Dofollow Google's Evolving "nofollow" Links

Gyi Tsakalakis
September 11, 2019
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Yesterday, Google announced two new link attributes:

rel="sponsored": Use the sponsored attribute to identify links on your site that were created as part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements.
rel="ugc": UGC stands for User Generated Content, and the ugc attribute value is recommended for links within user generated content, such as comments and forum posts.

These are in addition to our 15 year-old friend rel="nofollow".

Since the SEO community is buzzing over this announcement, I figured I'd share a few of my thoughts on the subject.

TL;DR: Nothingburger for most law firms.

A few warnings and disclaimers. This announcement happened yesterday. Anyone claiming to have this sorted out just did you a huge favor, you reduce their credibility to little, or if you're smart, none. Furthermore, Google is not your friend, team member, or consultant. Take everything they say and do with a grain of salt. Yes, even the super-friendly Googlers and Xooglers who are exceptionally generous with their time and knowledge. Finally, read the fine print here and think about it in the context of how it helps Google, not you, your business, etc.

Let's parse.

Google's stated reason for the original nofollow attribute is to fight comment spam. In my view, it gets a "meh" at best. Sure, it purportedly removed SEO link value from spam comments, but it didn't do much in terms of actually deterring spammers from commenting. In fact, a lot of sites have altogether removed comments from their sites / blogs, thanks spammers.

But, here's something actually interesting:

When nofollow was introduced, Google would not count any link marked this way as a signal to use within our search algorithms. This has now changed. All the link attributes -- sponsored, UGC and nofollow -- are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search. We’ll use these hints -- along with other signals -- as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links within our systems.

Whoa! Hold the phone. Google is saying, "while we used to not count nofollow links, now we'll count them (and these other attributes) as hints."

How can this be a nothingburger? Because we've been skeptical about the zero value of nofollow for years. This is particularly true in the context of local SEO.

Look, I'm not getting into the PageRank doesn't count in local debate. Bottom-line: meh, links.

Not, "meh, dofollow links." Not, "meh, high DA links." And now, not "meh, non-sponsored and non-ugc links." Admittedly those sentences are awkward. But you get it.

Want to rank in local? Earn links. Quality links as defined by relevance.

You should go read the rest of Google's answers relating to this announcement. I doubt that this will have much impact on deterring spammers. It is yet to be seen whether it will have much impact on combating spam links from actually helping rank sites (hint: probably not much).

In any event, you shouldn't just take Google's word for it. You shouldn't take my word for it either. Go test yourself!

Okay, I have to admit, the SEO nerd in me thinks this is really cool. It's rare that Google makes an announcement like this, particularly with respect to links. I have some hunches as to why they're doing this, but let's not go down those rabbit holes quite yet. Keep your eyes peeled, and keep building links!

P.S. For crawling and indexing purposes, nofollow will become a hint as of March 1, 2020.

See you next spring.

Gyi Tsakalakis
Co-Founder of AttorneySync
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