Changing the Way We See Nofollow Links

Google is updating how it crawls nofollow links in an effort to provide more accurate search results for users. On May 1st, Google rolled out a new algorithm update that changed the way no-follow links are classified, which will have some pretty significant changes on SEO. Fear not, because the SEO experts here at Cape and Bay are here to tell you everything you need to know about this recent update.

What is a Nofollow Link?

Up until recently, there were two types of links in the eyes of Google: dofollow and nofollow. Dofollow links tell Google’s search engine bots to follow your site, and can significantly boost your site’s chances of showing up higher in Google’s rankings (see our link juice diagram for an explanation). In the early days of Google, SEOs discovered the power of dofollow links (rel=”dofollow”) to increase ranking, and some used shady link building tactics to falsely boost their site’s rankings. Nofollow links were Google’s response to these tactics back in 2005. Before this, internet users abused the Google link guidelines by spamming message board and blog comments with their links to artificially boost their ranking potential.

As the name suggests, a nofollow link tells search engines to ignore the link so that it does not pass through Google’s PageRank tool, and as a result, will not have a direct impact on search rankings. If you’re inspecting the code of a no-follow link, you’ll notice it has an HTML tag that looks like this attached to them: rel=“nofollow”. Users won’t be able to see this on the front-end because it’s only available in the code. The key takeaway here is that dofollow links help searchability and ranking potential, while nofollow links do not pass “link juice” but can earn referral traffic from the sites where they exist. Keep in mind, having a diverse backlink profile that includes a natural mix of dofollow and nofollow links is important for your site’s health.

What Exactly is User Generated Content?

UGC is any piece of content made by an internet user, not a brand. UGC can refer to anything from text posts, product reviews, photos, and videos made on online platforms. UGC can be highly beneficial in terms of searchability, giving users a place to link to you and drive traffic to your site. Links included on social media sites are nofollow, so that users aren’t able to abuse this feature and game the Google ranking algorithm. For example, if someone wrote a post about your website on social media and linked to your site, it would be read as a nofollow link by Google’s website crawlers.

How Things Have Changed

The recent update has overhauled the nofollow link attribute so that Google can better understand the nature of these links. This is good news for businesses and marketers, because it will give users more opportunities to improve searchability. There are two new types of link attributes to be aware of, that will change the nature of some nofollow links:

  • rel=“sponsored” – The sponsored attribute will be given to nofollow links that are included as part of a sponsored post, advertising placement, paid placement of some sort.
  • rel=“ugc” – This attribute will be given to nofollow links that were created as part of user-generated content. So that Facbeook post we mentioned earlier will now have one of these tags associated with it.

Rather than completely ignoring them, Google will now be treating them as hints about which links to exclude in their algorithm. Google stated that the reason they’re doing this is that these links contain valuable information that is essential for improving search. This new model allows them to see words within links and the content they are describing, something they previously had no insight into since all nofollow links were to be ignored. However, they did note that these links won’t necessarily hold the same weight as dofollow links.

“Why not completely ignore such links, as had been the case with nofollow? 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.”


Here’s What You Need to Know About These Updates

You may be asking yourself, “won’t this just lead to more spammy links?”, but Google has a plan in place for that. Users won’t be able to operate link schemes where they post spammy links in hopes of getting more link juice. Google will have moderators in place overseeing this activity and will block link spam where attempted. These users may also suffer hefty search ranking penalties just as before. 

This new update is a positive one, that is likely to give users improved search results and businesses a greater chance of increasing their visibility. Keeping in tune with new algorithm changes is a crucial piece of a well-functioning SEO strategy, and sometimes causes strategies to shift. The experts at Cape and Bay are here to help your business adapt and succeed in the ever-changing world of SEO. Let’s chat.