Understanding the Impact of Google’s Nofollow, UGC and Sponsored in SEO

Google’s Nofollow, UGC and Sponsored

Google has recently launched a new update that has taken the entire SEO world by storm. The updates are about how publishers need to mark the Nofollow links to help Google understand the web. After the updates many confusion has been created within the domain of SEO and SEO experts come forth with a variety of questions. To solve the queries and answer their question this post has been written.

Google has been the popular Search Engine since its inception back in 1995 with many updates and algorithm changes. Recently Google has launched their next update where it explains the methods to treat the Nofollow link characteristics. Some of the common catch about this update include:

  • The link attribution is actually done using three popular methods – Nofollow, sponsored and UGC and each indicates different meaning.
  • In order to rank higher, Google now consider each Nofollow Attribute Link as Hints and this means that it won’t impact the SERPs of your webpage. This means that Google may consider overlooking the directive and use of the Nofollow Links when ranking the webpage
  • When it comes to indexing or crawling, Google still continues to ignore the Nofollow Links. But after the behaviour changes and update in 1st March 2020, Google has started treating the Nofollow Attributes as Hints and this mean that it will now use it for crawl the webpage
  • Webmasters are suggested to use the new attributes in combination with others.
  • The paid links are either required to use the Nofollow or sponsored attribute. Webmasters use “UGC” on paid links may be penalized now by Google
  • Publishers are not required to follow any strict rules and Google is not offering any incentive or penalizing for the changes.
  • Publishers are now required to reconsider their strategies while using Nofollow to control the crawling on Google.

Reasons for Changes in Nofollow by Google

The Nofollow Attribute was launched back in 2005 in a bit to help publishers to address the spamming in comments and shady links from the user generated contents. Now Google is focusing to withdraw the link graph. Now linking the site to low quality and spanning websites would cause severe damage to you and the Nofollow serves as the protective barrier for the publishers in such case. Google suggest publishers to use Nofollow for sponsored and paid links. But if you come in radar of Google while accepting anything valuable in return for linking without Nofollow Attribute, then get ready to accept the heavy penalties from Google.

This is the system that actually worked as intended, but many major web portals like Wikipedia and Forbes applied the Nofollow across their website in a bid to stay protected from Google’s penalties or when not able to properly manage UGC. Due to this fact the entire concept of link graph become less useful for Google.

Today Google consider Nofollow Attributes as “Hints” and they are now focused in integrating these signals into all their Algorithm updates. This is believed to be the best step for all those content creators who deserve it because the broader swath of link graph is now open for more potential ranking influences.

Knowing the Ranking Impacts of Nofollow Links

Earlier, Nofollow Links usually worked for SEO in the following ways:

  • Not used for indexing and crawling as Google don’t follow it
  • Not suitable ranking as confirmed by Google

But, there are lots of debates around about the second statement and Google is still clear head about this problem. As per the anecdotal evidences and data, Google has always reckoned Nofollow Links as potential ranking signal and nothing more. But according to recent update, the new link attributes including UGC and Sponsored are considered as follow:

  • Still not in use when it comes to indexing or crawling
  • All Nofollow Directives are now officially treated as “Hints” for ranking purposes. This indicates that Google keep on ignoring it and also used it for ranking purposes. But how Google is using it is the main question here

After the update in 1st of March 2020, these link attributes are considered as hints across all platforms and this means:

  • In some boards it can be used for indexing and crawling
  • In some boards it may use used for ranking purposes

But, this confirms that Google is very open and hence it would be used as signal in only selected cases and in most of the cases they will still ignore the Nofollow links like they did before.

Is Making Changes Necessary for Publishers Now?

For most of the cases, the answer is negative as Google is not suggesting publishers to make changes in the websites and hence there is no business case that needs to be made. But, there are some cases where webmasters or publishers are required to make the changes and add new attributes.

  • Publishers who want Google to understand the site better or the contributors are required to implement the new attributes
  • Websites that make use of Nofollow Links for crawling control need to implement it. The websites having larger faceted navigation need to use Nofollow as the effective tool to prevent Google from investing crawl budget. But there is no information regarding when publishers are required to use Nofollow and make any change. Google now consider Nofollow as crawling “Hints” and hence it is crucial to pay close attention to it.

If publishers are using the Nofollow correctly, then SEO is not required to make any changes. However, they are not restricted from doing so and they must not expect higher ranking after implementing it or any penalty for not making changes.

The consideration of Google regarding the new link attributes may evolve and keep changing and you need to keep checking it to stay updated and know how they use this in future. If any ranking benefit is attached to it, then you will be updated about the same and you need to make use of it in certain way.

Which is the Best Link Attribute To Use?

If you are planning to make changes and use the Nofollow Links in more specific way, then Google offers guidelines which you must use. Some of the guidelines in brief are mentioned here.

  • Rel=”Sponsored” - This is for sponsored and paid links and it would include the affiliate links
  • Rel=”UGC” – This is for all UGC content and Google has already confirmed that UGC that is created by only trusted contributor is not required to use the Nofollow Attributes
  • Rel=” Nofollow” – This is for all Nofollow links because with other Nofollow Directives these attribute links won’t be used for crawling, ranking and indexing purposes

Moreover, attribute links are also used comfortably in combination with other links. This confirms that rel=” Nofollow Sponsored” in combination is a valid option to use indeed.

Is There Any Penalty for Not Marking Paid Links?

Of course you will be penalized for not marking the paid links. Google ask webmasters to mark up the sponsored and paid links with either Nofollow or sponsored only and not UGC. Here most of the publishers are confused as they want to know what if UGC contributors consider including affiliate or paid links in comment section. Google has not yet clear this and hence they need to wait till further notice or update.

Like before, publishers are still marking up UGC content with “Nofollow” as default or “Nofollow UGC”.

Is Nofollow Attributes Beneficially for Indexing and Crawling?

Nofollow is often considered as the weakest medium to prevent Google from indexing the content or webpage and it still continues the same way now. Webmasters who still want to prevent Google from indexing the content need to consider using one of the different methods, especially some kind of “noindex”.

Crawling is totally different and many SEO experts are using Nofollow on all major and huge sites to prevent the crawling budget and also to prevent Goole from crawling the needless webpage within the faceted navigation. Earlier Nofollow publishers were using it like before, but after the update on 1st March 2020 they have started removing it and stop using it.

How Important It Is to Implement the New Nofollow Attributes?

Well, there is no such clear reason to implement Nofollow Attributes now. But it is totally up to the SEO team whether or not they want to implement it. Probably all the confusions and lack of clear benefits have been discussed here and still if publishers are not obvious, then they have to wait till next update and better information.

As per the update, there is no harm in making the changes and you will not be penalized if you don’t make the changes indeed. It is still not clear how anyone can benefit from it. Anyone using sponsored attributes at the risk of giving more exposure to paid links will benefit or not can be revealed later when any new update comes.

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