New attributes could change how Google treats links

Posted on September 12, 2019


Google has announced an interesting development to its ‘nofollow’ attributes, allowing webmasters to advise the search engine on what type of links they are inserting into their content.

What is ‘nofollow’?

The nofollow value was introduced in 2005 in an effort to tackle spamming on blogs and forums. By applying it, webmasters could add hyperlinks to their sites without influencing the search rankings of the sites the links were targeting.

Today, many blogs and forums apply the nofollow value by default, but it can also be added to a website manually. For example the code for an ordinary link would look like this:

That would turn the text ‘BBC News’ into a link to the BBC News website, but what if you didn’t want this to affect the BBC’s search rankings? You can add a nofollow value to the code, as below:

What’s changed now?

Google has now allowed webmasters to add a little more nuance to links by identifying them as sponsored links or user generated content. This can be done by replacing the rel="nofollow" part of the above code with either of the below:

rel="sponsored" – this indicates to Google that the link is there as part of an advertisement or sponsorship
rel="ugc" – this indicates user generated content, and is recommended for use in forums and blog comments

The nofollow value can still be used as before to show that you are not endorsing any websites linked to and do not wish to influence their search rankings.

What does this achieve?

Google is not exactly spelling out the benefits of using these attributes, but what we do know from a Google blog post is that, whereas nofollow links are simply ignored by the search engine, it will use the newly introduced attributes as ‘hints’ as to how to treat links within its rankings. It says that these new attributes will help it process links more effectively, provided they are widely used.

Google has also assured webmasters that changing existing nofollow links to sponsored is not necessary, but it recommends using the sponsored attribute going forward.

These new attributes can be used now and, as of March next year, will play a role in Google’s crawling and indexing algorithms. The change this will have on rankings remains to be seen, but we expect it will be another example of how webmasters need to keep pace with Google’s tweaks to get the most out of internet marketing. Why not speak to Engage Web today if you want to make sure your site is ticking every box?

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray
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