The evolution of Google’s rel “no follow”


The evolution of Google's rel no follow

Google updated the no-follow attribute on Tuesday 10th September 2019 regarding which they say it aims to help fight comment spam. The Nofollow attribute has remained unchanged for 15 years, but Google has had to make this change as the web evolves.

Google also announced two new link attributes to help website owners and webmasters clearly call out what type for link is being used,

rel=”sponsored”: Use the sponsored attribute to identify links on your site that were created as part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements.

rel=”ugc”: UGC stands for User Generated Content, and the ugc attribute value is recommended for links within user-generated content, such as comments and forum posts.

rel=”nofollow”: Use this attribute for cases where you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.

March 1st, 2020 changes

Up until the 1st of March 2020, all of the link attributes will serve as a hint for ranking purposes, anyone that was relying on the rel=nofollow to try and block a page from being indexed should look at using other methods to block pages from being crawled or indexed.

John Mueller mentioned the use of the rel=sponsered in one of the recent Google Hangouts.

Source: YouTube

The question he was asked

“Our website has a growing commerce strategy and some members of our team believe that affiliate links are detrimental to our website ranking for other terms do we need to nofollow all affiliate links? If we don’t will this hurt our organic traffic?”

John Mueller’s answer

“So this is something that, I think comes up every now and then, from our point of view affiliate links are links that are placed with a kind of commercial background there, in that you are obviously trying to earn some money by having these affiliate link and pointing to a distributor that you trust and have some kind of arrangement with them.

From our point of view that is perfectly fine, that’s away on monetizing your website your welcome to do that.

We do kind of expect that these types of links are marked appropriately so that we understand these are affiliate links, one way to do that is to use just a nofollow.

A newer way to do that to let us know about this kind of situation is to use the sponsored rel link attribute, that link attribute specifically tells us this is something to do with an advertising relationship, we treat that the same as a no-follow.

A lot of the affiliate links out there follow really clear patterns and we can recognize those so we try to take care of those on our side when we can  but to be safe we recommend just using a nofollow or rel sponsered link attribute, but in general this isn’t something that would really harm your website if you don’t do it, its something that makes it a little clearer for us what these links are for and if we see for example a website is engaging in large scale link selling then that’s something where we might take manual action, but for the most part if our algorithms just recognize these are links we don’t want to count then we just won’t count them.”

How quickly are website owners acting on this?

This was only announced by Google in September and website owners have until march to make the change required but data from Semrush show that website owners are starting to change over to the new rel link attribute with.

The data shows that out of From one million domains, only 27,763 has at least one UGC link but the interesting fact is that if we’ll look at those 27,763 domains that have at least one UGC link, each domain from this list on average has 20,904,603 follow backlinks, 6,373,970 – no follow, 22.8 – UGC, 55.5 – sponsored.

Source: Semrush.com

This is still very early days but we can see that there is change and I would expect that to grow significantly into next year.

Conclusion

I believe that Google is going to use the data from these link attributes to catch out website owners that continue to sell links and mark them up incorrectly in order to pass any sort of SEO value other to another website in any sort of agreement Paid or otherwise.

Paul Lovell is an SEO Consultant And Founder at Always Evolving SEO. He can be found on Twitter @_PaulLovell.

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