Google is evolving the nofollow link attribute and introducing additional attributes to help Google understand the nature of links.
The two new link attributes joining rel=“nofollow” are:
- rel=“sponsored”: Identifies links on a site that were created as part of advertising, sponsorships or similar agreements.
- rel=“ugc”: Identifies links that appear within user generated content, such as comments and forum posts.
Going forward, each of these three attributes will be treated as hints about which links to exclude as ranking signals. That means they will not be ignored, as has been the case up until now.
Why not completely ignore these links? Here’s Google’s explanation:
“Links contain valuable information that can help us improve search, such as how the words within links describe content they point at. Looking at all the links 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.”
Here’s what these changes mean for SEOs and site owners.
What SEOs and Site Owners Need to Know
Link attributes are still important
It’s still just as important to flag ads and sponsored links in order to avoid possible link scheme penalties. Google prefers the use of “sponsored,” but “nofollow” is fine as well.
No need to change existing attributes
There is no need to change any existing nofollow links. Google will continue to honor nofollow attributes that are currently in place.
There’s also no need for SEOs and site owners to change how they use the “nofollow” attribute to flag links pertaining to ads and sponsorships. However, Google does recommend switching to the “sponsored” attribute when appropriate.
How to use the new attributes correctly
More than one attribute can be used on a single link. For example, rel=“ugc sponsored” would be acceptable for a sponsored link that appears within user generated content.
Google says there is no wrong attribute to use except in the case of sponsored links. If a link is marked as sponsored when it’s not actually part of an ad or sponsorship, then the impact will be lessened.
“… we’ll see that hint but the impact — if any at all — would be at most that we might not count the link as a credit for another page. In this regard, it’s no different than the status quo of many UGC and non-ad links already marked as nofollow.”
The bottom line – any link that is clearly an ad or sponsored should use “sponsored” or “nofollow.”
These changes go into effect today
The three link attributes – sponsored, ugc and nofollow – now work as of today.
Sponsored and ugc attributes are treated as “hints.” Nofollow will work the same as always up until March 2020, at which time it will also be treated as a hint.
Those who rely solely on the nofollow attribute, which was never recommended to begin with, should strongly consider switching to one of the new attributes.