Google introduced the nofollow link attribute nearly 15 years ago as a way to combat comment spam. It evolved into one of the search giant’s suggested methods to flag sponsored and advertising-related links.
Since nofollow was introduced, the World Wide Web has significantly evolved; and hence, nofollow too should change keeping in mind the changes in the web. Now, besides the nofollow link attribute, Google has introduced another two link attributes that could play a role in local SEO strategies.
rel=”sponsored”: This particular link attribute is used for links that are sponsored within a website. These links are usually created to fulfill sponsorship obligations, advertisements or any other agreement that pays compensation to the website owner.
rel=”ugc”: Here, UGC is an abbreviation for user-generated content. This attribute should be used if there are links put in by users in their comments, forum posts or any other user-generated content.
rel=”nofollow”: The nofollow link attribute is used when a website would like to link to page, as is common in local SEO, but does not want to endorse the page or pass on ranking credit to the page.
Understanding the Changes in nofollow Link Attribute
When Google introduced the nofollow attribute, it did not use links with this attribute as a part of their search algorithms. However, this is not the case anymore. All link attributes, including nofollow, sponsored and UGC, will be considered as hints so that the search algorithms get details about which links they should exclude or make part of the search results.
According to Google, the hints would allow the search engine to understand how to properly analyze as well as use the links to generate search results.
Many website SEO experts may wonder why the link attributes are being considered by Google when it would have been easier to ignore nofollow attributes. Google is trying to improve user experience, and ensure they get more accurate search results. Many times, the words in the link offer insights to the content on the page, and using nofollow link attribute as a hint will allow the search algorithms to ascertain whether the content is relevant or no. It will also enable the AI-enabled search algorithms to understand unnatural patterns in linking. At the same time, website owners will be able to indicate that some links within the content are not endorsements.
What Happens to Existing nofollow Link Attributes?
In case you have used nofollow link attributes to block sponsored links or to indicate that you are not endorsing a webpage you are linking to, you have no reason to worry. Google search algorithms will function as usual when it comes to these attributes. Hence, you do not have to alter or change them in any way.
Also, if you are using nofollow for ads and sponsored links, you can continue using the attribute to flag those links. That way, you will not be penalized by the search engine for penalties associated with link schemes. There is no need to change your existing markup, but if you do introduce new links for sponsored or ad links, it is prudent to use rel=”sponsored” attribute as that is what Google prefers for sponsored or ad links. But, you can still use rel=”nofollow”, and Google will treat it as it has always done.
Using More Than One rel Value for Links
Whether you are using local SEO or Google Maps marketing, understanding the premise behind nofollow, UGC and sponsored link attributes is essential.
If you do not want to be penalized, you will follow the instructions to a T. The good news is now you can allocate more than one rel value to a link. For instance, rel=”ugc sponsored”. This value shows the search algorithm that the link is user generated and also sponsored. It is also possible to use the nofollow link attribute with the two new attributes.
There is no question that for new SEO experts, these changes in the link attributes can be confusing and they use an incorrect attribute for a link. Should this happen, there is no need to panic as that is where the hint signal comes into play. The search algorithms will not take the link as an endorsement, and hence, it will not get any credit. That said, it is essential to mark sponsored links and ads that you receive compensation for using the sponsored or nofollow attribute. If you do not, you risk being penalized for link actions.
What Happens to Spam in User-generated Content and Comments?
If you allow third-parties to contribute content to your site, you may already have methods in place to tackle spam. These could include tools to moderate the content or human review. Along with these methods, the UGC and nofollow link attributes will suss out spam. It is vital to understand that the hint model that Google will be using for nofollow link attribute will not alter the way these links are treated by the search algorithms. They will not be considered for ranking, and will be treated the same way as they were done before. The only difference will be that the hint model will enable the search algorithms to use the links to improve search results.
When Do the New Link Attributes Go into Effect?
Google has already announced that the new link attributes will come into effect from 1 March 2020. If you have been using the nofollow link attribute to prevent a webpage from being indexed and ranked, you have been doing this wrong all along. Now is a good time to switch to more relevant methods, such as getting rid of duplicate content or blocking copied content to ensure they do not get marked as spam by Google, as this would adversely affect your webpage and website ranking.
Remember, some other site may mark your content with the nofollow link attribute, and this means that it will not be considered for ranking and indexing. So, it is best to work with a professional SEO expert, who can delve deep into the web, and find out why your local SEO strategies are not yielding the results you anticipated. It could have something to do with the nofollow link attribute.