Google's Nofollow Update Released on 1st March, 2020. Nofollow Links Now Treated as a Hint

Mar 01, 2020
3 min read
Google Algorithm Update

The change to how Google treats nofollow links went live today. Nofollow links are now used as a hint for crawling, indexing, and ranking purposes. Previously, they were not.

The change was first announced last September, along with two new link attributes. The two new link attributes were launched last September to give webmasters plenty of time to implement any changes.

Will you see Ranking Changes from the Nofollow Update?

According to Google’s John Mueller, most webmasters should not see any visible effects from the change:

Eric Enge, an SEO at Perficient, asked Google whether the change would impact “something”. Mueller confirmed “yes”.

In the above tweet, Mueller also confirmed that the change was not live before the 1st of March. This would preclude any volatility from February being attributed to this change.

Google said in its announcement post:

Links contain valuable information that can help us improve search, such as how the words within links describe content they point at. 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.

Google further stated:

In most cases, the move to a hint model won’t change the nature of how we treat such links. We’ll generally treat them as we did with nofollow before and not consider them for ranking purposes. We will still continue to carefully assess how to use links within Search, just as we always have and as we’ve had to do for situations where no attributions were provided.

This would seem to support Mueller’s statement that the impact would be limited.

What action should you take in response to this update?

This update was announced in combination with two new link attributes:

  • rel=“sponsored” - These should be used for sponsored links, such as adverts, sponsored links, or sponsored posts.
  • rel=“UGC” - These should be used for any User Generated Content (UGC), such as blog comments.

You should review your use of nofollow and change them to the most appropriate link attribute.

Also, if you use nofollow links throughout your site, you may wish to review their use. Some examples:

  • If you use nofollow links to prevent indexing of specific pages on your site (i.e., links to user profiles, login pages, etc.), you may wish to use the noindex meta tag instead.
  • If you use nofollow links to hide affiliate links, you may want to use rel=" sponsored" links, or add a “disallow” record to your robots.txt file.

Google can still use “sponsored” or “UGC” links as hints, but they are more likely to be interpreted appropriately and given them the correct weighting.

If you are unable to change your links from nofollow, don’t worry. Google has already said that you can continue to use nofollow as a “method for flagging such links to avoid possible link scheme penalties.”

They do, however, recommend switching over to the new link attributes.