Google has “evolved” the way it interprets the rel=”nofollow” link attribute when deciding how to pass link juice from one page linking to another. It has introduced 2 new link attributes and will now interpret all 3 attributes as “hints” when deciding whether or not to pass link juice.

What are the new Link Attributes?

Google has also introduced 2 new link attributes to give website owners new ways to identify certain types of links:

  • rel=”sponsored”: Use this attribute for links that were added to your content as advertisements, sponsorships or other agreements in which you are compensated for placing the link.

  • rel=”ugc”: UGC stands for “user-generated content”. This attribute should be used to tell Google that a link has been placed in a comment by a website user, not by the website owner. User-generated content generall refers to content such as blog comments and forum posts.

The rel=”nofollow” attribute still exists and should be used when you have a link that you don’t want to pass link juice but doesn’t fit into the “sponsored” or “user-generated content” categories.

About that “hints” business...

Along with the 2 new attributes, Google is still keeping the rel=”nofollow” attribute. However, as noted above, Google will treat all of these attributes as “hints”, instead of automatically ignoring them. According to a blog post published by Google, it’s because

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 treating these attributes as hints instead of absolutes they are still able to collect this information about the links and content they point to while still allowing websites to prevent the passing of link juice. This allows them, according to Google, to better use links when indexing and ranking pages in search results.

What You Should do Now

Google started supporting the “sponsored” and “ugc” attributes with their announcement of these changes. Google will interpret the “nofollow” attribute as a hint starting on March 1, 2020. Nofollow will stop preventing pages from being indexed on this date.

So the good news is that if you’re currently using the nofollow attribute for paid and user-generated links, you don’t need to do anything. Google will continue to support nofollow links in this manner and won’t require you to go back and change all your nofollow links to sponsored links.

However, Google does recommend that you start marking paid or otherwise compensated links as “sponsored” eventually.

The same goes for the ugc attribute.

Marking user-generated links as “sponsored” links won’t cause a problem for your website. However, marking a paid link as “UGC” could cause a problem for your site, so be sure to tag all ads, sponsored and otherwise paid links as “sponsored” or “nofollow”.

For full details, including the answers to some frequently asked questions, read Google’s announcement blog post.