What You Need To Know About Google’s Update To Nofollow Links

6 min read

Avatar Nik Hudson

2nd March, 2020

News,SEO

In September 2019, search engine giant, Google, announced that they were changing the nature of ‘nofollow’ links, which were first introduced back in 2005 to help them combat comment spam and flag advertising-related or sponsored links. However, since the world wide web has changed significantly since then, Google believed that the time has also come for link attributes to evolve too.

nofollow

This nofollow link update has led Google to introduce two new link attributes that will provide webmasters with additional ways to display the nature of different links to Google. These are to do with sponsored links and User Generated Content (UGC), which will both be explained further in this blog post. Don’t want to read all of it?

What Are Nofollow Links Anyway?

Let’s get back to basics, before moving onto the more complicated stuff.

When a web page receives an inbound link from another page, it gets a small SEO boost. Google considers these links as points or votes so the more links pointing to that page, the better, helping it rise up the rankings on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). 

This is because Google takes note of how many links point to that page and what kind of sites they’re from. It thinks that if a page is receiving a lot of links from trustworthy sites, then it must be a really good and relevant page and so will return it to users on SERPs. This is known as ‘trust signal’.

Google uses a metric called PageRank to calculate the link points or votes, which turns into what a lot of SEO experts call ‘link juice’, flowing through sites through hyperlinks. The more reputable the site, the bigger boost of link juice a web page gets.

Now back to follow and nofollow links.

Follow links are links that count as points, pushing link juice to a web page and boosting it’s page rank, helping it go higher up the search results. Nofollow links, however, are links that don’t count as points, don’t boost the search engine rankings of a page or help it rise up the rankings. 

To specify whether a link is a nofollow link, you would use a rel=”nofollow” tag, which instructs Google to not crawl it. Examples of both links are below:

Follow link:

nofollow

Nofollow link:

nofollow

Why Would You Want To Specify A Nofollow Attribute Or Link?

A world without nofollow links was once a spammy one. A lot of people used to try and trick search engines by spamming as many websites as possible with links to a web page they were trying to rank. An example of this would be to post spammy blog comments at the end of a blog post and this sort of method quickly became black hat and unethical, destroying any chance of fostering a genuine blogging community with authentic discussions.

This is when Google stepped in and introduced nofollow links and it’s done a lot of good as spammers stopped posting links knowing they wouldn’t get a follow attribute and therefore, crawled or ranked.

However, not all is lost with nofollow links. 

They’re still links at the end of the day and can increase brand exposure and drive traffic to that web page. It is also valuable to be choosy on which links do and do not get a follow attribute, because linking to sites that have a lower domain rating that yours could potentially harm your search rankings. Keep your follow links for ones that can improve your domain and URL ratings.

Google’s Update To Nofollow Links

There are now three types of links and attributes, which can be used to mark up outbound links and provide webmasters with additional ways to display the nature of different links to Google. These are:

  • rel=”nofollow” – this attribute will remain the same and is used when you want to link to another page, but not pass any endorsement or ranking credit to that page.
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  • rel=”sponsored” – this is a new sponsored attribute, which identifies paid links on your site that are created as part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements.
    •  
  • rel=”ugc” – this is another attribute for UGC, which is recommended for links that contains content that is generated by other users, such as forum posts or blog posts that enable users to comment.

All of these above link attributes are now treated as hints regarding which links to consider in search, as opposed to just a signal, which was what was previously used for nofollow links. 

This means that Google will now take these into account, along with a number of other factors, in order to better understand and analyse links within their algorithms and when ranking a site. In other words, Google can now be instructed on how to treat different types of links rather than just ignore them.

From March 2020, nofollow attributes will also become a hint for crawling and indexing purposes. This may impact the crawling and indexing of your website, especially if you are using nofollow links as a way to prevent a page from being indexed. If this is the case, Google now recommends using one of these more robust methods, such as robots.txt and header meta tags to manage this.

Our Experts Answer Your Questions

What comes with any Google update, comes with many questions, which Digital Ethos’ SEO specialists have luckily answered below.

Do I need to change any existing nofollow links on my site?

Google has confirmed that there is no need to change any existing nofollow links you currently have on your site, because they will still be supported. You can leave your nofollow attribute in your UGC, but Google does recommend switching over to rel=”sponsored” for any paid links if or when it’s convenient.

Sean Cronin, SEO Consultant
 

Will my search results change?

Google has said that it doesn’t expect any significant changes to search results, but they are now able to start collecting relevant data from these new link attributes and how to use this data in its search ranking systems. Changing to the new hint treatment will also give Google more flexibility in how it treats links with these attributes in search. 

As ever, the aim of these updates is to better serve search users and ensure that they are given the most relevant, trustworthy and authoritative  content in relation to their search queries.

Nik Hudson, Head of Digital Marketing
 

If nofollow links are now no longer ignored, doesn’t this result in more comment spam?

Google has confirmed that it doesn’t and has said that many sites that allow third party content to be published already deter link spam in a variety of ways, such as moderation tools that can be integrated into blogging platforms and of course, use human review.

In most cases, the move to a hint model won’t change the nature of how links are treated, so the UGC and nofollow link attributes will continue to be a spam deterrent .

Google further confirms: “We’ll generally treat them as we did with nofollow before and not consider them for ranking purposes. We will still continue to carefully assess how to use links within Search, just as we always have and as we’ve had to do for situations where no attributions were provided.”

Luke Ramshall, SEO Consultant
 

Am I able to use more than one link attribute?

Yes, you can use a combination of one or more of these link attributes in a single link tag. An example of this would be:

nofollow

This example would first hint to Google that the link came from user-generated content, but is also sponsored. The more Google knows about your links, the better.

Lewis Glen, SEO Consultant
 

What happens if I use the wrong attribute on a link?

There will not be any impact if you use the wrong link attribute, apart from sponsored links. For example, if you flag a non-sponsored or UGC link as sponsored, Google will see that hint, but at most they’ll just not count the link as credit for another page, where it could be.

Sophie Rizan, SEO Consultant
 

When do these changes come into effect

All link attributes now work today as hints for Google to incorporate for ranking purposes, but for crawling and indexing, nofollow will become a hint as of 1st March 2020.

Rafal Gemza, SEO Specialist

How Can Digital Ethos Help?

The team at Digital Ethos understand that Google is constantly changing and updating their system and algorithms. We ensure that we adapt our high quality approaches to these changes and we’d like to let all of our clients know that we always keep a close eye on your SEO campaigns and keyword movements. We always measure results to make informed decisions so our clients don’t experience a knee-jerk reaction to their campaign.

If you have any queries or further questions that weren’t answered above with regards to this Google update, please don’t hesitate to contact us today or call us on 0333 772 0189.

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