How Do Nofollow, Sponsored, and UGC Links Affect SEO?

Google rocked the SEO world by announcing major changes to the way publishers should mark links as nofollow. The changes – while beneficial to helping Google understand the web – are nonetheless confusing and will raise some questions. We’ve got the answers to many of your questions here.

14 years after its introduction, Google today announced significant changes to the way it treats the “nofollow” link attribute. Main attractions:

  1. Link attribution can be done in three ways: “nofollow”, “sponsored”, and “ugc” – each denotes a different meaning. (Fourth way, default, means no value is assigned)
  2. For rating purposes, Google now treats each nofollow attribute as ” suggestions ” – which means they probably won’t affect rankings, but Google may choose to ignore the directive and use nofollow links for ranking purposes.
  3. Google continues to ignore nofollow links for crawling and indexing purposes, but this strict behavior changes on March 1, 2020, at that time Google starts treating nofollow attributes as “hints” , which means they can choose to collect data.
  4. You can use the new properties combine together. For example, rel=”nofollow ugc sponsored” is valid.
  5. Paid Links Must Use nofollow or sponsored attribute (alone or in combination.) Simply using “ugc” on paid links can result in penalties.
  6. Publishers don’t have to do anything. Google discourages change or punishes for not changing.
  7. Publishers use nofollow to control crawlmay need to rethink their strategy.


Why did Google change nofollow?

Google wants to get the link graph back.

Google introduced the nofollow attribute in 2005 as a way for publishers to tackle comment spam and shady links from user-generated content (UGC). Linking to spam or low-quality sites can hurt you, and nofollow offers publishers a way to protect themselves.

Google also requires nofollow for paid or sponsored links. If you are caught accepting anything of value in exchange for linking without the nofollow attribute, Google may penalize you.

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The system in general works fine, but a large portion of the sites out there, like Forbes and Wikipedia, have adopted nofollow across their entire sites for fear of being penalized or not being able to properly police the UGC.

This makes whole sections of the link graph less useful to Google. Do curated links from trusted Wikipedia contributors really not count? Perhaps Google could better understand the web if they changed the way they consider nofollow links.

By treating nofollow attributes as “hints”, they allow themselves to better incorporate these signals into their algorithms.

Hopefully, this is a positive step for worthy content creators, as a wider range of the link graph opens up more potential ranking influence. (Though for most sites, not much seems to have changed.)

What is the ranking impact of nofollow links?

Before today, SEOs used to believe that nofollow links worked like this:

  1. Can not use; Out of order; It disfunction for crawl and index (Google didn’t track them.)
  2. Can not use; Out of order; It disfunction for ratings , as confirmed by Google. (Many SEOs have believed for years that this is not the case.)

To be fair, there’s been a lot of debate and speculation surrounding the latter statement, and Google hasn’t been clear on the matter. Test data and anecdotal evidence suggests that Google has long considered nofollow links a potential ranking signal.

As of today, Google’s guidelines state that new link attributes, including sponsorship and ugc, should be handled like this:

  • Still Can not use; Out of order; It disfunctionfor crawl and index (see future changes below)
  • For rating purposes, all nofollow directives is now officially a “hint” – means that Google may choose to ignore it and use it for ranking purposes. Many SEOs believe this is how Google has treated nofollow for quite some time.
  • Starting March 1, 2020, these link attributes will be treated as table suggestions, which means:
  • In some cases, they can be used for crawling and indexing
  • In some cases, they can be used to rank

Emphasis on the word “some.” Google is very clear that in most cases they will continue to ignore nofollow links as usual.

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Do publishers need to change?

For most websites, the answer is no – only if they want to. Google doesn’t ask websites to make changes, and so far, no business cases have been made.

That said, there are a few scenarios where site owners might want to implement new attributes:

  1. Sites that want to help Google better understand the sites they or their collaborators are linking to. For example, it might be in everyone’s interest for sites like Wikipedia to adopt these changes. Or perhaps Moz could change the way links are marked in user-generated Q&As (which often link to high-quality sources.)
  2. Sites that use nofollow for crawl control. For sites with large navigation, sometimes nofollow is an effective tool in preventing Google from wasting crawl budget. It’s too early to tell if publishers using nofollow in this way need to change anything before Google starts treating nofollow as a crawling “hint,” but it’s important to pay attention. .

To be clear, if a site properly uses nofollow today, SEO doesn’t need to recommend any changes. While sites are free to do so, they shouldn’t expect any ranking boost for doing so or new penalties for not changing.

That said, Google’s use of these new link attributes could grow, and it will be interesting to see in the future through research and analysis if a ranking benefit emerges from using it. use nofollow attributes in a certain way.

Which link attribute should you use?

If you choose to change your nofollow links to be more specific, Google’s guidelines very obvious, so we won’t repeat them in depth here. In short, your options are:

  1. rel = “sponsored” – For paid or sponsored links. This assumes affiliate links will be included, although Google hasn’t explicitly said it.
  2. rel = “ugc” – Links in all user-generated content. Google has stated that if the UGC is created by a trusted contributor, this may not be necessary.
  3. rel=”nofollow” – One note for all nofollow links. As with other nofollow directives, these links are not generally used for ranking, crawling, or indexing purposes.

In addition, attributes can be used in combination with each other. This means that a statement like rel=”nofollow sponsored” is 100% valid.

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Can you be penalized for not bookmarking paid links?

Yes, you can still get fined, and this is where it gets tough.

Google recommends marking paid/sponsored links with “sponsored” or “nofollow”, but not “ugc”.

This adds a layer of confusion. What if your UGC contributors include paid links or links in their content/comments? Google, so far, is not clear on this.

For this reason, we may see publishers continue to mark UGC content with “nofollow” as default or possibly “nofollow ugc”.

Can you use nofollow attributes to control crawling and indexing?

Nofollow has always been a very, very poor way to prevent Google from indexing your content, and it continues to be.

If you want to prevent Google from indexing your content, you should use one of several other methods, most typically some form of “noindex”.

Crawling, on the other hand, is a slightly different story. Many SEOs use nofollow on large sites to maintain crawl budget or to prevent Google from crawling unnecessary pages in faceted navigation.

Based on Google’s statements, it looks like you can still try to use nofollow this way, but after March 1, 2020, they may choose to ignore this. Any SEO that uses nofollow in this way may need to get creative to prevent Google from crawling unwanted parts of their site.

Final thoughts: Should you implement new nofollow attributes?

While there is no clear compelling reason to do so, this is a decision every SEO will have to make for themselves.

Given the initial confusion and apparent lack of interest, many publishers will no doubt wait until we have better information.

That said, it certainly shouldn’t be changed (as long as you appropriately mark paid links with “nofollow” or “sponsored“.) For example, Moz Blog may one day change the comments link below to rel=”ugc” or more likely rel=”nofollow ugc”.

Finally, does anyone actually use the “sponsored“, risk more exposure to paid links? Time will tell.

What are your thoughts on Google’s new nofollow attributes? Let us know in the comments below.

Seothetop, The source:Moz


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