For over 15 years, the nofollow attribute was alone to fight comment spam and soon after, became a recommended method for flagging off advertising-related links - including sponsored links.
But that's no more…
The nofollow link attribute you know has now evolved to meet the reality of the present
It's of course… now a hint to Google.
Plus, it now gets additional link attributes to identify the nature of a particular link to Google.
Meaning, it won't be the only one doing it all alone.
Here's Google's announcement on Sept. 2019.
"Today, we’re announcing two new link attributes that provide webmasters with additional ways to identify to Google Search the nature of particular links"
And one more thing… which you're going to find out in this guide.
Let me start by introducing you to these attributes.
What are nofollow link attributes?
Nofollow links are hyperlinks - used when you want to link to another page but don't want to pass along any ranking credit (link equity values) or endorsement.
A typical nofollow link is a normal HTML hyperlink but with the addition of rel=“nofollow” tag.
<a href="https://example.com" rel="nofollow">anchor text goes here</a>
You can as well nofollow all links on a webpage by placing a meta robots tag with the value “nofollow” in the "<head>" section:
<meta name="robots" content="nofollow" />
This code... when applied to an HTML page will prevent Google from following all the links on the page and also transferring any PageRank across.
"Sponsored" Link Attribute
The sponsored Link Attribute is a hyperlink with rel="sponsored"
Use this attribute to identify links on your website as part of:
- Advertisements, or
- Any other compensation agreement.
With this additional attribute, you can now set rel="sponsored" to label advertising-related links on your web pages.
And use rel="nofollow" as a hint for links you do not trust.
This will help Google to differentiate between advertising and untrustworthy links.
What Are UGC Links Attribute
UGC links attribute is a hyperlink with rel="ugc".
The UGC stands for User Generated Content and you can apply the attribute to comments and forum posts.
This tells Google that the specified link with the "UGC" attribute is not part of advertising-related links.
rel="nofollow" - What Really Changed...
When nofollow was introduced back in 2005, Google would neither count nor pass any PageRank with links marked with rel="nofollow" attribute.
But like I said earlier…
It's a different ball game for SEOs now.
The Nofollow attribute - along with the additional (sponsored and UGC) attributes - are now treated as hints to better understand how to analyze and use links within the search system:
- The new hint model helps Google to spot unnatural link patterns.
- Assist Google in analyzing anchor text; the relevance of the anchor text to the destination content.
- Protect webmasters against putting their full support for links that are not trusted.
The Importance of nofollow Link Attribute
Nofollow links have their own advantages just as dofollow links.
It might not be passing PageRank across directly, but it does drive traffic, which leads to dofollow links.
For instance, when you share your link on social media or forums, and someone finds your content, he or she might decide to link to the article on your page.
Although, there are some debates on whether Google usually considers nofollow in some cases or not.
Here’s what Tim Soulo, CMO at Ahref said about this after they carried out a study:
"This could be an indication that Google values some nofollowed links from strong pages more than followed links from weak pages. #whoknows"
That study was just like every other study in the SEO sphere.
And are just near-correlations and not necessarily causation.
Here is the importance of the nofollow link attribute
1. Diversification of link profile
If your website only has dofollow backlinks or a high percentage of follows, it could be a sign that something fishy might be going on that may warrant search engines to pay close attention to your site.
Nofollow links are unavoidable because when most people find your content useful, they link to it naturally while preserving their own PageRanks.
And if you share links across social media, most especially, links in:
- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.
- Forums like Reddit, Quora, etc.
- Press releases
- Local Directories
...are mostly nofollow.
So, naturally, your link profile should be a mix of dofollow and nofollow backlinks.
2. They protect against Google penalties
The idea of nofollow-ing some links that you do not vouch for or trust is a good way to avoid being flagged by Penguin.
Google has stated clearly that while paid links themselves are not against their webmaster guidelines, following the link is what they frown upon.
And they want webmasters to either tag it with rel="sponsored" or rel="nofollow" attribute.
3. They help in driving traffic
Links help in driving referral traffic from social media or forums such as Quora and Reddit.
By providing answers to questions, you can leave a link at the end to relevant resources that'll add more value to the readers.
The link will then bring referral traffic back to your site.
What Nofollow, Sponsored, & UGC Updates Mean For Webmasters... And What You Should Know
Many major websites like Forbes, CNN, Wikipedia and so on… add mostly nofollow to their external links.
While this is understandable to conserving PageRank and avoiding penalties, it doesn't provide much information.
But with the hint model, means, Google will no longer be losing important information on which links are advertising, which is untrusted, which are placed by the webmaster, and which are placed by users.
The anchor text of a nofollow link will be used to describe the linked content.
You don't need to change your existing nofollow(s)
If you have used nofollow to block sponsored links or to signify a link in the comment, there’s absolutely no need to change it.
Google will still continue to support it that way.
And if you have a system in place like a comment moderation tool on your site that appends the nofollow to links, you can leave it to continue to markup to the page HTML.
But Google recommends switching to rel="sponsored" or rel="ugc" when it's convenient to do so.
The new attributes allow Google to better understand and process links for analysing the web.
This update means… you can use more than one "rel" value on a link
Depending on your needs - how you want Google to define the nature of a link - you can specify more than one "rel" value on a link.
If you have a link from user-generated content, which is sponsored, you can easily hint Google with:
It's also a valid use case when you combine nofollow with any of the new attributes:
rel="nofollow ugc" or
Especially when you wish to backwards-compatible the new attributes with services that don't already support them.
Summing It Up...
Although these two new link attributes were introduced by Google in September 2019, Bing’s guidelines say:
"you can use all three, the rel=”nofollow” or rel=”sponsored” or rel=”ugc” attributes, to “prevent the links from being followed by a crawler and from potentially impacting search rankings.”
We hope to see more search engines adopting these new link attributes.
Because its adoption will make it more common among SEOs.
And With Google now changing to a hint model, we hope they can obtain more relevant information from the anchor text of nofollow links.
Got questions about the usage of nofollow, UGC, and sponsored link attributes?
Drop it in the comment below!