Here is an excerpt from the conversation I had with Mr. Senthil Kumar, Vice President of Stan Ventures, about the future of nofollow links and the implications of the two new link types introduced by Google.
Listen to the Podcast:
Dileep: What is your take on Google introducing the two new rel attributes and Google considering rel attributes as a hint for ranking purposes in the future?
Senthil: Well, this sounds similar to what happened in 2005, when Google introduced the concept of nofollow, and there was a wide confusion in the SEO industry. I feel this is something quite similar, and this is something Google has been doing for a while now. Although Google said that the nofollow links would not be crawled, there are instances where despite giving a nofollow link, the target URLs get indexed. This has been happening for a while, and there’s a reason behind it.
In July this year, Google rolled out an update where they started considering the noindex tag on the robot. txt files that would sort out their crawling capabilities. Now they are bifurcating even more by introducing the rel=”ugc” and rel=”sponsored” attributes, which is a clear sign that Google is facing challenges in how people are adding the nofollow links. This step will give them an additional benefit to crawl and index those pages.
I think by 2020, blog commenting is going to make a big comeback because of the rel= “ugc” attribute is something we should be giving attention to. Google is going to miss out on a lot of valuable content if they are not going to take notice of the blog comments, and maybe that’s a reason why they are introducing the rel=ugc attribute by March 2020.
Dileep: There are high domain authority websites like Wikipedia that are reluctant to use dofollow links for external citations. With Google now introducing “ugc” attribute, such websites may start using it instead of nofollow. Do you think this can benefit websites?
Senthil: Yes, definitely, I think the whole point of introducing two new attributes is to help people get good traction out of that.
Dileep: Now, I think it’s time to discuss out agencies that still sell links including PBNs. Since Google has categorically stated that paid links must be used along with either “sponsored” or “nofollow”, does changing a nofollow link to sponsored for paid links make any difference?
Senthil: I think it will have the same effect as the nofollow links. PBNs are already risky business, and it’s like telling Google directly that they are selling links. So Google will definitely take action towards anything that will affect its business model. I don’t think PBNs will stay forever, and as I said earlier, people would be shifting more of their focus to blog commenting in the future.
Dileep: What do you think is the major reason why Google has introduced the two new attributes? Do you think that websites took undue advantage of nofollow links and made it difficult for Google to assess the quality of websites?
Senthil: Yeah, definitely. Google wants to pay more attention to backlinks. If you take the example of Forbes and consider that they have an excellent article on SEO and they link out to our website and there is an ad near that as well, Google will pay more attention to those links in spite of you attributing them as nofollow. Hopefully, from a brand perspective, Google will provide at least a 50% value of what a dofollow link would’ve got to these links. If you ask me, it’s a very good step for publishers and content creators as they won’t be penalized for the contributions they are making on those websites.
Dileep: There are many websites that have not started using these new rel attributes. Do you think they should wait till March 2020 for the release?
Senthil: I think webmasters should start implementing them now, at least in blog comments. In the future algorithm updates, Google might release a few updates around these as well, and websites that have already implemented this will definitely get more priority than others. A less risky approach for publishers will be to add rel=ugc and rel=nofollow attributes together, and it will also tell Google that you are already following their guidelines.
Dileep: There might arise a scenario in the future wherein a website gets “ugc” links from a totally irrelevant forum. Since ‘ugc” has better tanking signals than “sponsored”, do you think getting “ugc” links from websites that publish contextually irrelevant content can help SEO?
Senthil: It definitely won’t. The moment you add nofollow, it’s up to Google to consider that link valuable or not, and the bot will detect that the context of the content and link are irrelevant. In this case, Google will just move on to the next link instead of wasting time.
Dileep: In the future, some websites might confuse Google by marking paid links as “ugc”. Do you think Google will penalize the website?
Senthil: When it comes to “ugc”, the bot will know that it’s a blog comment section. Since these links will have a nofollow tag, Google will probably discount them.
Dileep: What do you think WordPress users must do right now? As of now, they don’t have the option to use these new nofollow attributes.
Senthil: We had a conversation with the Yoast founder, and we came to know that they are working on releasing these new attributes very soon. I’d advise people to update their Yoast plugin at the earliest. I think SEOs should keep a close watch on the latest updates coming in and coordinate with their developers to get them rolled out after taking a backup of their sites.
A Brief Overview of Nofollow Links and New Link Types Introduced by Google
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.
What is a nofollow link ?
Nofollow links are hyperlinks attached to an anchor text with an HTML attribute that says rel=”nofollow”. This attribute is used by search engines, especially Google, to ignore the link juice passed on from one website to the other. Nofollow attribute is the opposite of Dofollow, which signals search engines to pass the link authority.
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