Google introduced the nofollow attribute in 2005 to prevent spam comments, and improved it with UGC and sponsored attributes in 2019.
What is a follow link?
In SEO, a follow link is a link that passes “PageRank” or “Link Juice” (the authority and reputation of a page, as determined by Google) to the pages it points to. A link is by default a follow link if it does not contain the following link rel attributes: nofollow, ugc, or sponsored. A search engine considers a page with many internal and external links more relevant than a page with few or no links. In other words, a follow link is one of the top-ranking factors.
The ‘nofollow’ link attribute
The nofollow attribute is an HTML tag created for websites to tell Google and other search engines not to follow a link. It was introduced in the year 2005 by Google to avoid comment spam. It allows web admins to link to various pages without giving them any ranking power. Creating links in discussion forums or comments with nofollow is a way to prevent website owners from gaining an advantage over their competitors.
Here are some of the most common uses for nofollow links:
1. Pages you don’t want indexed
2. Paid links or sponsored content
3. Links to low-quality or thin pages
4. Links that include user-generated content on forums or blogs
5. Links you suspect of including malware or other threats
Using the nofollow attribute tells Google that you don’t want your site’s reputation to be affected if you link out to a low-quality website. Suppose a website has low-quality content, lacks credibility, or has malicious intent. It may be advisable to use the nofollow attribute so that Google doesn’t associate your site with theirs.
By adding a nofollow attribute to links, search engines are prevented from counting them as votes, which could help unwanted sites get better placement in the SERPs.
New nofollow 2.0 link attributes: UGC, Sponsored
Google announced two new attributes in 2019: UGC and Sponsored. Additionally, Google stated they will crawl nofollow, UGC, and sponsored links from March 1, 2000 and pass them along to their ranking algorithm. The ranking algorithm decides whether these links count as ranking factors or not. Therefore, having nofollow links from high-quality content can affect ranking.
The ‘sponsored’ link attribute tells search engines: This link was paid for. The attribute is used for links such as advertisements and sponsored content.
The ‘UGC’ link attribute is for user-generated content and means: This link was created by a user, not an employee of our company (for example, a comment).
Some common examples of UGC include:
– Blog Comments
– Forums & Message Boards
– Social Media User Posts
– User Profiles
– Press Releases
You might now ask when you should now use just the old nofollow attribute? These are all links that are not user-generated, and you have not got paid for them.
Converting nofollow links to the new ugc and sponsored attributes isn’t necessary, but it’s recommended.
The reason why is because while search crawlers know they should ignore nofollow links, the new ugc and sponsored attributes make it even clearer what your intentions are with any given link.
Examples using the follow / nofollow link ref attributes
This is the default link, no ref attribute is required.
<a href=”https://example.com”>This is a follow link</a>
If you want to add a link to your website and tell Google that it should be ignored, you can do so by adding rel=”nofollow” to the HTML code of the link. This is ideal for adding links in comments or affiliate links which don’t benefit your site’s content.
<a href="https://example.com" rel="nofollow">This is a follow link</a>
If you want to add a link to your website but indicate that it’s part of user-generated content (like a comment), you can use rel=”ugc.” This helps Google distinguish between organic and contributed content.
<a href="https://example.com" rel="nofollow ugc">This is a follow link</a>
If you want to add a link to your website but indicate that it’s part of sponsored content (like a paid ad), you can use rel=”sponsored.” This helps Google distinguish between editorial and promotional content.
<a href="https://example.com" rel="nofollow sponsored">This is a follow link</a>
As you can see in the examples, you should always use nofollow together with UGC/sponsored since other search engines that do not support these new attributes may start to count the link as a do-follow link.
Using nofollow on internal links
It was common practice to use a rel=nofollow tag on internal links like imprints or terms and conditions to prevent those pages from being crawled, and the link juice could be directed to other (more important) pages.
However, this strategy, also known as PageRank sculpting, does not work nowadays and is not recommended by Google. When you use nofollow links, you can no longer direct the PageRank of the whole page to individual pages with follow links, but it is distributed evenly between all links, regardless of whether they are follow or nofollow links.
Google recommends you make these pages follow instead. They are special pages that search engines know how to handle accordingly.
Is it necessary to use the nofollow link attribute?
You probably know that you should add nofollow links if the link is for an advertisement. However, you might now ask if you should care about using nofollow links and what happens if you do not set this attribute. Ignoring these attributes would violate the google webmaster guidelines and could lead to a penalty. More information can be found in the google advanced seo documentation about link schemes.
So why are these attributes important? Google does not want people to manipulate their search results by simply buying many links with high PageRank. The more links a site has, the higher its PageRank gets, which means that it will rank higher in search results. When Google detects paid reviews on blogs written specifically to boost rankings, it will penalize this site by lowering its PageRank.
Are nofollow links a google ranking factor?
A question has plagued the SEO world for years: Are nofollow links a Google ranking factor? In short, it’s complicated. And to be honest, we’re still not sure what the answer is!
Basically, nofollow links could potentially attract other websites’ attention to you, resulting in follow links from those same sites later on. However, it will take some time before you see any real results from this indirect strategy. There isn’t enough evidence to prove or disprove the theory that nofollow links can improve your page rank.