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Online tax-filing services can no longer hide free services from Google Search results

The IRS has revised its Free File agreement with online tax return software providers, requiring them to allow their Free File landing pages to be indexed by search engines and backing out of its pledge not to enter the e-file services marketplace, ProPublica reported on Monday.

Why we care

Strategic use of robots directives can restrict the pages that are crawled and indexed by search engine bots, keeping them from showing in search results. This can influence how users interact with your brand and discover the products or services available.

In this case, popular online tax filing services were using robots.txt and meta robots to keep their free e-file services from appearing in the search results. Now, those pages may appear in the search results, pointing users to the free options that they may not have discovered previously.

More on the news

  • The Free File agreement, which debuted in 2003, kept the IRS out of the online tax-filing marketplace. One of the conditions of the agreement was that Free File Alliance members provide taxpayers (with an adjusted gross income of $66,000 or less) with a Free File option on their websites.
  • In April, 2019, it was revealed that Intuit (the makers of TurboTax) and H&R Block had been using the robots meta tag and the robots.txt file to prevent their Free File landing pages from appearing in search results.
  • “[Free File, Inc.] Members are prohibited from engaging in any practice that would cause the Member’s Free File Landing Page to be excluded from an organic internet search,” the addendum to the agreement stipulates.
  • To make Free File more accessible, participating companies will also have to standardize the name of their Free File offering as “IRS Free File program delivered by [Member company name or product name].”

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