Everything Google Has Said On The Nofollow Link Attribute Change

Sep 11, 2019 - 8:00 am 60 by

Google Duck Follow

Google announced a change to the nofollow link attribute yesterday and with that announcement, Googlers spent the next day responding to questions about it on Twitter. I will go through what changed according to the announcement and then cover almost all of the responses from Google (removing duplicates) so you get a full perspective of this change. Note, I did cover the announcement on Search Engine Land when this news broke.

Google has a nofollow link attribute that launched in 2005 with the goal of preventing comment spam. It then expanded to be used for any link you don't want Google to count and was then required to be used on any link that was added that could influence Google's search results that was paid for in some way.

Before yesterday, if you used the nofollow attribute on links, Google simply would ignore the link. It would not follow it, it would not count it, it would pretend that link did not exist. Google would not count the link, not follow it for crawling or indexing and Google would not use it for ranking.

Yesterday, with the change, Google said they will now use the nofollow link attribute as a "hint" for ranking purposes. Meaning, Google can see the content, anchor text, the link, use it for spam purposes, use it for ranking purposes, etc - if they deemed necessary. It is now just a hint to Google for ranking purposes and not an explicit directive. But for crawling and indexing, Google will still not follow the link for crawling and indexing purposes at this point in time.

After March 1, 2020, Google will expand that to be a hint also for crawling and indexing purposes.

In addition to this, Google added two more link attributes that can be used in combination with or by itself. In addition to the nofollow, you can use the rel="sponsored" and the rel="ugc". The rel="sponsored" can be used on all sponsored/paid links, you can use the nofollow and/or rel="sponsored" but you need to use one of those on all paid links - either or both is fine. The rel="ugc" is for user generated content, like links in comments, forum threads, etc. Google said you do not need to use the new attributes, you can continue to just use nofollow and not update the old nofollows, if you choose.

Cyrus Shepard has a nice chart of this change on Moz:

click for full size

That is what changed - got it?

Now some important points summarized in bullet form:

  • Nofollow has changed to be a hint, a hint today for ranking, a hint in March 2020 for crawling and indexing
  • Rel=sponsored was added for more granular attribution of the type of link
  • Rel=ugc was added for more granular attribution of the type of link
  • You don't have to use those new attributes if you do not want to
  • You at least need to have nofollow on sponsored links, you can also just have rel="sponsored" on those links as well
  • No ranking changes expected, Google said, from this change.
  • You can combine these new link attributes if you want.
  • Google does not think this will result in more comment spam

In fact, I've already implemented it over here:

click for full size

Now, let's get to the Google comments on Twitter.

The announcement:

What is changing now vs later:

Just using rel=sponsored is cool without nofollow for paid sponsored links:

No change needed, so no work is added?

Why should we change it then?

Google doesn't care if you use it or not?

Nofollow was never a hint prior to yesterday, it was obeyed by Google:

Will this impact search? Google downplayed it when I talked to their PR and posted on Search Engine Land, but it might?


The change went live yesterday (re hint for ranking with nofollow):

How did Google decide to do this?

Any difference between nofollow or ugc link attribute?

Look for other ways to block crawling and indexing soon:

What is UGC:

There are no changes in how it impacts link spam:

No changes to the normal No changes to the meta robots=noindex directive here:

How should affiliate links be handled?

Google will continue to communicate about this:

If you are unclear, John is willing to help you for presentations or whatever on this topic, reach out to him:

Google spent a lot of time thinking about this:

Gary Illyes did a lot of laughing:

Danny Sullivan summarized more after I hit publish on this story:

And from Gary Illyes added later:

I think that is most of the Google communication around this change at the time I hit publish. I hope I did not miss anything significant:

Forum discussion at Twitter.


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