Mueller laid this detail on us:
We noticed that we weren’t using rel-next/prev in indexing for a number of years now, so we thought we might as well remove the docs :).
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) March 21, 2019
Why you mad, though? Notable SEOs like Alan Bleiweiss and Jenny Halasz are pushing back.
Always have, always will. Nobody there knows what the ENTIRE system does, or how it does it. Too many moving parts. So they need reinforcing signals. This is not rocket science understanding of the flaws in their system. 2/
— Alan Bleiweiss (@AlanBleiweiss) March 21, 2019
While Bleiweiss insists that Google needs reinforcing signals like link relationship tags to effectively index, Halasz points out that there are other search engines out there and (perhaps more importantly) that these tags may provide support for users who rely on technology such as screen readers to navigate.
Please don’t change standard WCAG practices just b/c “Google said”! There are other search engines and other reasons (like accessibility) you should do things on websites that have nothing to do with Google!
I’m upset with Google for not mentioning the accessibility standard. https://t.co/H90U7NAYvO
— Jenny Halasz (@jennyhalasz) March 22, 2019
Others are highlighting the hypocrisy.
If users love single-page content, why aren’t Google search results on a single page?
— Kevin_Indig (@Kevin_Indig) March 21, 2019
People aren’t just upset that Google stopped supporting these tags, they feel betrayed because they’ve invested resources into making this a part of their user interface on the belief that it’s a best practice.
So what other expensive processes have your engineers been instructing us to use *for years* that you’ve been ignoring *for years*?
— Paul Thompson (@thompsonpaul) March 21, 2019
And, of course, there are the memes.
Hreflang right now pic.twitter.com/csRw1CqiK0
— Screaming Frog (@screamingfrog) March 21, 2019
Translation: the joke here is that the “hreflang” attribute (which tells Google which language a page uses) is next to get the axe. (It is just a joke.)
Why you should care. As search systems evolve, the ways they use or rely on markup changes, too. This won’t be the last subtraction or addition. Google apologized for the lapsed communication and expressed it would communicate markup changes when they happen going forward.
The reactions underscore that just because Google cuts support for something doesn’t mean it may not still be valuable for user experience or recognized by other platforms. Google apologized and maintains that webmasters should use it for reasons other than indexing. Just be sure to consider the broader impact the markup might have before deciding whether or not to stop using it themselves.