Nofollow attribute was introduced 15 years ago by Google as a means to help combat comment spam.
It has also quickly become one of Google’s recommended methods for flagging sponsored or advertising-related links. The web has evolved a lot since nofollow was introduced in 2005 and now is the time for nofollow to evolve as well.
Google thus announces two new link attributes that deliver additional formats to webmasters to signal the nature of specific links in Google Search.
These, along with nofollow, are identified and described below:
- rel = “sponsored”: Use the sponsored attribute to identify links on your website that were created as part of ads, sponsorships, or other paid partnerships.
- rel = “ugc”: UGC stands for User Generated Content and the value of the ugc attribute is recommended for links within user generated content such as comments and forum posts.
- rel = “nofollow”: Use this attribute for cases where you want to link to one page, but it does not imply any kind of recommendation, including transferring rating credit to another page.
The introduction of nofollow was originally intended to indicate to Google that links marked with this attribute should not be considered in its algorithm. That has now changed. All link attributes – sponsored, UGC, and nofollow – are treated as indications of which links to consider or exclude in Search. Google will now use these tips – along with other signals – as a way to better understand how to properly analyze and use links in their systems. Why not ignore these links completely, as happened with nofollow? Links contain valuable information that can help us improve your search, such as how the words in the links describe the content they are pointing to. Examining all the links we find can also help us better understand unnatural link patterns. When switching to a referral template, this important information is not lost, while website owners are allowed to indicate that some links should not be weighted by a third party endorsement.
We know these new attributes will raise questions, so we’ve answered the most frequently asked questions below:
Do I need to change my current nofollows?
No. If you use nofollow now as a way to block sponsored links or indicate no credit to a page you have a link to, this is still supported. There is therefore absolutely no need to change the nofollow links you already own.
Can I use more than one rel value in a link?
Yes, you can use more than one rel value in a link. For example, rel = “ugc sponsored” is a perfectly valid attribute that suggests that the link came from user-generated content and is sponsored. It is also valid to use nofollow with new attributes, such as rel = “nofollow ugc”, if you want to be compatible with services that do not support the new attributes.
If I use nofollow for ads or sponsored links, do I need to change them?
No. You can continue to use nofollow as a method to flag these links to avoid potential link scheme penalties. No need to change any existing markup. If you have systems that attach this attribute to new links, you can continue. We recommend, however, that you switch to rel = ”sponsored” if or when it is convenient.
Do I still need to flag sponsored ads or links?
Yes. If you want to avoid a possible link scheme penalty, use rel = “sponsored” or rel = “nofollow” to flag these links. Google prefers the use of sponsored, but anyone is good and will be treated the same for that purpose.
What happens if I use the wrong attribute on a link?
There is no wrong attribute except for sponsored links. If you flag a UGC link or a non-ad link as “sponsored”, Google will see this indication, but the impact (if any) would at most not consider the link as credit to another page. In this sense, it is no different from the status of many non-advertising UGC links already marked nofollow.
It is a question that goes the opposite way. Any link that is clearly an advertisement or sponsored must use “sponsored” or “nofollow” as described above. It is preferable to use sponsored, but nofollow is acceptable.
Why should you use any of these new attributes?
Using the new attributes allows you to better process links for web analytics. This may include your own content if people linked to your website make use of these attributes.
Won’t changing to a “hint” approach encourage link spam in comments and UGC content?
Many sites that allow third-parties to contribute to content already deter link spam in a variety of ways, including moderation tools that can be integrated into many blogging platforms and human review. The link attributes of “ugc” and “nofollow” will continue to be a further deterrent. In most cases, the move to a hint model won’t change the nature of how Google treat such links. Google generally treat them as it did with nofollow before and not consider them for ranking purposes. Google will still continue to carefully assess how to use links within Search, just as it always have and as have had to do for situations where no attributions were provided.
When do these attributes and changes go into effect?
All the link attributes, sponsored, ugc and nofollow, now work today as hints for Google to incorporate for ranking purposes. For crawling and indexing purposes, nofollow will become a hint as of March 1, 2020. Those depending on nofollow solely to block a page from being indexed (which was never recommended) should use one of the much more robust mechanisms listed on our Learn how to block URLs from Google help page.