Google treats nofollow attribute as a hint, and introduces 2 new rel attributes

Ryuzaki

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Barry Schwartz dropped this one on Search Engine Land. Here's the summary:

Nofollow
rel="nofollow"
Google "to begin treating" (aka probably has been) nofollow attributes as a "hint" and not a directive. Likely to deal with Wikipedia and big magazine sites that went all nofollow.

Currently nofollow is used for links you:
  • don't trust
  • don't support (like talking about a negative aspect of something)
  • user generated content
  • sponsored links
That's not really ideal, never has been. So Google now wants to drop two new rel="attribute" options on us.

Sponsored
rel="sponsored"
This one is to be used for links where you've been paid. It's for advertisements and sponsorships basically. Donation credits... anything where you took money and compensated someone with a link.

UGC
rel="ugc"
This one is for all links within user generated content, like comments, forum posts, profile pages, etc.

Why is this happening?
This is back to me and my own speculation. Google wants to make their link graph accurate again after big sites took the nuclear option to make sure Google didn't penalize them for authors selling links. Wikipedia is UGC but is obviously high enough quality to count the links. They want to be able to use the anchor text relevancy clues for some nofollow links, etc.

Google is saying there's no need to change your nofollow links, but they said for sponsored content they recommend switching to rel="sponsored" when convenient.

You can also do a mix & match like rel="ugc sponsored" if user's are allowed to sell links, for example.

Basically...
nofollow is the old nofollow and sponsored is the new nofollow. nofollow may flow juice in certain scenarios, sponsored will not flow page rank, and ugc I'm not sure, probably another "hint" situation depending on the content quality.

If you have a killer link profile...
You should be celebrating! I'm betting those of us with nice sites with links from big sites that went all nofollow are about to see a small but noticeable bump in traffic. The problem is so will other big players. The gap between big sites and small sites is about to grow larger with this change, which will have to be artificially deflated using other parts of the algorithm. My guess is there's about to be a window where authority sites rule the day again for at least a few months, since they'll probably roll out this one change and tweak it till it's right and then start working on closing the gap again using other methods.
 
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One question I had upon hearing this news is does this tacitly imply that some nofollow links today do pass value? Otherwise what would the need for these new attributes be?

I can't count how many times (including the recent Adobe sponsored links thread on Twitter) where Google representatives claim they know which sites are accepting "sponsored" content and which don't and devalue them accordingly, which I've always scratched my head at..

So if they could already identify and devalue why go through the hooblah of introducing new attributes?

Also, do we believe publishers are really going to adopt these? Even if they wanted to, as most "high DA placement" transactions are already being conducted under the radar of the publication's owners/admins, how would they even know on what links to put a rel=sponsored attribute?

Example: Forbes can be found on just about any "premium" link sellers "premium" list, and they exist because the page author directly adds links to their own content. Now Google introduces sponsored attributes and Forbes executive web team agrees to adopt. Problem is they've been having contributors sneaking in "sponsored" aka "paid" links for years already.. how do they identify the guilty parties and all the offending pages?
 
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how do they identify the guilty parties and all the offending pages?
The same way they identify PBNs = by using the link graph to spot unnatural linking patterns through time. They haven't needed us to use rel="pbn" yet they still can spot those.

All you have to do is identify link nodes (domains) which have been busted doing other types of non-white hat link building and then compare each author's outbound link profile to the natural threshold value, and they'll pop out like a sore thumb. Then when you bring in time-based checks, it gets even more obvious.

"Sponsored" and "UGC" seem like public control methods more than something they actually need. They want the public to worry about it more and thus buy less links.
 

CCarter

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@eliquid has been blogging for several months now in the serpwoo blog that nofollow links are an important ranking factor.

I remember in one blogpost I had to explain in the comments to an SEO that Wikipedia links were extremely valuable and they really sat there waving the white hat nofollow = no juice flag.

Google is pretty blatant on how it works. Do you guys realize there literally are white hat SEOs that state you do not need backlinks to rank?!?! How do people fall for this?
 

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Does this mean that affiliate links should be marked as "sponsored"? If so, do you know if we will have to update all existing affiliate links to be marked as "sponsored" rather than "nofollow"?
 

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Thinking out loud, I wonder if this is similar to the disavow file Google offered up several years back.

Every SEO started submitting their bad links. I speculate Google used that data to help better understand shady links.

