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Google Nofollow Change: To follow or not to follow?

Google has announced a new update to the ‘nofollow’ tag, which will impact the way that the search engine views and rates links, and how companies will now need to conduct their link building activities for SEO.


Read on to discover more about link building, how it fits into your SEO strategy, and what this latest Google change will mean for your future link acquisition activities.

A Quick Overview of Link Building

An important factor in a website performing well within organic search is a healthy link profile. Securing links from reputable and relevant websites back to your own signals a ‘vote of favour’ in the eyes of Google. The more of these authoritative links you gain, the better chance* your site has to rank higher within Google’s search results, and therefore gain more organic traffic.



*of course, link-building is not the only tactic required for organic success, a variety of SEO activities are also essential including website optimisation, brand building, and technical health.

The History of Link Building and the rel=‘nofollow’ Tag

As link building is one of the key factors to secure organic success, a wave of techniques have been developed to gain those valuable links. Unfortunately, many of those techniques go against SEO best practice. These activities included paying for links, where a link would placed on a site specifically after payment - this is not to be confused with paying for a guest post on a well-established media or blogging platforms. Another example of bad practice was the development in spammy link schemes, where users publish a link across hundreds of low value websites, also known as a link farm.


These types of activities strictly go against Google’s guidelines and can land you in hot water. At best your site could drop in rankings and traffic, and worst it could be penalised and removed from search results. Due to this it is essential in link building to follow best practice.


To help combat these issues and reduce the predilection for dodgy link-building efforts, Google introduced the rel=”nofollow” tag, nearly 15 years ago. This tag was introduced to fight comment spam initially, and then was recommended to be used to flag any advertising-related or sponsored link. The attribute was designed to tell Google to ignore the link it was given to, when Google was considering a site’s backlinks in ranking a site.


Link building in 2019 and Beyond

Fast forward to now, and some pretty big changes have been rolled out to this little link attribute.


As of last 10th September 2019, Google has now specified three new attributes that can be placed around links:


rel=”sponsored”: adding this attribute to a link will identify it as being created as part of a sponsorship, advertisement or any other compensation agreement.


rel=”ugc”: this attribute is to be users for links which are within ‘user generated content’, such as a comment on a webpage or a forum post.

rel=”nofollow”: where you want a link to a page, but don't want to imply an endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.


Why Are These Changes Important?

Historically, webmasters and SEO practitioners have understood the nofollow attribute to stop passing on any ‘favour of vote’ to Google for the website it’s linking to. In other words, securing a link and having a nofollow attribute added to it meant the link was pretty much ignored when it came to Google deciding where to rank a site.


However, Google has now stated that links with nofollow attribute will still be considered as a ‘hint’ and that this could impact rankings, should Google choose to ignore the directive.


This is good news as previously the nofollow attribute was seen as having little value for SEO purposes, when it came to rankings. However, now, we could see a boost because of this. Furthermore, it helps give context to links helping Google to have a better overall understanding.


Do You Need to Do Anything?

For website owners and SEOs, if you are responsible for securing links back to a site then it is still imperative to ask or check that the publisher of any sponsored or paid links to your website has added an attribute when including the link. In the past, this was only ever the rel=”nofollow” tag, but going forwards you can now use the rel=”sponsored” tag as well.


Failing to do this runs the serious risk of your site being penalised for violating Google’s guidelines on link building.


There’s no need to review previous links secured - you do not need to go in and change the link attribute. If you do, you shouldn’t expect to see any boost in rankings for doing so.


If you are a publisher of links and have been using a nofollow attribute to prevent Google from crawling internal links, you may need to reconsider this strategy to include the “sponsored” tag. This attribute in the past has been used as an attempt to preserve Google’s crawl budget and signal to the search engine not crawl low value pages.


How I-COM Can Help

Link building in this way falls under the realm of technical SEO, and it just so happens that we here are I-COM are experts in this field. Should you have any questions about link attributes, link building or what steps you can take to improve your search engine ranking, then get in touch.

You can call us on 0161 402 3170 or get in touch using our online contact form.