The nofollow attribute has been around for about a decade, and was fairly simple to understand, but it just became a lot more nuanced.
You can learn more about this from the full post over on Search Engine Roundtable.
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We’ve talked about the nofollow attribute on here a handful of times, but Google has just announced some big changes to how they’ll treat those links.
For those not familiar with the term, nofollow is something you can put on a link to tell Google not to count the link toward rankings for the receiving site. Linking from one site to another is a huge piece of what makes a site rank well, but sometimes you want to link to another site without giving them that benefit. A good example is when users automatically build links on your site, such as in comments or a message board, or if you mention another site as part of a sponsored post, in which case you’re required to make it a nofollow.
Until now, nofollow was a clear statement to Google to simply “not count this link toward rankings”. Starting now, though, Google is treating nofollow differently and will interpret nofollow as a “hint” about whether to exclude it or not. In addition, Google has added two other similar attributes to nofollow.
First, is the new “sponsored” attribute. You should apply this to any link that has paid for placement on your site, such as an ad.
The second is the new “ugc” attribute, which stands for “user generated content”. This would go anywhere that users can create their own links, such as blog comments and message boards. All three attributes will be treated as similar “hints” to Google.
When asked why Google won’t continue to simply ignore nofollowed content, Google said:
“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 shifting to a hint model, we no longer lose this important information, while still allowing site owners to indicate that some links shouldn’t be given the weight of a first-party endorsement.”
The “sponsored” and “ugc” attributes are in effect now, and will be treated as hints right away. The “nofollow” attribute will work as it always has until March of next year, at which point it will shift to being treated as a hint as well.
There’s no need to make any changes to your site right away, but if you have a lot of sponsored or user-generated content, it’d be worth changing out those attributes over the coming months.