Nofollow links have been around for some time. As a matter of fact, the rel=”nofollow” tag is one of the simplest HTML tags around. It is also very important to understand this tag for SEO purposes. Let’s take a dive into nofollow links and find out more about them and how Google is now treating them.
What are Nofollow Links?
Simply put, a nofollow link is a hyperlink with a rel=“nofollow” tag. These links do not influence SEO, but that is changing a little. We will talk about that more below.
In year’s past, Google has not transferred page rank or anchor text across them. To break it down more, Google does not even crawl nofollow links. However, as I stated above, some of that is changing a little, as Google will start to make a change on how links with nofollow are treated.
Before we get into that, let’s look at a little history of the rel=”nofollow” tag.
History of Rel=Nofollow
Google actually introduced the nofollow tag way back in 2005. This was their way of trying to combat comment spam that was becoming a problem. Comment spam is still a problem today, but we have much better ways of dealing with it.
Google released a very simple statement back then regarding the issue and how they were trying to handle the problem. That statement read:
“If you’re a blogger (or a blog reader), you’re painfully familiar with people who try to raise their own websites’ search engine rankings by submitting linked blog comments like “Visit my discount pharmaceuticals site.” This is called comment spam, we don’t like it either, and we’ve been testing a new tag that blocks it. From now on, when Google sees the attribute (rel=“nofollow”) on hyperlinks, those links won’t get any credit when we rank websites in our search results. This isn’t a negative vote for the site where the comment was posted; it’s just a way to make sure that spammers get no benefit from abusing public areas like blog comments, trackbacks, and referrer lists.”
Once Google started the trend, it was only a matter of time before the other search engines like Yahoo and Bing did the same thing and announced their commitment to the nofollow tag.
These days, CMS platforms like WordPress add nofollow tags to comment links by default, so you don’t have to worry about them as much.
Do Nofollow Links Help With SEO?
There is a little debate surrounding this. On the one hand, you have Google stating that they do not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links. However, they also have another statement stating:
“In general, we don’t follow them. This means that Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links.”
The term “in general” can be troubling. It is somewhat of a vague statement and I think it implies that they do follow these sometimes.
Nobody can say for sure, but Google has been a little gray with this, so it is safe to say that the issue extends past the normal black or white answer.
So, suffice to say that while we are under the impression that nofollow links don’t help with SEO, we can’t be 100 percent positive based on the way Google has stated their position in the past.
It is important to remember that even though nofollow links are not crawled, they still lead to traffic for your website. See, links lead back to your website, and they drive traffic. This is because people will still click on those links. More traffic means a bigger audience for you.
Difference Between Follow and Nofollow Links
If you are an average web user, then follow and nofollow links will probably look the same to you. That is because the way links are created on the front end makes them look the same to the reader.
Whether the link is follow or nofollow, all the user sees is a colored text link. The difference can only be seen when you access the HTML code. In order to give you an example of how they differ, let’s look at the code together.
A followed link looks like this:
A nofollow link looks like this:
<a href=”https://greengeeks.com” rel=”nofollow”>GreenGeeks</a>
You can see that the HTML is identical except for the addition of the rel=”nofollow” tag to the second link.
Basically, one of these links says “follow” it for SEO purposes, and the other says “don’t follow.”
Google Nofollow Link Treatment Updates
Now that you have a good idea of what a nofollow link is, let’s talk about the recent updates Google has made as far as how they are treating them.
Announced a few months ago, and having started on March 1st, Google has now started treating nofollow links as hints. Not only that, but they have also added additional attributes to help them better understand the links.
What is Added?
Two new attributes were specifically added. This allows Google a better understanding of the links and what they are. The two new links that are joining rel=”nofollow” are:
- rel=“sponsored”: This will identify links on a site that were created as part of advertising, sponsorships or similar agreements.
- rel=“ugc”: this will identify links on a site that appear within user-generated content. Examples of this would be things like comments and user posts.
This puts a real damper on the whole “Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links.” From here on out, Google nofollow links and the added links above will be treated as “hints” about which links to exclude as ranking signals.
The issue is this; these links will not be ignored anymore. And since they will be used as hints based on Google’s discretion, it may be hard to figure out how to use or treat them.
So why isn’t Google completely ignoring these links? They actually put out a statement on it. That statement was as follows:
“Links contain valuable information that can help us improve search, such as how the words within links describe 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.”
What Website Owners Should Know in Regards to SEO
With the changes that have taken place, it is important to know a few things regarding how this will affect your website SEO. Here are some things to consider.
Link Attributes are Still Important
Avoiding link schemes and link scheme penalties is still very important. These lead to penalties from Google if not handled correctly. Certain link ads and sponsored links will get you these penalties. Google is okay with you using the term “sponsored,” but “nofollow” is also fine.
You Don’t Need to Change Existing Attributes
If you have current nofollow links (which most will), there is no need for you to change them. Google said that it will continue to honor all current nofollow attributes that are already in place. This will save you a lot of time and energy having to go back to try and update these.
Furthermore, there is no need to go back and change how you are currently using nofollow attributes that flag links connected to ads or sponsorships. The only thing they did touch on here was that they recommend switching the “sponsored” attribute when appropriate.
Let’s remember, even though it is not necessary to change the existing nofollow links you have, you still may want to consider using new link attributes for future links.
If you are using the nofollow attribute as a way to block sponsored links, or if you are not vouching for a page you link to, then both of those will continue to be supported.
Finally, if you happen to think you are in the middle of a link scheme action and want to avoid possible penalties, then use rel=”sponsored” or rel=”nofollow” to flag these links.
Using the New Attributes Correctly
There are some things to consider when it comes to using the new attributes. For one thing, more than a single attribute can be used on a link. For example, rel=“ugc sponsored” would be acceptable for a sponsored link that also appears within user-generated content on your site.
To take that a little further, Google has said that there is actually no wrong attribute to use except when dealing with sponsored links. If a link is actually marked as “sponsored,” even if it is not part of an ad or sponsorship, the overall impact will be less. Google actually touch on it as well, stating:
“… we’ll see that hint but the impact — if any at all — would be at most that we might not count the link as a credit for another page. In this regard, it’s no different than the status quo of many UGC and non-ad links already marked as nofollow.”
Think of it this way as a bottom-line solution. Any link that is clearly an ad or a sponsored link should use “sponsored” or “nofollow.”
When Did These Changes Go Into Effect?
As far as rel=“sponsored” and rel=“ugc” go, those have been working since September of 2019. Nofollow works as well.
This basically means that the two newer link attributes have been treated as hints since the date above. However, nofollow just started being treated as a hint in March 2020. So basically, that is brand new.
If you rely on nofollow links exclusively, then that is probably not a good idea. I would encourage you to strongly consider switching to one of the two new attributes.
Dealing with when to use follow and nofollow links has always been a question for many. When you break it down to its core, the difference really is the way Google crawls, tracks, and uses it for SEO purposes.
Nofollow links actually play a very important role when it comes to SEO. I hope this article gave you a better understanding of how they work and gave you enough insight to make them work for you.
One final thought I have. No matter how you use the information above, if you are trying to actively build links to your website, then prioritizing the building of follow links makes more sense. Since these ones are the ones that pass PageRank and have a direct impact on your website SEO.
Google continues to make changes to its search engine and other outlying products. This is nothing new, as it is an effort to stay updated and relevant. Go ahead and make any changes you feel you need to based on the information above.