It’s been 14 years since the “nofollow” link became part of the SEO industry and nothing really changed till yesterday. On Tuesday, Google announced that it has different plans for the rel attribute “nofollow” (rel=”nofollow”) and introduced two new attributions for webmasters.
According to the announcement, the nofollow links will act more or less as a hint for the Google Algorithms to understand websites.
Google has categorically stated that nofollow links are not a direct ranking signal. However, there is a high chance that Google may use it to verify the context of the content, which is a serious ranking factor.
In the past few years, webmasters have found websites using the “nofollow” attribute more than its counterpart “dofollow”. Some websites attribute all the outbound links as “nofollow,” which makes it very hard to pass the ranking signals.
Discussions were ripe in SEO forums about the future of the nofollow links, and it seems like Google has been listening to them.
Google made great transformation from what it was back in 2005 when it introduced the rel=”nofollow” attribute. The inception of the “nofollow” attribute was the result of SEOs indulging in spamming content to build backlinks.
Fast forward to 2019, Google’s algorithms are advanced enough to understand the comment spam and other spammy tactics, even without the assistance of attributes.
This has resulted in Google deciding to add two more rel attributes in addition to changing gears for the existing “nofollow” attribute.
New Rel Attributes Introduced by Google
Google is now making an effort to understand the different types of links used by websites.
To make a clear distinction between the links, Google has introduced two new attributes rel=” sponsored” and rel=”ugc”, which give more signals to Google regarding the type of link.
The rel=”sponsored” attribute is a new method introduced by Google to identify the links placed on a site with a monetary benefit.
For example, the rel=”sponsored” can be used for a link that is placed as part of an advertisement, sponsored post or various other paid circumstances.
The rel=”ugc” attribute is ideal for websites that generate a lot of user-generated content. For example, forums and sites such as Wikipedia. This attribute is used within the links placed in user-generated content.
Webmasters are advised to use the rel=”nofollow” attribute for links they don’t want to endorse or consider for passing the ranking credit. The existing definition of rel=”nofollow” hasn’t changed much, but the implications of it have “evolved.”
Moving forward, Google will use all the three rel attributes as signals to understand the context of the linked website.
This means the search engine giant won’t ignore the links completely other than rel=”dofollow”, which has been the case till yesterday.
Here is what the official Google announcement says about the new update on rel attributes
“Links contain valuable information that can help us improve searches, such as how the words within links describe content they point at.
Looking at all the links that we encounter can also help us better understand unnatural linking patterns.
By shifting to a hint model, we no longer lose this important information, while still allowing site owners to indicate that some links shouldn’t be given the weight of a first-party endorsement.”
Big Announcement from Google for 2020
Google has always been tight-lipped about it’s ranking factors, and it’s not always that the search engine giant makes critical announcements like the one made yesterday.
Towards the end of the announcement about the two new rel attributes, Google hinted that, starting March 1, 2020, it will begin to consider nofollow links for crawling and indexing purposes.
SEO experts believe that the new shift in how Google recognizes the nofollow attribute is a hint that it may become part of the ranking signals in the near future.
This sentiment is corroborated with the fact that more and more websites prefer the nofollow attribute to dofollow.
This is what Google says, “All the link attributes, sponsored, ugc and nofollow, now work today as hints for us to incorporate for ranking purposes. For crawling and indexing purposes, nofollow will become a hint as of March 1, 2020.”
Key Takeaways for SEOs and Site Owners from the new announcement
1. Google considers link attributes seriously
Google is on a never-ending onslaught against websites that indulge in link schemes and other paid link building practices.
The new attributes are tailor-made to help websites avert manual penalties. Google wants all paid links on a site to either have the attribute “sponsored” or “nofollow” as these two will pass ranking signals only based on the content context of the link.
2. No need to change the existing attributes
It’s obvious that most of the outbound links on your website have the nofollow attribute.
You don’t need to change this as Google has not made any major changes to how it reads the nofollow tag. Moving forward, Google recommends using the two new attributes based on the context of the link.
3. Even the “nofollow” attribute will be a ranking factor by 2020
If you see a lot of nofollow links from genuine, high-quality websites, do not fret.
Google has said that by March 2020, even the nofollow links will be considered as ranking factors along with the two new attributes introduced today. We have to keep a watch on how important a factor this might be in helping websites rank.
Here are the answers to a few questions you may have regarding the recent announcement concerning the rel attributes.
When to use rel= “sponsored” attribute and what are the implications?
Google has introduced the “sponsored” attribute to get more information regarding the type of link placed on the site. The “sponsored” attribute has to be used with caution as it’s meant for advertisements, sponsorships, or other compensation agreements.
Using the “sponsored” attribute for genuine links will not pass link juice. Also, trying to fake a sponsored/paid link as “ugc” can invite a Google penalty! Ideally, all paid links must be either attributed as “sponsored” or “nofollow.”
When to use rel= “ugc” attribute?
A majority of the content on the internet is user generated. With the number of forums and comments increasing, the use of the “ugc” attribute instead of “nofollow” will definitely make significant changes.
Websites like Wikipedia, which thrives on user-generated content and links, can now replace the rel= “nofollow” attribute to rel= “ugc”. The sites that received linkbacks from Wikipedia or similar websites may see an increase in rankings in the coming days.
Should I change all my “nofollow” links to either “ugc” or “sponsored”?
No. You don’t have to make any changes to the existing “nofollow” attributes within your site. Google will continue to ignore the “nofollow” links until March 1, 2020.
However, starting March 2020, Google will use the “nofollow”, “ugc” and “sponsored” attributes while crawling and indexing sites. It’s recommended to start using the new attributes to get the benefit in the days to come.
Is the new no-follow attribute an opportunity for spammers?
With Google about to consider nofollow links as a hint for ranking, some business owners are concerned whether it will work in favor of spammers.
Google says that no matter whether they use ugc, sponsored, or nofollow attribute, most links will be ignored as Google will use the nofollow attribute to understand link schemes better. This means that spam tactics will get even riskier.
Are nofollow links now a major ranking factor?
The official announcement from Google says “nofollow” has evolved and is now acting as a hint for ranking purposes.
According to the search engine giant, all the rel attributes, including “nofollow” will be used by its algorithms to find contextual links.
Contextual links are an important factor for ranking websites. Since Google has officially said that by March 1, 2020, there will be a major shift in the way Google treats the rel attributes, we may have to wait and see how it will impact the SERP positions of websites.
Does WordPress support rel= “sponsored” and rel= “ugc” attributes?
Since the two attributes are fairly new, the users may not find them immediately in WordPress. However, Joost de Valk, founder of Yoast SEO Plugin, has confirmed that the next update of the CMS will support the new attributes. In addition to that, he also said the new version will make link comments rel=”nofollow ugc”.
In addition to this, Joost also said that he is pushing for an interface in the block editor that allows users to set a link to “sponsored” or “ugc” without having to dive into HTML. According to him, the next release of WordPress should support the new attributes as it’s not a major change.
Well, the thing I think we can do easily is make links comments be "nofollow ugc". I'm also arguing for an interface in the block editor that allows you to set a link to "sponsored" without you having to dive into HTML, but not sure if that one will make it.
— Joost de Valk (@jdevalk) September 12, 2019
It already adds nofollow to links in comments by default. We're just changing that to be "nofollow ugc".
— Joost de Valk (@jdevalk) September 12, 2019
Work is already underway on WP Trac, don't see why it shouldn't hit the next release, it's not a major change.
— Joost de Valk (@jdevalk) September 12, 2019