Back in the early days of search engine optimization, some overly opportunistic parties took advantage of then-current data showing a positive correlation between the number of backlinks and Google ranking. This gave rise to automated link building, link farms, links for sale and all sorts of other spammy scenarios and gave SEO, in general, a bit of a shady reputation in some circles. As a way to combat these practices, Google introduced nofollow links in 2005 and indicated that links with this attribute would not be considered in its search algorithm. The HTML attribute rel=”nofollow” was originally designed to tell Google and other search engines that authority (or “link juice”) should not be passed through the link and that it should not have any impact on the originating site’s ranking. The rel=”nofollow” attribute was also to be used to indicate paid advertising or sponsorships.

Even though “nofollow” links don’t impact rankings directly, they can result in more referral traffic and higher engagement and these, in turn, can positively impact SERPs. For example, links from Wikipedia, Reddit comments and Quora comments are all “nofollow”, but they can drive significant site traffic.

New Link Attributes

Google recently announced two new link attributes as well as a change in the way it will treat “nofollow” links going forward:

  • rel=”ugc” – this attribute is to be used for user-generated content (UGC) such as blog commenting or forum posts.
  • rel=”sponsored” – this attribute is to be used for links from paid advertising or sponsorship.

In addition to these two new attributes, rel=”nofollow” is still available, but it should now be used just in cases where a website wants to link to a page without implying any sort of endorsement.

Implementing The New “Nofollow”

According to Google, there’s no need to change the markup for any existing “nofollow” links. Websites can start using the new attributes now and can also use them in conjunction with one another. For example, rel=”ugc sponsored” could be used to indicate a sponsored link that appears within user-generated content.

“Nofollow” Attribute And Google’s Search Algorithm

Google also announced that effective March 1, 2020, it will start considering these three link attributes (“sponsored”, “ugc” and “nofollow”) as “hints” about which links to consider as signals to use within its search algorithm. This is potentially a large shift, as Google has previously not directly considered any links marked “nofollow”. What impact will this really have on rankings? We’ll have to wait and see… 

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