Google introduced new link attributes to provide more context about the nature of links. These include ‘sponsored’ for paid or sponsored links, ‘ugc’ for user-generated content, and modifications to ‘nofollow’ attribute, used when not endorsing a linked page. These changes allow for more nuanced link categorization, aiding Google’s understanding of web page relationships and improving SEO practices.
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If you’ve been involved with working with websites for any amount of time, you are familiar with the nofollow attribute. Google first introduced it about 15 years ago as a method to help fight against comment spam. Over the years, it evolved to become one of Google’s recommended methods for tagging advertising related or sponsored links. Since it was first introduced in 2005, we’ve seen the web evolve considerably.
In response to that evolution, Google recently announced two new link attributes to provide webmasters and marketers with more ways to identify the nature of links. But before we dive into the new attributes, let’s first refresh our memory about nofollow and why it’s important.
Rel=”Nofollow” and Why It Matters
Webmasters and marketers are advised to use rel=”nofollow” when they want to link to a page but don’t want to alert Google to an endorsement that includes passing the ranking credit to another page.
In 2005, Google would not count any link with the nofollow tag as a signal for use within the search algorithms. That’s not the case today.
All link attributes, whether nofollow, sponsored, or ugc are now treated as hints how about which links to exclude or consider within the search engines results pages. The Google algorithms will use these hints alongside other signals to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use the links within their systems.
Google advises people to use the rel=”sponsored” attributes on links that were created as part of advertising, sponsorships, or any kind of compensation agreement. This link attribute is especially important for bloggers and influencers who are regularly participating in marketing campaign.
UGC stands for user-generated content. Tag links within user-generated content, such as those in comments and forum posts with this link attribute.
Why Did Google Make the Change?
In the past, the nofollow attribute meant that Google was completely ignoring the link. Google has since determined that links contain valuable information that can help them improve search. This includes how the words within the links describe the content they point to. Google has decided that by looking at all the links they run into, they can improve their understanding of unnatural linking patterns. Using the hint model, Google doesn’t lose the important information but still allows webmasters inside owners to indicate that certain links shouldn’t be given the weight of a first-party endorsement.
Do You Need to Change Current Nofollow Links?
If you are currently relying on nofollow as a way to block sponsored links or to let Google know that you do not endorse a page you link to, Google will continue to support that. You do not have to change any of the nofollow links you already have.
If you are using nofollow for ads or sponsored links, you can continue to use this method to flag links and avoid possible link penalties. There is no need to change any of your existing links. If you are using a system that automatically includes the nofollow attribute on new links, you can continue to do this. However, it’s a good idea to switch to see sponsored attribute when or if it is convenient for you.
It’s important to tag ads or sponsored links to be sure you avoid possible link scheme penalties. Google would rather you use the sponsored link attribute rather than nofollow, but either is fine. They will be treated as the same for this purpose.
If you’re afraid of using the wrong attribute on a link, there’s no wrong attribute except in terms of sponsored links. If you tag a UGC link or non-advertising link as a sponsored link, Google will see the hints, but there wouldn’t be much, if any, impact. At most, Google may not count the link as credit for another page, and in that situation, it’s not different than the current approach many UGC and non-ad links that are already nofollow.
That said, any link clearly sponsored or an ad should use either the nofollow or the sponsored attribute. Google would rather you use sponsored, but will still support nofollow.
Can You Use Multiple Attributes on a Single Link?
Yes, you can use more than one attribute on a single link. This is most useful for sponsored links that are also user-generated content. For instance, you can use “rel=sponsored UGC” to indicate that a link came from user-generated content that’s sponsored. You can also use the nofollow attribute with the others to ensure everything remains backward compatibility with services that don’t support the new link attributes.
These two new attributes went into effect on September 10th, the date of the official announcement on the Google Webmaster’s Blog. This allows them time to incorporate the attributes for ranking purpose. But, in terms of crawling and indexing, nofollow won’t convert to a hint until March 1, 2020.
When this happens, if you’re using a nofollow attribute to block pages from being indexed, which Google never recommended, you’ll need to use an alternative method to block URLs from Google such as:
If you’re concerned about the new approach encouraging link spam, the truth is a lot of websites that allow third-party contributions to their sites are using other moderation tools you can integrate into many blogging platforms. Using UGC and nofollow attributes will continue to be a deterrent.
For the majority, moving to a hint model means there will not be a change in how Google treats those links. Google will generally treat them the same as they’ve done before by ignoring them for ranking purpose. The hint model will allow them to assess how to use links just as they’ve always done, and how they’ve acted with no attributes are used.
It’s a good idea to use the new attributes because it will help Google better understand process links for web analysis. If people apply the attributes to links to your content, this can improve Google’s understanding of your content.