Google Nofollow Links Update Explained (Yshma)

Google has recently announced changes to the way nofollow links are measured. It’s timely and ridden with a mix of implications – especially given that 2019 is the year on-page ranking factors have edged ahead of off-page. Well, at least that seems to be the general consensus amongst SEO experts. 

How did nofollow links work?

Here’s an example of a no follow link:

<a href="">
<a href="" rel="nofollow">

By adding the tag, you’re essentially telling Google not to pass any link juice on through this link. This means if a domain with high authority has linked to your website in one of their blogs and added a “nofollow” tag to the link – you won’t receive any SEO benefit from this.

 It was initially implemented by Google as a hard means through which to combat spam (think comments in forums and mass link production). However it seems as though they’ve pivoted on their position here.

What’s changed?

Well, let’s go straight to the source – here’s what Google had to say on the matter:

“When nofollow was introduced, Google would not count any link marked this way as a signal to use within our search algorithms. This has now changed.

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.”

Essentially, Google have decided to add an additional two elements to the nofollow system which will allow them to more accurately attribute and distribute link value .

1. Sponsored link nofollow tags:

rel=”sponsored”: Google suggests using this tag for promotional content.

2. UGC nofollow tags

rel=”ugc”:  Google suggests using this tag for content within comments, reviews, Q&A’s ect.

Do I have to change my existing nofollow tags?

In short – no. However, Google are moving to what they are referring to as a “hint model” which means the implications of your nofollow tags aren’t as absolute as they were under the previous system. 

When are these changes happening?

For ranking purposes, the system has already been set up to provide Google with the “hints” required to determine link value distribution however from a crawling and indexing perspective – the day to watch for is March 1, 2020. If you’ve been relying on your nofollow tags to block certain pages from indexing, we would suggest you correctly implement your robots.txt and no index protocol before this date.

What does this all mean?

The perceived value of link equity has gradually been decreasing and it seems Google is dedicated to implementing a system that encourages legitimate engagement amongst users. Yes, the reality is that it could over-commoditise the real estate on forums, review pages and Q&A pages however it’s a step in the right direction with respect to ranking attribution. 


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