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Changes in the SEO industry: New rel= attributes

Changes in the SEO industry: New rel= attributes

By Christian Scanlan

Changes in the SEO industry: New rel= attributes

On January 18th 2005, Google released the nofollow tag (i.e. rel=”nofollow”) as an effort to prevent comment spam on user-generated content. Over time, the nofollow attribute has come to represent so much more. If a link is provided with the nofollow attribute, the website operator would be informing Googlebot that although you’ve linked to a certain page, that you don’t affiliate yourself to that site altogether. 

Fast forward to September 10th 2019, where Google has entered a new era of ‘linking out’. Google release two new link attributes, revising the original nofollow attribute. These include ‘rel=sponsored’ & ‘rel=ugc’. 

This is a big step forward for Google, who are constantly trying to find ways to clamp down on spam and improve how they interpret link profiles. 

What are the new attributes and when should you use them?  

Google has introduced two additional tag formats to improve link differentiation and allow the Googlebot to further improve link profile interpretation.

The rel="sponsored” tag will specifically allow you to mark links that are advertisements, links from a guest post, etc. which is especially relevant for external companies that have paid for a link on your site or even provided you with a sample product or service in exchange for a link. 

The rel=”ugc” tag stands for user-generated content and is recommended to be used for links within comment sections of a page, such forum posts, response threads, etc. This is ideal for a site such as Forbes, who constantly mark up their external links on their site written on user-generated content with rel=nofollow. 

The rel=nofollow is still a valid attribute and still relevant to its original purpose, which is quite simply that the website doesn’t want to make any recommendation to the site but will link to them. 

Examples of writing these links can be found below:

1. NoFollow

 <a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>A site we are linking to but we don’t want to affiliate ourselves to</a>

2. Paid or Sponsored 

<a href=”” rel=”sponsored”>a link scheme</a>

3. User-Generated Content

<a href=””  rel=”ugc”>An unauthorised link on UGC<a/>

4. Regular Link

<a href=>a site we trust<a/>

Will these tags affect how a page ranks?

Google will continue to ignore nofollow links, but this strict behavior changes on March 1 2020, at which point Google begins treating nofollow attributes as "hints", meaning they may choose to crawl them.

How does this affect you? 

As an overview, it’s still extremely important to mark sponsored links or user-generated links with a nofollow tag. The update is more related to the various categories of the nofollow links. 

It’s important to note that If you’re a website owner with countless links pointing to numerous different websites, Google is adamant that there is no need to amend these attributes. Google offers no incentive for doing this and won’t penalise your site for not changing them. This update is known as being ‘backward compatible’, which means that you don’t need to change your existing links on your site but you should start using the new method when convenient. 

Going forward, however, Google state “if you want to avoid a possible link scheme action, use rel=sponsored or rel=nofollowed to flag these links”. Using the new attributes gives Google the ability to better process links for analysis of the web. In which case, it’s important to identify these attributes as sites linking to yours might be using these attributes. 

Will this, in the long term, reduce the effect of guest posts if people actively get involved with this implementation? It’s too soon to tell, and at this stage, we don’t know how much authority will be passed to a site when using these tags, or even if publishers will even implement these changes. 

Only time will tell. 



The Author

Christian Scanlan

Christian Scanlan

Christian is a junior SEO Analyst with a focus on improving technical SEO performance. He is constantly looking at ways to improve a website's visibility and organic traffic within search engines whilst constantly researching the ever-changing algorithms through his personal research.