What Google’s change in nofollow link means

What Google's change in nofollow link means

On Tuesday, September 10, 2019, Google announced that now was the time for the nofollow attribute to evolve. Introduced almost 15 years ago, the nofollow attribute was brought about with a vision to eradicate spam and combat links that nurtured on the advertisements or were paid for. It clearly became a Google favorite to take care of the latter. The Google link policy is here to witness new changes again.

Here’s a snippet from the official announcement:

The web has evolved since nofollow was introduced in 2005 and it’s time for nofollow to evolve as well.

Today, we’re announcing two new link attributes that provide webmasters with additional ways to identify to Google Search the nature of particular links. These, along with nofollow, are summarized below:

rel=”sponsored”: Use the sponsored attribute to identify links on your site that were created as part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements.

rel=”ugc”: UGC stands for User Generated Content, and the UGC attribute value is recommended for links within user-generated content, such as comments and forum posts.

rel=”nofollow”: Use this attribute for cases where you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.”

Well, the snippet says it all. Now that Google has decided upon the evolution of the nofollow attribute and chosen to bring about two new link attributes, there are questions and queries all around. What does this announcement mean for the link building tactics that are in popular use? How is the new change going to impact the link juice of our existing links? Is there any immediate action that needs to be taken? How will this impact the overall SEO strategy of websites?

Well, this blog post is right here to help everyone out there understand this change and gain a little more perspective around it. By the end of it, you will take away the impact of the nofollow link on Google’s search algorithm and everything else mentioned above. So, let’s begin.

What is a nofollow link?

Applying a nofollow HTML tag ( rel=”nofollow”) lets you tell the search engines that you do want certain links on your website to be ignored by it. By applying this tag, the selective nofollow link ends up not bringing any link juice to your website and hence, does not impact your search engine rankings.

What the earlier nofollow policy was about?

Google’s update about combating link and comment spam brought about the rel=”nofollow” attribute in 2015. So, any hyperlink that carried the rel=”nofollow” tag carried no SEO importance or value. Hence, the malpractice of overexploiting blog and link exchange was put under check. The manipulative link building behavior was anyway deteriorating the integrity of true SEO scores. So, cautious bloggers and website owners started strictly following a nofollow rule across all of their external links. Penalization was the driving factor behind this blanket application of the rule. In other verticals, Google also wanted to make sure that sponsored and paid-for links also followed the application of nofollow attribute.

What has changed with this latest update?

The latest update will change how links and rankings are calculated. Effective from March 1, 2020, the nofollow links will be used by the search engine as a marker or hint about what to consider or exclude within search. This “hint” will help Google index or crawl. Well, this means that now Google can overlook the nofollow attribute and choose to consider it as a ranking signal.

The new update will help Google get together more data on the individual links, including the words within the anchor text. This is being done with a purpose to evaluate links and identify any link schemes or malpractices around sponsored or paid links.

As per Google – 

“Links contain valuable information that can help us improve search, such as how the words within links describe the content they point at. Looking at all the links we encounter can also help us better understand unnatural linking patterns. By shifting to a hint model, we no longer lose this important information, while still allowing site owners to indicate that some links shouldn’t be given the weight of a first-party endorsement.”

The new update also brings two brand new link attributes, rel=”sponsored” and rel=”ugc”. These will help Google attain the necessary information on the characteristics of the links since webmasters will be providing the same to the search engine. So, the use of rel=”sponsored” would help Google identify that the tagged links on your site are part of an advertisement or an agreement or have been paid for. The rel=”ugc” tag is meant for the links coming from user-generated content (UGC) on your forum and site comments.

Given the complex implications of these Google updates, we are yet again in a position where it is unclear how these attributes are going to affect the SEO of our blogs and websites. Are these changes going to bring a positive impact or do they mean that sudden changes will be forced on our SEO moves? These two attributes will likely control more spam, as per experts. But, by this time, we really don’t know.

On the spam front, Google wrote,

“Many sites that allow third parties to contribute to content already deter link spam in a variety of ways, including moderation tools that can be integrated into many blogging platforms and human review. The link attributes of “ugc” and “nofollow” will continue to be a further deterrent. In most cases, the move to a hint model won’t change the nature of how we treat such links. We’ll generally treat them as we did with nofollow before and not consider them for ranking purposes. We will still continue to carefully assess how to use links within Search, just as we always have and as we’ve had to do for situations where no attributions were provided.”

What does the new link attribute mean for publishers?

At this moment, if you are a publisher, you might not need to make any swift changes because this is what Google has to say:

“If you use nofollow now as a way to block sponsored links or to signify that you don’t vouch for a page you link to, that will continue to be supported. There’s absolutely no need to change any nofollow links that you already have.”

For all publishers, it is best to continue with rel=”nofollow” for all sponsored links even when Google wants them to use more than one rel value on a single link. The nofollow works as it was. They can simply use “Sponsored” and “UGC” if they want to help Google identify types of links better.

If you are a publisher with true authority, Google’s change will help you immensely by reducing the unfair suppression of link authority caused by the prevalent misuse of the nofollow attribute.

Publishers should still stick to the fact that the right link earning practices are going to help them overcome the hurdles. Taking care of their site’s speed with certain website speed tools should also be a forever task for publishers. Quality link content and editorial ownership should still be their top priority. Also, using the right web hosting service can help your website in many ways in these terms.

It is best to wait for some more information to come up and then act upon it. However, if this Google update worries you, you can simply put in some time and review your link policy to make sure that your blog/website isn’t violating Google’s link scheme guidelines.

Gary Illyes from Google has clearly mentioned that the motive behind treating rel=nofollow as a hint is to improve the link signal and for returning better search results. As per Gary, nofollows were restricting the useful link signal information that Google needed on the link data. By this change, Google will be able to bring up better search results for its users. Also, there are no ranking changes expected for this change.

Google said,

“All the link attributes – sponsored, UGC, and nofollow – are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search.”

In a nutshell – what you need to do after the latest Google update

  • Bloggers and marketers don’t need to change their existing nofollows.
  • You can use more than one rel value on a link. It’s also valid to use nofollow with the new attributes — such as rel=”nofollow ugc” — if you wish to be backward-compatible with services that don’t support the new attributes.
  • You can continue using nofollow as a method for flagging certain links to avoid possible link scheme penalties. Any existing markup also does not need to be changed. Google recommends that you switch over to rel=”sponsored”.
  • You should still flag ads or sponsored links if you want to avoid a possible link scheme action. You can simply use rel=“sponsored” or rel=”nofollow” to flag these links.


As time advances on this update, we will have more solid information as to what exact changes need to be implemented in our SEO strategies if these attributes are going to affect the ranking signals. For now, it is best to wait for further information to surface and keep the right link building practices in motion.

Pawan Sahu is a digital marketer and blogger at MarkupTrend.


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