Today we have some big news for you: On Tuesday, Google announced on its Webmaster Central Blog that it will treat nofollow link attributes only as a hint and not as a directive in the future. In addition, two new link attributes “sponsored” and “ugc” were introduced. How will this impact your website and which adjustments should you make now? Keep reading to find out.
What has changed?
In 2005, Google introduced the nofollow attribute for links that Googlebot is not supposed to follow. Now, this attribute has been fundamentally changed for the first time: in the future, Google will no longer treat nofollow as a directive but rather as a hint. Until now, nofollow links have been strictly ignored by Googlebot but with this change, they could possibly be considered for ranking purposes.
In addition, there will be two new link attributes, namely “sponsored” and “ugc”, which will complement the nofollow attribute. These are also treated as a hint by Google and should be used in the following cases:
- rel=”sponsored” should be added to links in the context of advertising, sponsored content or similar agreements
- rel=”ugc” is intended for links within user-generated content, e.g. links in comment sections or forum posts
rel=”nofollow” should still be used for links if you do not want to endorse or recommend the linked page, i.e. you don’t want to pass on link juice.
According to Google, you can also use multiple attributes for a single link. For example, you could use rel=”nofollow ugc” for links in the comment section of your blog that you don’t want to endorse. You can find an infographic that summarizes the different use cases on moz.com.
What is the reason for this change?
You wonder why Google made this change? Google explains in the official announcement that they no longer want to ignore nofollow links, as the analysis of such links can help, for example, to uncover unnatural link patterns. By taking nofollow links into account, they can make sure that such important information won’t go undetected. At the same time, you still have the possibility to signal to Google that certain links should be given less weight. With the two new link attributes “sponsored” and “ugc”, you can also help Google better understand the different types of external links you set.
nofollow and link spam
The announcement that nofollow will only be treated as a hint for ranking purposes gave rise to fears that this could lead to an increase in link spam, for example in comment sections. However, Google doesn’t expect this to happen as most blogs and similar platforms already have ways to detect spam (e.g. moderation tools for comments).
In addition, Google points out that treating nofollow as a hint will in most cases have no impact on rankings. Google, therefore, does not expect the change to have any significant effect on search results. It’s just a means to help Google better process links when searching the web.
How will this impact your website?
If you’re afraid that you now have to change all nofollow links on your site, we recommend you to stay calm. Google explicitly stated that this is not necessary as nofollow will still be supported. For the future, Google recommends to use “sponsored” and “ugc” but there are neither advantages to using the new attributes nor disadvantages if you don’t. That’s why many SEOs are skeptical about the change, as it seems to primarily benefit Google. Webmasters now just have more possibilities to inform Google about what kind of link they set.
However, Google also announced that from March 1, 2020, nofollow will only be treated as a hint for crawling and indexing purposes as well. So if you use nofollow for internal links on your website in order to prevent certain pages from being crawled and indexed, you should switch to another method (e.g. robots.txt or meta tags). You can find more information on how to lead Googlebot through your website in our article on crawl budget optimization.