How is Google’s No-Follow Affecting SEO?

November 4, 2019 | Advanced SEO

No-Follow

No-follow is a value or HTML code which you can assign to the ‘rel’ attribute of HTML. It instructs the search engines not to follow the link or not to influence the link’s target in the search engine index. 

The purpose behind no-follow is to reduce the influence of certain types of internal ranking. Such is the case because the search algorithm heavily depends on the number of links attached to a website in the process of determining the position of the website in search results for a given term.

Introduced in 2005 by Google, the main objective behind no-follow was to offer a way to the publishers to protect themselves from shady links from UGC (user-generated content). Google also made it mandatory to connect the paid or sponsored link with no-follow, otherwise, you could be penalized. From this fear of getting penalized, websites such as Wikipedia and Forbes used nofollow across their entire site.

It was originally developed to combat spam but, sometimes you cannot guarantee the same for your website. Generally, such links are left by visitors in blog comments.

What are the Technical Contexts of a No-follow Link?

  • HTML: Formatting language which decides the appearance of the design elements such as images and texts on a webpage.
  • <a>: An element within the HTML that is responsible for holding the properties of a link. <a> decides where the link should take you.
  • Rel Attribute: Signifies the relationship between the current resource and the linked resource.
  • No-Follow: The value of the rel attribute which directs the search engines not to follow a link. It also asks the search engine to avoid using the link as a determinant of quality for the linked page.

How Does a No-follow Link Look? 

<a href=”http://www.alphabetaxyz.com/” rel=”nofollow”> Anchor text</a>

These links are used in forums or blog comments to take away the bonus from automatic link spammers.

However, it has barely reduced comment spamming.

How Google’s No-follow and Other Link Attributes Affect SEO?

As many as 14 years after the induction of no-follow, Google had recently announced some significant changes in its treatment towards the “Nofollow” link attribute. To make it more clear, we have deduced the following points:

  • There are three ways executing link attribution viz. “nofollow,” “sponsored,” and “UGC”.
  • Each of these has a different meaning. The fourth one is “default,” which means there is no attributed value.
  • Now, Google treats “nofollow” attributes as “hints,” which means these attributes will not affect ranking. In some cases, Google may ignore the directive and use nofollow link attribution for ranking purposes.
  • At present, Google is ignoring nofollow links for crawling and indexing purposes. From 1 March 2020, Google will treat nofollow link attributes as “hints”. It means Google may utilize these attributes for crawling purposes.
  • You can also combine different attributes to form a new attribute. For example: “nofollow sponsored UGC” is entirely valid.
  • It is mandatory for the paid links to either use sponsored or nofollow link attributes (either in combination or alone). Otherwise, they will be penalized.
  • While Google imposes penalties for not effecting the change, it offers no incentive for the rectification.  
  • To control crawling via no-follow, publishers will need to reconsider their strategy.

The following table places the discussion in a better format for superior understanding:-

What is the Overall Impact of Google’s No-follow in SEO Rankings?

Earlier, SEO professionals believed that no-follow links work are not used for crawling, indexing, or ranking purposes.

Speculation is rife on the use of no-follow link attribute for ranking purposes. Google has always been unclear on this issue. Many theories suggest that Google has considered the nofollow link attributes as a potential ranking signal.

Today, Google’s guidance explains the new link attributes, including “ugc” and “sponsored” to be treated as follows:

  • These link attributes will not be used for crawling and indexing purposes.
  • Officially, the no-follow links to be treated as hints.

From 1 March 2020, these link attributes will be treated as “hints” which means that they may be used for the following purposes:

  • Crawling
  • Indexing
  • Ranking 

Both points are case-specific. It means that Google may or may not use these link attributes as per their choice.

Is it Necessary for Publishers to Make Changes?

For most of the websites, there is no need to introduce any modifications because Google is not making it mandatory for the site to do so. 

Still, there are some cases where website owners and SEO experts may implement the latest attributes: 

  • In the case of sites that are using no-follow for crawling purposes. Sometimes, nofollow can be effective at preventing wastage of crawl budget by Google. This technique is useful for websites that have faceted navigation.
  • When websites, such as Wikipedia, want to help Google know the links to which their contributors are trying to connect. 

In a nutshell, SEOs are not required to make any changes, if their sites are correctly using the nofollow attribute. However, websites are free to make such changes, but they should not expect any boost in their rankings.

Let’s look at the following table to know which link attribute you should use.

Moreover, these link attributions can also be used in combination with each other. For example, rel = “nofollow sponsored.”

Are there any Penalties for Not Marking the Paid Links?

Tax Penalties

Yes, you can be penalized for not marking the paid links. Google requires you to mark the sponsored links with either “nofollow” or “sponsored” only. You cannot mark any sponsored link with “UGC”.

But what will you do “if the paid links are included in the content by your UGC contributors?” As of now, Google has not made any statement or come out with clarifications on this issue. 

Can you Control Crawling and Indexing by Using No-follow Link Attributes?

Yes, you can use nofollow attribute to control crawling and indexing, but this is an inferior method. It is advisable to use other means to prevent Google from indexing your content. You can also take the help of SEO tools for delivering desirable results.

But then, crawling has a different story. Nofollow link attribute is used by many SEO experts to prevent Google from wasting crawl budget.

Conclusion: Is there any Need to Follow the New Attributes?

Well! There is no compelling reason to implement these new attributes. It depends on the website to website and their respective SEO experts.

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