Google search for nofollow links

Google Announces Changes to Nofollow Links

What is changing and how will it impact your SEO?

On Wednesday, September 10th, Google made a big announcement about changes regarding their approach to nofollow links within websites.


What is a nofollow link?

Search engine ranking is largely dependent on a website’s trust. Search engines determine how trustworthy your site is by examining which websites you link to and which ones link back to you. The nofollow link attribute (inserted into the web page’s code) was implemented by Google in 2005 to combat spam links in the comment section of reputable blog publications. This attribute told Google to ignore the link completely for purposes of crawling, indexing, or establishing trust for the site. While these links can be useful for driving traffic to your website, overall they are not very useful for organic SEO.  

What went wrong?

In theory, nofollow links should have alleviated many problems, but over time they actually created obstacles for SEO. In an effort to be “safe” many websites began classifying their links as nofollow in an effort to avoid being penalized by Google. This tactic led to a link equity deficit. Basically, a website could have links from reputable sites while not gaining any trust or search engine rank because the referring sites were being overly cautious with their nofollow designations.  

What changed?

First, Google announced that it will begin utilizing 2 new nofollow link attributes to help them better understand the reasoning behind the nofollow designation:

  1. User-Generated Content link (or UGC) – links in blog comments, or user-generated sections of a website
  2. Sponsored link – a link that a website is paying for, like an ad or sponsored mention

Furthermore, they explained that Google will no longer ignore all links with a nofollow attribute, but they will now view them as “hints.” Google may now begin using these nofollow hints as ranking factors.

Additionally, beginning March 1, 2020, Google may even use these nofollow hints for crawling and indexing across the web as well.

An excerpt from Google’s announcement states:
All the link attributes — sponsored, UGC and nofollow — are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search. We’ll use these hints — along with other signals — as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links within our systems. 

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What does this mean for your SEO?

In the short-term, this may not mean very much. It will likely take a little while for these changes to start moving any needles within key SEO metrics.

However, long-term this may begin benefiting websites that have a higher volume of nofollow backlinks. Google could choose to ignore the unnecessary nofollow attribute and begin to assign more trust to your site and ultimately provide your site a higher ranking in the SERPs. Only time will tell exactly how this latest evolution will impact SEO strategies moving forward, but this will undoubtedly change the SEO approach to building website trust and linking strategies.

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