If you’ve been in the SEO game for a while, you know that “nofollow” links are essentially “no good.” Google skips over these links as though they weren’t even there, meaning that they didn’t obtain your website or post any additional SEO value.

However, as technology and trends have evolved, so has Google’s method of evaluating nofollow links.

As of next year, Google’s value of nofollow links will experience its first change in more than a decade.

In this article, I want to talk about where nofollow links stand, and how they can impact your SEO in the very near future.

The March 2020 Change

On September 10, 2019, Google announced a big change. Instead of ignoring links that were deemed nofollow, Google will now start to view nofollow links as “hints.” The search engine can use this hint to determine whether or not the link should be followed and considered in the page’s ability to rank.

Additionally, Google added a few more hint labels to help identify links even more specifically. These include:

  • The rel=”sponsored” hint, which can indicate advertisements, sponsorships, or other compensation agreements.
  • The rel=”ugc” hint, which is recommended for links that come from or are within user-generated content (UGC).

By March 1 of 2020, nofollow will officially be viewed as a hint – rather than a blanket label. This will certainly have an impact on crawling and indexing, as well as your site’s ranking (potentially).

Attributes of Nofollow Links

The sponsored and UGC link hints we just discussed have been deemed as nofollow link “attributes” by Google. This is because they’re a descriptor that helps Google understand how valuable (or not) a link may be to a site’s overall ranking.

All of these attributes, including nofollow, will be treated as hints and will be used to more accurately analyze websites and links within the Google system.

Keep in mind, these attributes will be able to function simultaneously.

For instance, let’s say you have a sponsored link that stems from user-generated content. You could use the tag “UGC sponsored” to cover both of your bases and give Google the most accurate understanding of what that link is.

Hint versus ignore

Let’s talk a little bit more about why distinguishing between “hint” and “ignore” is so important.

In Google’s announcement, the search engine said:

“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.”

In general, Google does plan to treat most nofollow links as they did before. Many of them will not be deemed as worthy of influencing a site’s ranking and will therefore still be ignored.

So, your site might not experience much of a change in its ranking if most nofollow links still aren’t followed.

However, this switch to the “hint” label gives nofollow links a chance to be recognized and accounted for when determining a site’s ranking factors. That means Google won’t just skip over the link without giving it a second chance.

What to do with old nofollow links

Many website owners or bloggers will immediately worry that they need to re-evaluate all of their old nofollow links to ensure that they’re all up to par with this new change.

But remember that Google can (and probably will) penalize sponsored or paid links that are not marked with some kind of hint.

Should you go after new nofollow links?

Generally, nofollow links stem from blog comments, sites like YouTube and Reddit, widgets, social media, unreliable news sites, and press releases.

In many cases, those sources are still going to be unreliable in Google’s eyes, even after this switch to the hint nofollow attribute takes place. Therefore, Google will likely still treat most of your nofollow links as “ignores” unless they have more to offer your site in terms of credibility.

Google has flat out admitted that ranking a website without links is incredibly difficult. Your site needs credible, respected, and relevant links, and if most of your links are nofollow, your chances of ranking well with Google are still fairly low.

Instead of going after new nofollow links, focus on finding dofollow links that have a much stronger chance of impacting your SEO ranking positively. Look for links to well-known news sources, respected blogs, and professional sites. These links will take you much further than any number of risky nofollow hints.

In conclusion

For more than a decade, Google viewed all nofollow links as the same – essentially worthless for SEO.

Now, Google has admitted that some nofollow links might have more value than previously thought. That’s why it has introduced more nofollow attributes, all of which will be considered hints.

Therefore, if you’ve completely disregarded nofollow links in the past, you might want to take a second look at your SEO approach, especially before 2020.

How are you labeling your links? How are you telling Google which links to trust and which not to?

SEO Best Practice Guide