Affiliate Marketing

Google Expands Beyond the Nofollow Attribute for Sponsored Content


Without getting into all the finer details and intricate complexities of search engine optimization, many readers will likely have at least a fundamental understanding of the difference between “follow” (or “dofollow”) and “nofollow” links. As a quick refresher, when Website A has a “dofollow” link pointing toward Website B, it is providing an implicit endorsement of Website B. That’s how you come across terms like “link juice.” Put simply, your website’s SEO benefits from getting more “dofollow” links from high reputation sites (other complications aside).

When Google first introduced the rel=”nofollow” attribute back in 2005, it served as a way of differentiating between the “endorsement” of a “dofollow” link with links where Website A may not want to vouch for the quality and legitimacy of Website B. When the “nofollow” attribute was first introduced, it indicated that zero “link juice” was being passed on. How “nofollow” links has continued to change in recent years and, more recently, Google has evolved the attribute further by introducing two new ones: sponsored and ugc.

Links are just one of the many key factors for getting ranked in Google, of course. Even so, it’s critically important to pay attention to these sorts of changes if you want your blog or website to perform well on the search engine results pages (SERPs). So, how do these pieces all fit together?

When to Use rel=”nofollow”

More or less, you can continue to use the “nofollow” attribute the same way that you’ve been using it. Whenever your website has a link where you don’t necessarily want to associate your site with that site or pass along any link “value,” so to speak, go ahead and add rel=”nofollow” to the link. This is whenever you “don’t want to imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.”

Google will still view these links as “hints” as to whether certain pages should move up or down the search rankings. You just won’t pass along the same kind of “ranking credit” as you would with a regular “dofollow” link.

When to Use rel=”sponsored”

Something that Google couldn’t have anticipated in 2005 was the growing proliferation of sponsored content in today’s “online content creator” environment. There are many misconceptions about sponsored posts. The truth is, when done well, it’s a winning combination for all parties involved. You just have to go about it in the right way and ensure that you are offering proper disclosure of the relationshipo you have with the advertiser.

When you do work with a brand or a company or any sort of sponsored content, you will want to identify the corresponding links with a rel=”sponsored” attribute. This is true not only in cases where you received actual money to write about that company, brand or product, or also under any other “compensation agreements” related to advertisements and sponsorships.

When to Use rel=”ugc”

For a time there, a big motivation for people to comment on blogs was that they wanted to get the “link juice” of the corresponding links that appeared in the comment section. And then, as blog owners switched blog comments to nofollow, some of that interest started to wane. And while some people might say that blog commenting is dead, that sense of online community continues to persist.

In circumstances like, as well as in forums or other instances where users on your site are providing the content instead of you, those links can and should be tagged with a rel=”ugc” attribute instead of “nofollow.” UGC stands for user generated content. This way, Google knows that it’s not YOU who is providing the link, but rather someone else who is on your site.

What About My Old Posts?

Does this mean you now need to go back and retroactively change the attribute to the innumerable links you have on your blog? Not at all. Google says there’s “absolutely no need to change any nofollow links that you already have.” Indeed, you can continue to use “nofollow” as a way of tagging sponsored content and that will “continue to be supported.” But using these new tags will provide additional information to Google so they can better understand the nature of your links. Indeed, they say you can even use more than one rel value on a single link if appropriate.

All of the new attributes are functional today, and nofollow “will become a hint as of March 1, 2020.” It will be very interesting to see how these changes will impact the SEO performance of many top sites around the web.


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