The nofollow tag or HTML attribute has long been an important part of search engine optimization (SEO) because it lets webmasters specify whether they want Google and other search engines to count certain links as ranking signals when indexing a page. Previously, you could apply a nofollow tag to any hyperlink and it would instruct Google to completely ignore that link for ranking purposes.
However, Google has recently announced that it will be changing the way it deals with nofollow links and has even added two new attributes that can help webmasters inform Google about the nature of each link. In this guide, we’ll discuss Google’s recent nofollow update and how it will have an impact on SEO, link building, content marketing, and spam prevention.
What Was Nofollow Originally?
In the earlier days of the web, when blog spam first started to appear, Google needed a way to exclude certain links from being counted as “votes” within the search engine’s ranking algorithm. By giving blog owners and webmasters the ability to apply a nofollow tag to certain links, sites could avoid directly associating themselves with web properties when linking to potentially untrusted or incentivized sources such as ad links and user-generated content (UGC).
To ensure compliance with Google’s policies and prevent link spam, many blog owners began applying nofollow tags to all outbound links posted in the comments. When the nofollow HTML attribute was encountered within a hyperlink, Google automatically disregarded that link within its page ranking calculations.
How Has Nofollow Changed With the New Update?
Nofollow will still be the preferred method for preventing “link juice” from being passed on to potentially untrusted sources, but Google will no longer completely ignore these links. Instead, the link itself will be analyzed for anchor text content and other data, but it still won’t count towards the ranking algorithm for the page that is being linked to.
Before this update, nofollow links were almost completely disregarded for analysis purposes. This update lets Google learn from nofollow links without allowing them to influence page ranking signals.
What are the New Tags That Accompany Nofollow?
In addition to holding onto nofollow link data, Google now lets webmasters apply two new HTML attributes or tags to hyperlinks:
- rel =“ugc” – Specifies that the link is being placed within user-generated content
- rel=“sponsored” – Specifies that the link was created through a sponsorship, advertisement, or other incentivized agreement
From now on, the above two attributes can be used alongside the nofollow tag to specify how much weight a link should be given by Google. Surprisingly, both of these tags can be used simultaneously. For example, if a sponsored link was being inserted within user-generated content, the webmaster could use: rel=“ugc sponsored” to indicate that the link is a sponsored/UGC link.
However, it’s important to note that indicating a link is sponsored will significantly reduce the impact it has on ranking signals for the page that is being linked to. Generally, any link that is clearly part of an advertisement or sponsored effort should use the “nofollow” or “sponsored” tags. Likewise, the UGC tag should be reserved for links that are placed within comments, descriptions, reviews, or other user-written posts.
Will Google Stop Ignoring Nofollow Links?
According to Google’s official explanation, the decision to stop ignoring nofollow links was made primarily to allow those links to serve as hints regarding linking structure and content. Even though nofollow links still won’t be counted towards the ranking calculation, they will now be used to identify unnatural linking patterns and assess how the anchor text is describing the content that the link is pointing to.
By keeping nofollow link data within its database, Google no longer loses out on such essential information while still giving site owners the ability to specify which links shouldn’t be given the weight of a direct endorsement.
When Does the Change Go Into Effect?
The two new tags – sponsored and UGC – are already usable alongside the conventional nofollow tag. However, at the moment, only sponsored and UGC links will be viewed by Google as “hints.” As of March 2020, all nofollow links will also be used as hints. If you’ve been using the nofollow attribute on some links all along, you may want to start using the sponsored or ugc tags instead. Furthermore, many SEO experts have long advised against using the nofollow tag altogether, so if you haven’t been using it, there’s really no reason to start now because the other two newly introduced tags can serve as more ideal replacements.
Showing early and strong utilization of Google’s new tags will likely influence their algorithms to view your site as progressive and compliant. A similar situation was seen when Google essentially forced the widespread adoption of the HTTPS security protocol by demoting the ranking of many sites that didn’t use it.
What Impact Will This Have on SEO?
The impact that this change will have on SEO will depend entirely on how widely it is implemented by publishers – the blogs and websites where the links are being posted. Some pundits have speculated that the new tags will be largely unused because the cost and effort involved in modifying content management systems (CMS) and existing websites simply isn’t worthwhile considering it would seem to provide no tangible benefit for the publisher themselves. However, if Google starts to favor sites that use the new tags, then we could see widespread adoption similar to the above-mentioned advent of HTTPS.
In that case, the impact for link builders could actually be positive because it opens up the mere possibility that some links, which would otherwise be thrown under the nofollow umbrella, might now influence ranking signals and provide some sort of link equity, even if it is only small amount compared to the weight of an untagged link.
Ultimately, the recent update means that we could see UGC and sponsored links gaining a small but tangible amount of leverage within Google’s ranking algorithms, which would obviously be preferable over the previous reality of all nofollow links being given no weight whatsoever.