Google Announces New Nofollow Link Attributes

Google Nofollow Sponsored UGC Links

In a move that confused many in the SEO community, Google expanded upon the rel=”nofollow” attribute to include: sponsored content, user generated content, and good old fashioned nofollow.

Danny Sullivan, Search Liaison at Google, has stated that this will help Google better identify paid content across the web. Presumably, the more sites that identify sponsored content the easier it will be to identify on sites that don’t use rel=”sponsored”.

Today, we’re announcing two new link attributes that provide webmasters with additional ways to identify to Google Search the nature of particular links.

To many in the SEO community, this is a fix no one has been asking for and it’s another technical problem to explain to a client, and this time the person explaining it doesn’t really understand what the implications are.

We are going to add ugc to rel=”nofollow” on our comment template. Seems easy enough, but I’m not exactly clear on what to do next, especially for our affiliate links, we have a couple of guest posts that are already nofollowed, and our own affiliate program. Mostly I’m hoping that the plugin and theme developers will adopt this so I don’t have to worry about this that much.

Just updating the website may not be a “big deal” to a teenager with basic web publishing skills, but for corporate decision makers updating the company website just isn’t that easy. They want to know what to expect from the time spent. There may even be meetings. And you are starting to regret even mentioning rel=”nofollow ugc sponsored” to anyone at all.

On the other hand maybe implementing this is better than getting a link scheme penalty.

The most immediate impact is that nofollow links have officially become a “hint” for ranking as of yesterday, and will be used for crawling and indexing on March 1, 2020. It isn’t clear what a hint means, so we will assume that it is a low-weight ranking signal. Hints, clues, don’t always get followed unless they are interesting, perhaps that is what is being implied.

In the immediate future, it would be reasonable to expect some fluctations in rankings, if the nofollow hint wasn’t in place before, and reasonable to think that the rankings may very well change noticeably again on March 1, 2020.

And don’t be surprised if comments on your blog increase. Nofollow links are going to be trendy until for a bit and then we will get to see what kind of impact the sponsored and user generated content tags have.

This expanded link relationship is more for large publishers with lots amounts of content: NYTimes, Washington Post, Forbes, Huffington Post, all the usual suspects from your spam inbox link building emails are likely candidates for expanded nofollow tags.

Tumblr also comes to mind. Tumblr has a ton of user generated content, and Tumblr themes create follow links when your content gets reshared or liked. User generated content doesn’t necessarily equate to spam, or affiliate links, but they often do. But this doesn’t make it any clearer if comments should or should not be nofollow automatically.

Sponsored content may require a disclosure by law in the United States. Sponsored content is designed to look like a real news story and fits right alongside the news, it is deceptive by nature. Bloggers are also required to disclose their affiliate relationships publicly. Not really a huge deal.

Sponsorship is a very common link building tactic. Sponsoring a podcast, public radio station, non-profit, local sports league or team, are all easy ways to show some local relevance and get a good link from a trusted quality source.

This is sponsorship is probably what Google is hoping to identify as a link scheme. The user generated content tag probably won’t be all that useful since most comments and forums are nofollow already. But paid placements are apparently difficult for Google to identify without some kind of hint.

Maybe that is too much tin foil, but if you just walk it back a couple steps it is about tracking sponsorship links. Not necessarily nefarious, they but there could be some drastic downsides like, the loss of revenue for organizations that need sponsorship dollars to survive. For small organizations that can mean a big loss in resources. My only real objection is that Google offers nothing to replace lost revenue for sponsorships, AdSense is laughable and Google Grants for Non-Profits isn’t the same thing.

Ultimately, this feels like Google is trying to take back the link graph. Nofollow has been too widely adopted by large publishers and nofollowing all outbound links because link juice. That changes the natural organic link graph that would occur if people weren’t hypersensitive about losing Google rankings and traffic.

There is no way that we can revert the linkgraph back to the state of nature. It is impossible. When Google’s algorithm counted links it changed the behavior of web publishers and marketers and that toothpaste won’t go back into the tube.

For most site owners this change won’t matter at all. For major publishers it could be a smart change if you want to stay ahead of potential penalties. Once some sponsored links get tagged it will just be a matter of time before those links get compared to the ones on your site. with a potential penalty on the line.