A common question in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the difference between a dofollow or nofollow link. So what is a nofollow link? There are four attributes in an outbound link in Google, not two. This has been going on for a while now, and is a recent development.

Let us start with the difference between dofollow and nofollow, the primary variables in an outbound link or backlink. 

Dofollow link

This link means that this outbound backlink will contribute to the rankings of the receiving website. This will help the receiving website increase in URL rating and domain authority.

Nofollow link

This means the outbound link does not contribute to the ranking of the receiving website. It effectively does not pass link juice to the receiving website. It is ignored for crawling and indexing purposes.

The two new link types

The two new link types are:

  • Sponsored links
  • User generated content

Here is an explanation of both:

Sponsored links

Google says the following about a sponsored link:

rel=”sponsored”: Use the sponsored attribute to identify links on your site that were created as part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements.

User generated content

Google says this about a user generated content:

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. This is really relevant in blogging websites.

Industry Analysis

In Moz, Cyrus Shepard says this about the changes

Link attribution can be done in three ways: “nofollow”, “sponsored”, and “ugc” — each signifying a different meaning. (The fourth way, default, means no value attributed)

For ranking purposes, Google now treats each of the nofollow attributes as “hints” — meaning they likely won’t impact ranking, but Google may choose to ignore the directive and use nofollow links for rankings.

Google continues to ignore nofollow links for crawling and indexing purposes, but this strict behavior changes March 1, 2020, at which point Google begins treating nofollow attributes as “hints”, meaning they may choose to crawl them.

You can use the new attributes in combination with each other. For example, rel=”nofollow sponsored ugc” is valid.

Paid links must either use the nofollow or sponsored attribute (either alone or in combination.) Simply using “ugc” on paid links could presumably lead to a penalty.

Publishers don’t have to do anything. Google offers no incentive for changing, or punishment for not changing.

Publishers using nofollow to control crawling may need to reconsider their strategy.

This is their table:

Moz’s table on the four current link attributes

Why is Google doing this?

Cyrus says:

Google wants to take back the link graph.

Google introduced the nofollow attribute in 2005 as a way for publishers to address comment spam and shady links from user-generated content (UGC). Linking to spam or low-quality sites could hurt you, and nofollow offered publishers a way to protect themselves.

Google also required nofollow for paid or sponsored links. If you were caught accepting anything of value in exchange for linking out without the nofollow attribute, Google could penalize you.

The system generally worked, but huge portions of the web—sites like Forbes and Wikipedia—applied nofollow across their entire site for fear of being penalized, or not being able to properly police UGC.

This made entire portions of the link graph less useful for Google. Should curated links from trusted Wikipedia contributors really not count? Perhaps Google could better understand the web if they changed how they consider nofollow links.

By treating nofollow attributes as “hints”, they allow themselves to better incorporate these signals into their algorithms.

Hopefully, this is a positive step for deserving content creators, as a broader swath of the link graph opens up to more potential ranking influence. (Though for most sites, it doesn’t seem much will change.)

Furthermore, he says:

Beginning March 1, 2020, these link attributes will be treated as hints across the board, meaning:

  • In some cases, they may be used for crawling and indexing
  • In some cases, they may be used for ranking

Emphasis on the word “some.” Google is very explicit that in most cases they will continue to ignore nofollow links as usual.

Google is doing this because they do not want SEOs to game the system. There are many quick and dirty tricks to get backlinks like posting comments on Quora or Reddit, not all are frowned upon, but there are some that are clearly black hat. Having the right rel tags in increasingly more important to comply with Google policy. Getting a high pagerank is facing external pressures and increasingly complex. Search engines have searchers as their primary customers, not website owners.

You may want to hire a professional SEO who can comply with all your needs and save you time. Anyone on WordPress, a blog or other web platform will benefit through a traffic increase from proper SEO management.

Further things to note – link schemes

It is very important to note that Google is adamant that over manipulation of follow or nofollowed backlinks needs to be stopped in their policies. One such policy, is a link scheme.


What is a link scheme?

Google says:

Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.

Therefore, it also says you cannot:

  • Buy or sell links
  • Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
  • Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
  • Using automated programs or services to create links to your site
  • Requiring a link as part of a Terms of Service, contract, or similar arrangement without allowing a third-party content owner the choice of qualifying the outbound link, should they wish.

They also say:

Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines. Here are a few common examples of unnatural links that may violate our guidelines:

Text advertisements that pass PageRank

Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank

Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites. For example:
There are many wedding rings on the market. If you want to have a wedding, you will have to pick the best ring. You will also need to buy flowers and a wedding dress.

Low-quality directory or bookmark site links

Keyword-rich, hidden or low-quality links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites, for example:
Visitors to this page: 1,472
car insurance

Widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites

Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature, for example:
Thanks, that’s great info!
– Paul
paul’s pizzasan diego pizzabest pizza san diego

Note that PPC (pay-per-click) advertising links that don’t pass PageRank to the buyer of the ad do not violate our guidelines.

Basically, the same language is repeated again and again, andy SEO who aims to provide shady tactics to get you linked is going to have to answer to you when the temporary boost turns into a penalty.


Bloggers and business owners alike need to pay attention to this. Black hat SEO methods are really short sighted and getting a reliable and up to date SEO team is really hard. Luckily, we provide SEO services with a professional and ethical team. SEO is a very complex field of Digital Marketing, and is best left to a professional. Do you need a professional SEO team?

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