Google to treat “nofollow” links as a ‘hint’, and announces new link attributes “sponsored” and “ugc”

Google search

In an overhaul of the “NoFollow” link attribute system, Google has announced it will now treat it as a ‘hint’ rather than an instruction to ignore the link.

For as long as most people working in SEO can remember, adding rel=”nofollow” to an outbound link on your site was an instruction to Google to ignore that link. This was done to make sure that links in blog comments or advertising links etc. would not lead to a link scheme penalty from Google.

Any link that has the “nofollow” attribute would basically not be counted at all by Google in its search algorithm. However, from today, that is all changing. Google has announced that it believes it is time for link attributes to “evolve”.

The first big change is that Google will now see “nofollow” links as merely ‘hints’ from the webmaster that Google may want to ignore that link – but Google will ultimately decide what weight, if any, the link will pass. Also, to add more context to outbound links, Google now supports two new attributes: rel=”sponsored” and rel=”ugc” (User Generated Content).

In a press release, Google said:

“When nofollow was introduced, Google would not count any link marked this way as a signal to use within our search algorithms. This has now changed. All the link attributes — sponsored, UGC and nofollow — are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search. We’ll use these hints — along with other signals — as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links within our systems.”

How to use the new link attributes

Google has advised that from today (Tuesday 10 September 2019), webmasters should begin to use the new link attributes where they can. You don’t have to retroactively change all the no-follow links on your site, and you won’t be penalised if you fail to mark-up no-follow links with the new attributes – Google just wants webmasters to start using rel=”sponsored” and rel=”ugc” whenever and wherever they can.

The rel=”sponsored” attribute is to be used to mark-up links that were created as part of an advertisement or sponsored posts, paid guest posts and so on.

The rel=”ugc” attribute is for links that are created as part of any user-generated content on your site, such as forum posts or blog comments.

The rel=”nofollow” attribute should now be used to identify links that you have included in your content but do not wish to imply any kind of endorsement of the content being linked to.