Links from one website to another (also known as backlinks) are an important factor in how search engines like Google view websites. A link from one website to another is essentially seen as almost an endorsement from the first site – that the other website is a trusted authority on a subject and worth directing people to. Google’s algorithm uses links to help determine whether a website is worthy of good rankings in their results pages when people search for a relevant term.
However, this way of doing things used to leave a lot of room for people to abuse the system and generate large numbers of links that their website didn’t really ‘deserve’, using a range of tactics.
To counteract this, in 2005, Google introduced the ‘nofollow’ attribute that could be added to a link, which essentially told the search engine not to give any kudos or ‘link juice’ (also called things like ‘link equity’ or ‘PageRank’) to the site it linked to. The idea was for the nofollow attribute to be used on any links that could be spam (like links in comments on blog posts) or any links that were paid for, rather than earned – such as blogger partnerships where bloggers were paid or compensated in some way (e.g. gifted) in return for a link – rather than the link being naturally ‘earned’ by the website in question.
Any sites that didn’t use nofollow links when they should (including bloggers) were potentially risking being penalised by Google. This resulted in some news websites and other large publishers (e.g. Wikipedia) applying the nofollow attribute as a blanket rule to all links, which actually made it more difficult for search engines to judge the value of what they were linking to. This wasn’t really an ideal solution for anyone involved in the equation!
What’s changing in March 2020?
Back in September 2019, Google announced some upcoming changes (or at least clarifications) to the way in which it views nofollow links, and it also added two new attributes that people can use to give more context to a link and the reason it exists. Starting on 1st March 2020, Google say that they MIGHT treat a nofollow link, along with a link using either of the two new attributes, as a “hint” for ranking purposes, along with potentially using them for crawling and indexing sites too. This is different to how Google has openly treated nofollow links in the past, but as the web is constantly evolving, and search engines have also changed a lot over the last 15 years, it makes sense that Google will update their policies and algorithms to reflect this.
The two new attributes are a type of nofollow link – but will give search engines more context about the reason why they are nofollow – which may help Google to better understand if this is a link that should impact on website rankings in search engine results pages (i.e. pass page rank from one site to another), or be used for crawling or indexing.
The example code for these types of links can be seen below:
What type of link should I use when linking from my blog to other websites?
The answer to this question will depend on the purpose of the link. If you’re linking to another website simply because you found it useful and want to share it with your audience, you can use a standard link.
However, if the other website, or someone else on their behalf, has paid you or compensated you in any way for linking to them, you can use the sponsored link attribute.
As a blogger, it’s unlikely you will use the UGC link attribute, as this is recommended for blog comments and forum posts, which you’re not likely to have control over unless you’re a web developer too. Depending on what platform or CMS your blog uses, any link that someone leaves within your blog comments section is likely to automatically have the nofollow attribute applied – which is fine to leave as it is.
For any existing links from your blog site to other websites which are a result of paid partnerships or similar, Google does recommend changing those at some point to include the sponsored attribute.
What do these link attribute changes mean for journalists, publishers, SEOs, marketers and brands? We’ll be following up this blog with another post soon, so keep your eyes peeled over the next couple of weeks.
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