Google’s Change To The “No Follow” Link Attribute & What It Means To You

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This week Google announced that after 15 years, they plan to evolve the “no follow” link attribute.

If you’re a blogger and you’re participating in affiliate programs or doing sponsored posts, you know that the “nofollow” attribute allows you to safely link to external sites without losing good standing with Google.

Why “No Follow” Came To Be

Back in the “Wild Wild West” days of blogging, bloggers and forum owners were bombarded with spammers leaving low-value comments in search of “SEO juice” in the form of backlinks.

The “nofollow” rule helped quiet all of that down.

WordPress, for example, assigns “nofollow” automatically when people leave a comment on your blog.

By simply adding the “nofollow” attribute to a link that’s sponsored (including affiliate links) or user-generated (e.g. comments), it signals to Google that you’re not endorsing the link.

In practice it looks like this:

<a href=”https://website.com” rel=”nofollow”>No Follow Link</a>

Who you associate with (link to) affects the authority of your site. When in doubt, continue to use “nofollow.”

Note: It may be helpful to clarify this here — when you’re not being compensated and genuinely just linking to an external site because it’s useful for your website visitors (linking to high-quality sites is a signal to Google that your content is helpful), just a regular old link is all you need to do — no attribution necessary.

Another way to think about this is that “nofollow” disincentivizes shady organizations from sneakily buying links in the form of sponsored posts and affiliate programs or clogging up your website with spammy garbage. This is what Google does not like (any more than we do).

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Why They Decided To Rethink “No Follow”

The problem as Google explains it is that when websites assign “nofollow” to all external links, it creates a disadvantage for websites that are legitimately deserving of an endorsement.

For example, a lot of incredibly valuable content is generated by users on forums and wiki-style websites. This expertise and value is something Google wants to know about.

Now what they’ll do rather than not allowing any link credit at all, is they’ll look at the “nofollow” attribute as a “hint” for what to do with that link. It’ll depend on the context and various other Googly factors.

(I know what you’re thinking but no, don’t go out and start spamming up people’s comments sections again! There’s no tricking Google when it comes to what is and is not a useful signal.)

New & Improved Link Attributes

rel=”sponsored”: Rather than rel=”nofollow”, now you can assign rel=”sponsored” for affiliate links and sponsored content. This will be the strongest signal to Google — they absolutely will not count the backlink credit.

rel=”ugc”: This stands for “user generated content” and can be used for things like comments and forum posts. (This is something that would obviously need to be done programmatically with the CMS — I expect we’ll see this change in an upcoming update for WordPress.)
rel=”nofollow”: Use when you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply endorsement and pass along the ranking credit. Google may or may not give a backlink credit here.

No, You Don’t Need To Update Your Legacy “No Follow” Links

Don’t even sweat it, Google doesn’t want you to go through all of your markup and change “nofollow” to “sponsored.”

But they do want you to consider switching if and when it’s convenient.

There’s no upside or downside for you to keep your “no follow” links as they are, so live your life and do what you want.

But, you must assign one or the other (rel=”nofollow” or rel=”sponsored”) to sponsored content and affiliate links!

Hope that was helpful, if you have any questions hit me up in comments. Or, just mosey on over to Google’s official blog, they explain it real-good-like. 😉

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