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Everything Google Has Said On The Nofollow Link Attribute Change

Last updated: 09-14-2019

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Everything Google Has Said On The Nofollow Link Attribute Change

Everything Google Has Said On The Nofollow Link Attribute Change
Sep 11, 2019 • 8:00 am |
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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 :
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:
Now, let's get to the Google comments on Twitter.
The announcement:
Today, we’ve announced two new link attributes - “sponsored” and “ugc” - that join “nofollow” as ways to identify the nature of links. All will now work as hints about which links Google Search should consider or exclude for ranking purposes. More details:
— Google Webmasters (@googlewmc) September 10, 2019
What is changing now vs later:
Blocking this way was never robust. If you didn't want pages indexed, putting blocks on links meant we wouldn't discover pages from *those particular links* but we still might index found it another way. You always wanted to have a page-specific block (robots.txt, meta robots).
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 10, 2019
Just using rel=sponsored is cool without nofollow for paid sponsored links:
If those are sponsored links, either sponsored or nofollow is acceptable. But yes, if the joke is "I'm finally dropping nofollow from them!," sure.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 10, 2019
No change needed, so no work is added?
You literally don't have to change anything if you don't want. The post is explicit about that:
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 10, 2019
You took time to ask a client if they would adopt something no one said you needed to do? Again, this is a voluntary outside of sponsored links. If people *want* to use more granular identification, those who *do want* can do so. If you don't, don't.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 10, 2019
Focus on the other part: nofollow became a hint. Ugc and sponsored are icing on top of that cake, and it's one of those things where you don't have to do anything if you don't want to. If you want to help us understand the web better, implement them. If you don't want to, don't.
— Gary "鯨理" Illyes (@methode) September 11, 2019
Why should we change it then?
1) The two new attributes are voluntary choices for those who find it useful to be more granular. It's a *choice* and we don't need to put "teeth" into a choice. Use them. Don't. It's a choice.
2) Nofollow, as we explicitly said, continues to work for sponsored links.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 10, 2019
Because you might find it useful to be more granular. People define CSS things in various ways for category and organization when they don't *have* to. It's kind of like that. We thought people might like more flavors than just nofollow.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 10, 2019
It's useful if you want a choice to be more granular. You didn't have that before. Now you do. If you want it.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 10, 2019
No. Nofollow was offered and voluntary used by sites as a spam deterrent, except for sponsored links. In that case, it is required by us.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 10, 2019
We spent a lot of time and care to ensure the new attributes were not presented as mandatory nor required changing off nofollow, precisely because we did not want webmasters to feel they didn't have a choice. They do; I believe we were very clear about this in the post.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 10, 2019
When nofollow was introduced, it was for marking any link you didn't want to pass along credit to. Call that use case A. Then it became a way to block sponsored links in compliance with our guidelines. Call that use case B. For over a decade, a single attribute had to do both....
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 11, 2019
As part of this review, it was also a good time to separate out the use cases. If you want to flag that something isn't a first-party link (use case A), now you have a specific option (UGC). If you want to flag something is a sponsored link (use case B), now you have sponsored...
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 11, 2019
However, we were also very very very very very very very super duper duper duper concerned that we didn't want to cause any new work for SEOs and others. We didn't want people to think they had to rip up nofollows, freak out that they *had* to use the new options....
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 11, 2019
So why not force adoption? I guess in part, I'm scratching my head because usually SEOs are upset if they feel something is being forced upon them. We're not forcing adoptions because you don't force choice on people. That, by its nature, doesn't make it a choice....
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 11, 2019
To conclude, we think some people might prefer to have granular attributes for particular link cases. We've provided these, for those who want that choice. But for those who don't want the choice, they can carry on using nofollow just as they have before.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 10, 2019
Nofollow was never a hint prior to yesterday, it was obeyed by Google:
But I think it would be better said like "Link attribution can be done in three ways: sponsored, UGC and nofollow." That kind of works well with the chart, too.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 11, 2019
No, not correct. I have first hand experience with that part of the codebase and that's just not true.
— Gary "鯨理" Illyes (@methode) September 11, 2019
Will this impact search? Google downplayed it when I talked to their PR and posted on Search Engine Land, but it might?
This has the potential to have a massive impact on the end user. While SEOs implement the nofollow, the outcomes of it trickle down to ranking, which directly affects end users.
— Gary "鯨理" Illyes (@methode) September 11, 2019
As I said elsewhere, the big thing is the change to use nofollow as a hint. As Gary says, that's very helpful to our systems that impact *lots* of people. The new attributes are a minor aspect.
— Gary "鯨理" Illyes (@methode) September 11, 2019
The change went live yesterday (re hint for ranking with nofollow):
Since the announcement pretty much.
— Gary "鯨理" Illyes (@methode) September 11, 2019
How did Google decide to do this?
I think it's clear at this point you don't like that we introduced these two optional attributes. I'm sorry we'll have to disagree that some might find them useful. But you are free to ignore them. That's part of the whole choice thing in this.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 11, 2019
Any difference between nofollow or ugc link attribute?
So to your point, if someone feels a link should be seen as getting credit in our ranking systems, don't use any of the attributes (unless it's a sponsored link, where our guidelines require a blocking mechanism).
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 11, 2019
Look for other ways to block crawling and indexing soon:
But for people who absolutely, positively do not want a page indexed or crawled, nofollow on a link will no longer work for that. It just become a strong hint. But ... it never absolutely positively worked that way in the first place, as we also said in the post.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 11, 2019
What is UGC:
Comments could be seen as UGC. Forum links, as well. I mean, pretty much any place where you allow third-party users to add links to your content, that's user-generated content.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 10, 2019
There are no changes in how it impacts link spam:
Nothing changes there.
No changes to the normal meta tags here:
No, this doesn't affect the robots meta tags.
— ???? John ???? (@JohnMu) September 11, 2019
Google will continue to communicate about this:
We'll continue to give information about various aspects of search - the blog post isn't about us stopping to talk with folks :).
— ???? John ???? (@JohnMu) September 10, 2019
If you are unclear, John is willing to help you for presentations or whatever on this topic, reach out to him:
If you're presenting at Brighton SEO this week and the nofollow change is throwing you off, I'm happy to take some time to gut-check any last-minute slide changes. Ping me at gutcheck.with.john @ & point at specific pages/slides.
Google spent a lot of time thinking about this:
hundreds of hours of consideration, months of preparation, we finally arrived.
— Gary "鯨理" Illyes (@methode) September 10, 2019
Mark et al, we've been working on this change for months. All these things you've raised have been discussed internally during that time, some things multiple times. The choices we've made were not made lightly, they were in fact made such to support the larger content ecosystem.
— Gary "鯨理" Illyes (@methode) September 11, 2019
Gary Illyes did a lot of laughing:
Fantastic. Now i have coffee in my nose. ????
— Gary "鯨理" Illyes (@methode) September 11, 2019
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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