Google’s John Mueller answered a tweet about the proper use of nofollow for SEO, while agreeing with the tweet, he also pointed out a nuance about the nofollow attribute that was missing.
The tweet arose from an infographic that shared when and when not to use the nofollow attributes.
A Yale study showed how the human brain gains awareness through processing “an avalanche of external stimuli,” highlighting how important visual cues are for communicating.
Infographics are useful ways to communicate information because they combine images with the messages.
Someone on Twitter posted an infographic about the proper use of nofollows and tagged Google’s John Mueller, who popped in to offer a comment.
— Serhii Koksharov 🇺🇦 (@devakatalk) May 10, 2023
The infographic suggested adding a rel=nofollow link attribute to a sponsored link, which is technically correct but also is not as straightforward as it may seem, too.
John Mueller tweeted:
“Sponsored is also nofollow (or nofollow, sponsored). Also, if you’re doing these links for SEO, isn’t the purpose that Google finds out about them?”
There is More to Nofollow than Simply Nofollow
The word “nuance,” in the context of language, is about a slight difference in meaning.
John’s tweet was about the additional nuance in the rel link element attribute.
What John’s comment contributed was that there is also the “sponsored” link element attribute, in addition to the regular nofollow.
The message is that while it’s okay to use nofollows for sponsored outbound links, publishers have a choice to be more specific about what kind of nofollow attribute is used.
For example, as John pointed out, one can also choose to use a rel=”sponsored” nofollow link attribute instead of the plain nofollow attribute.
The rel=”sponsored” link attribute offers Google extra context for the link.
The word semantic is about the meaning in language.
The rel=”sponsored” link attribute offers extra meaning to Google about the context of the outbound link that is being nofollowed as rel=”sponsored.”
Official Google documentation does not tell how Google uses the extra semantic information.
Google’s official documentation for the various kinds of nofollow link attributes recommends that it is Google’s preference that publishers use the appropriate versions of the rel link attribute.
In the case of sponsored links, Mueller’s tweet echoes Google’s official documentation on sponsored outbound links which explicitly recommends, rel=”sponsored.”
This is the official Google recommendation:
Mark links that are advertisements or paid placements (commonly called paid links) with the sponsored value.
…Note: The nofollow attribute was previously recommended for these types of links and is still an acceptable way to flag them, though sponsored is preferred.”
Use Nofollow on User Generated Content (UGC)?
The infographic also recommends using the nofollow attribute on User Generated Content (UGC).
UGC content is content that is posted by third party readers, such as on the comments section of blog, in user reviews or in discussion forums.
There is a warning in the infographic about UGC links (links posted by users) that states:
“You’ll become spammy soon if don’t nofollow these links”
That statement is actually less than correct.
For SEO, there is nothing wrong with UGC links if the outbound links are properly moderated.
Google’s guidelines explicitly says to mark sponsored links with a nofollow or rel=UGC attribute.
“Mark links that are advertisements or paid placements (commonly called paid links) with the sponsored value.”
There is no ambiguity there, it’s a “do this” statement, not an optional recommendation.
In contrast to how Google wants the sponsored link treated, Google only recommends a rel=”ugc” link attribute for user generated links.
Here is what Google’s guidelines on UGC links says:
“We recommend marking user-generated content (UGC) links, such as comments and forum posts, with the ugc value.
…If you want to recognize and reward trustworthy contributors, you might remove this attribute from links posted by members or users who have consistently made high-quality contributions over time.”
So, adding the rel=”ugc” nofollow link attribute is something that is optional.
Clearly then, outbound links from user generated content are not inherently bad or problematic, not bad for Google and not problematic for the publisher – as long as the publisher is moderating those outbound links.
If UGC links were across the board bad and problematic, Google wouldn’t write that it’s okay to allow UGC links if the users are trustworthy.
But there’s an if in that statement and it’s a big if.
Failure to keep an eye on user generated links can result in spammers adding links to spammy sites, sometimes in a way that is hidden.
That is something that can be problematic for a publisher.
The Technical Nuance of SEO
SEO is increasingly more complicated and technical and there’s a lot to take in.
One literally must have an encyclopedic memory to remember all the components of SEO.
Even for someone like myself, who’s been in the business for over 20 years, there are some things where one remembers the general outlines of certain specifics because there is simply so much to know.
Good thing we have someone like John Mueller to remind us of the nuance now and then.
Featured image by Shutterstock/Kateryna Onyshchuk