Guessing the same could apply in this instance. Not saying that is their intention, but...
 

EyesExist

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It sounds like Google is about to slap the hammer again sometime soon. Something big.

This is almost like friendly extortion because if it works. Im sure a percentage of people will just switch to paying google .......... vs paying for services.

Pure business move it sounds like. It would be hilarious to see if 'sponsored links' started getting sponored emails from Google .

Wild hypothesis but the way search changes your results on telephones today.. it would not surprise me.
 

Ryuzaki

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Does this mean that affiliate links should be marked as "sponsored"? If so, do you know if we will have to update all existing affiliate links to be marked as "sponsored" rather than "nofollow"?
You may have missed this part, it was tucked into one of the bottom sections:

"Google is saying there's no need to change your nofollow links, but they said for sponsored content they recommend switching to rel="sponsored" when convenient."​
They want us to do it eventually. My view is that "sponsored" is the new true "nofollow." Google will likely pass zero page rank through them and even not crawl these links.

What could be some benefits for us for switching them?
  • We don't screw up our crawl budget on huge sites by letting Google think they want to crawl these links by the thousands
  • We don't inadvertently pass page rank to our competitors by letting Google think they want to pass page rank through these links
  • We dodge some stupid future penalty where Google decides we were manipulating by using "nofollow" on a "sponsored" link because they ended up passing page rank through it.
The problem here is, some of us have sites with thousands of these links. Are we expected to go through every post to fix it? We could do some fancy jQuery for every possible outbound affiliate domain, but even that is kind of absurd because you have to track down all the variations of domains, especially stuff like CJ that routes through random weird domains.

_____

Danny Sullivan is on Twitter saying you do NOT have to change any nofollows at all. It's still supported, even for "sponsored" links, which means they either trust that the algorithm can sort it out or they don't want the shit storm of rage for asking people to do it. I'd guess that the algorithm has it under control, and that @JasonSc is right... any future usage of "sponsored" and "ugc" will simply help train their algorithms like disavow did.

_____

You know what, come to think of it, I'd almost guarantee this change is already in the link graph. They likely made the change, made sure it worked how they wanted, and then announced it. I don't think they'd risk having a ton of webmasters removing "nofollow" for "sponsorship" or "ugc" if they didn't already know it would all work out fine (in regards to nofollow being a hint). Bing already considered it a hint.

And if you think about it, have they ever announced anything related strictly to the algorithm before it happened?
 
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Sutra

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@Ryuzaki I've gone back and forth in my head about this and I'm still not clear, haha. And I'd like to get clear so I can decide which type of link attribute to use on my new site, hah.

From the way Google words it, it sounds like "sponsored" is only for paid links, as in an advertiser paid you to place the link. When it comes to affiliate links though, usually you are not paid to place the link. You only get paid after a user clicks through and performs some type of actions, i.e. buy something, clicks something else, etc.

But google didn't mention affiliate links specifically in that announcement. So are they considering affiliate links to be "paid" links that should ideally be marked as "sponsored"?

Just so I understand better, it's your belief that affiliate links should be marked "sponsored", correct?
 

Ryuzaki

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Affiliate links are incentivized because you end up getting paid for the promotion. I think "sponsored" is suitable. Remember, you can use more than one tag, so you could go rel="sponsored nofollow".

All the Google guys are on Twitter saying you absolutely don't have to change your nofollow tags around. Which means you don't need to do anything but use "nofollow" even in the future, until they start demanding it (if they do).

The thing is, we already lose page rank through nofollow links, so even if they choose to ignore the "hint" of nofollow and count the link, you're still losing the page rank anyways. So dodging that issue isn't a part of the question.

And I think at this point they won't be penalizing for just continuing to use nofollow alone. They've already put their foot in their mouth too much to walk that back. They just want enough people using the new ones to train their algorithms.

Wordpress is going to build rel="ugc" into the core on the next update for comments. They say it's a one-line of code change. Just mentioning that for anyone who cares.

I don't think you have anything to worry about if you just use "nofollow."
 

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I'm sure they are going to wait now for webmasters to change some of their links to "sponsored", that way G is going to learn, it will build blueprint of linking schemes and implement it with next update. They need only small number of webmasters do this. Probably it's just a part of bigger idea G is preparing for us, but I'm not going to change my linking behaviour anyway. Well, for fun and test I will make some of my next sponsored links rel UGC, will see how G likes this.