Why You Should Continue To Use NoFollow
Should you use NoFollow on your links for SEO reasons? It's a good question. I would have to answer that with a resounding 'yes'.
In 2019, Google decided to introduce some new rel attributes to the world.
Google introduced the attributes rel="sponsored" and rel="ugc". They also announced that they would be using the NoFollow attribute as a hint in future.
NoFollow as Hint
Google want to use NoFollow as a hint. Is there a good reason for doing so?
One thing that others who have wrote about this have missed, is 'The Reasonable Surfer Model'. This model helps assist PageRank and similar algorithms. One way it does this is by making a rough estimate about the probability of a link receiving a click.
If a link is more likely to receive more clicks, it will then be weighted higher. Which is to say that it'll receive more value. A NoFollow link could receive a very high probability of being clicked. If this is found to be the case, a strong argument could be made that the link should be assigned value after all.
There should be no controversy surrounding this topic. The Reasonable Surfer Model is not new, so for all we know they could have been doing this for a long time. The benefit to publicly announcing it would seem obvious to the skeptical among us... Fear. If people fear the NoFollow attribute they are more likely to switch to the new attributes that Google wants people using.
Sidenote: One reason Google might want people using these new attributes instead is because they already know how to handle NoFollow links. What they might want to do instead is use the new attributes to train ML (Machine Learning) models that can help refine PageRank style algorithms further.
NoFollow Is Powerful For More Than 'Link Sculpting'
Link Sculpting is just another word for PageRank Sculpting. What you should know is that NoFollow is almost ubiquitous with these techniques, even though it shouldn't be (there's a lot more to those techniques).
You can actually use it for Anchor Text Sculpting. Which is it's own thing, and a thing that would play into general Link Sculpting as well, in my opinion.
Anchor Text Sculpting is a method where you utilize the NoFollow attribute to attempt to have the anchor text ignored.
This is powerful when dealing with non-descriptive anchor text. Terms such as 'read more' on buttons or other CTA (Call-To-Action) elements can be a relevance nightmare.
Google's own Lighthouse tool even warns against using these types of anchors. One way to fix them without removing the link? A NoFollow attribute.
It's true that if they decide to parse your NoFollow link anyway that this won't help. However, when they don't, this technique can be a powerful way to send only the relevant anchor signals to your target destination.
We know this is something Google cares about as they highlight using non-descriptive anchor text as a problem in their Lighthouse audit platform. An issue that can be fixed with either changing the anchor text, or you guessed it - implementing a NoFollow attribute.
Other Search Engines
It can be easy to forget about other search engines, but these can be important sources of traffic for many websites.
Bing and DuckDuckGo are not required to treat attributes in the same way as Google does. It is important to use the NoFollow attribute for search engines such as those who do not.
Besides, if Google uses it as a hint then what is the harm in adding it in?
To NoFollow Or Not To NoFollow?
For all the reasons above I think that NoFollow should still be a part of your SEO toolbox.
Whether you will or won't use it is ultimately up to you though. The ball is in your court. What will it be?