In 2005, the nofollow attribute was introduced by Google to prevent SEOs from gaming the system. But in March 2020, Google announced another big update to the nofollow attribute. Read on to find out what changed, and what it means for your website.

What is a nofollow link?

By default, links grant a little SEO boost to the page they link to. These links are known as follow links (or followed links). 

A nofollow link (or nofollowed link), on the other hand, is a way to link to a page without giving it that SEO boost.

How to nofollow a link

Followed and nofollowed links look the same to the user - the difference is only visible in the code.

Making a link nofollowed is simple: just add the rel=nofollow attribute to the HTML of your link.

A typical link looks like this:

<a href="">Cute puppies</a>

By default, this link is followed. This means that every time somebody includes it on their webpage, they pass a bit of SEO value onto, helping them to perform better in the organi search results.

The nofollowed version of that link would look this:

<a href="" rel="nofollow">Cute puppies</a>

Both links look the same to the user, but only one of them passes SEO value on to the target page.

How to check if a link is nofollowed

Because followed and nofollowed links look the same, it can be hard to tell them apart at a glance.

Luckily, it's very easy to check whether or not a link is followed or nofollowed.

Simply right-click on the link in question, and select 'inspect'. This option may have a slightly different name, depending on which browser you're using, but it'll always be there:

  • Chrome: Inspect
  • Firefox: Inspect Element
  • Safari: Inspect Element

Note: on Safari, you may have to enable this feature first. Luckily, this is easy, and you only have to do it once.

Simply open your Safari Advanced preferences (Safari > Preferences > Advanced) and select "Show Develop menu in menu bar". The Inspect Element function should now be added to your context menu.

Why does nofollow exist?

The nofollow attribute was introduced to prevent people from gaming the system. People would try to trick search engines into thinking a page was high quality, by linking to that page from places link website comment sections, forums and directories.

Some people were were also paying for links, allowing site owners to essentially buy their way to the top of the organic search rankings. (Editor's note: We already have PPC for that!)

So, to maintain the integrity of the organic search results, Google needed to stop this from happening, or at least, make it much harder to do. So 'nofollow' was developed, to give website owners a way to prevent comment spam and any other nefarious 'black hat' techniques that shady SEO practioners were using to build links.

Although nofollow links are not able to boost PageRank, businesses can still use nofollow links to their advantage, because links from places like Facebook or Twitter can generate lots of traffic for a website even if the nofollow tag is applied.

Google Announce Update To Nofollow Links (March 2020)

In March 2020, instead of completely discounting nofollowed links, Google announced that they would be treating the nofollow attribute as a hint instead. This meant that links marked as nofollow would be analysed, to check whether the link actually provided any value. So low-quality, spammy links would continue to be ignored, but genuine links that added value could still contribute to a page ranking better, even if they were nofollowed.

As part of the update, Google introduced two new attributes, one for sponsored content and one for use-generated content. The attribute rel="sponsored” shows links on your website where they have come from ads or sponsorships, whilst rel=”ugc” identifies links that have come from user-generated content such as comments and forum messages.

This allows website owners to be  be more transparent with their HTML, providing Google and other search engines with more information, so that they can better evaluate how to treat each link. 

The impact of this Nofollow update

One of the key benefits of this update to the nofollow attribute is that businesses that have genuinely earned links that have been nofollowed will be able to benefit from them more. Meanwhile, the host website will not risk being penalised.