Nofollow gets new link attributes

Firstly, what is NoFollow and how did it come about?

The SEO landscape has been constantly changing as of late and this week sees a continuation of that trend with Google introducing a new attribute to how it classifies links. Read on for a whistle-stop tour of what this change means for digital marketers…

The Nofollow link attribute was first introduced in 2004 to tackle the rise of comment spam and as a way of flagging advertising-related sponsored links that were commonly used in Link Building Schemes. Adding the rel=”nofollow” attribute meant that the search algorithms would disregard these links entirely.

Fast forward almost 15-years and Google has now evolved Nofollow to bring it in line with digital marketing practices by introducing two additional link attributes, which will allow them to better understand the nature of links that brands are building in 2019. These are:

• rel=”sponsored”: To identify site links which are part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements

• rel=”ugc”: Used for links that appear within User Generated Content like comments and forum posts

And they of course join the pre-existing:

• rel=”nofollow”: Used on pages that don’t offer any endorsement which include passing ranking credit to other pages

According to Google, these three link attributes will now be “treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search”. They will also be used alongside other ranking signals which Google can understand, analyse and use to better organise and rank our content, sounds like a step in the right direction to us.

Why has Google changed how it treats the Nofollow attribute?

In today’s marketing and advertising industries, there’s a higher level of transparency required, especially as Google itself states that EAT (Expertise, Authority & Trust) signals impact a site’s ability to rank. Google understands that the search landscape has evolved massively, and that links sometimes contain valuable information. The addition of the two new link attributes is designed to facilitate that change by ensuring the nature of the links are explored before including or excluding them as ranking signals by Google’s search algorithm.

How does this affect brands?

This change could potentially give Google a more transparent view of the backlink profiles of companies, thus giving them the ability to control and create a healthy ratio of different types of Nofollow links. The shift to a “hint model” will also ensure that smaller companies who have links from bigger and more authoritative brands and content marketing activity which requires payment or sponsorship are no longer completely ignored by Google – these could eventually start to aid in positive rankings!

Google has also emphasised that no immediate changes will be required to the current Nofollow link profile, which means there is no need to go over your previous links to change the attributes. Saying this, it is still recommended by Google that you switch over to rel=”sponsored” if or when it is convenient – and it’s definitely something we recommend adopting moving forward, as a part of all Link Building or PR campaigns.

How the SEO community has reacted!

While we took the news quite positively, there were mixed opinions throughout the SEO community, with some worried that it would create more work, and others unsure of how this change will truly impact links in the future.

It is well known that sites sometimes use the Nofollow attribute on all external links with the intention of retaining ‘link juice’ and hence potentially improving their own rankings. Google’s update is based on tackling this problem and by now classing all links as hints, it will help to strengthen link signals on the web to offer better search results for users.

In our opinion, this change will work to deliver more equal link equity across sites, especially for those that deserve it. It could also possibly change the way links and rankings will be calculated – something we’ll be monitoring closely in the future!

Written by:

Barry Bell


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