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Changes to ‘nofollow’ Link Identifiers

A key element of website links and their use in link building and SEO has been the use of “nofollow” link attributes. These link controls are used for a variety of reasons but are essentially there to indicate to Google that the link doesn’t gain any link value to the target web page. These have therefore been used to try to reduce link targeting or to manage PageRank scores, and have now been further advanced with several new attributes.

As blogs and social media sites developed in the early 2000s, Google and Bing agreed to introduce the nofollow attribute as a means to help fight comment spam. It also quickly became one of Google’s recommended methods for flagging advertising-related or sponsored links and Google has just announced two new link attributes that provide webmasters with additional ways to identify to Google Search the nature of particular links.

The range of link attributes will therefore now be as follows:
rel=”nofollow”: used for cases where you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.
rel=”sponsored”: used to identify links on your site that were created as part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements.
rel=”ugc”: stands for User Generated Content, and the ugc attribute value is recommended for links within user generated content, such as comments and forum posts.

When nofollow was introduced, Google would not count any link marked this way as a signal to use within their search algorithms (and therefore to not gain any link value). This has now changed so that now, all the link attributes – sponsored, UGC and nofollow – are treated as ‘hints’ about which links Google will consider or exclude within Search. Google says they will use these hints – along with other signals – as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyse and use links within their systems.

This is significant, in that Google wil not completely ignore such links – as had been the case with nofollow – as they recognise that links may contain valuable information that can help Google to improve search, such as how the words within links describe content they point at. By reviewing all links found around the web, Google will also use this information to try to identify unnatural linking patterns. By shifting to this hint model, Google is deciding not to completely ignore all ‘nofollow’ links but consider these as part of the online signals they use and also allowing site owners to indicate that some links shouldn’t be given the weight of a first-party endorsement.

Google says there is no need to change any nofollow links that are currently marked in this way. Any new links attributed this way, site owners can more accurately define different types of links and can also use more than one rel value on a link, so that for example, rel=”ugc sponsored” is a valid attribute which hints that the link came from user-generated content and is also sponsored.

All the link attributes – sponsored, ugc and nofollow – now work today as hints for Google to incorporate for ranking purposes. For crawling and indexing purposes, nofollow will become a hint as of March 1, 2020.

If you’d like to know more about these changes to link attribution and how it may affect your website or link building strategies, please contact us now for more information.