What are the Effects of Google’s Nofollow, Sponsored, and UGC on Search Engine Optimization?

The 10th of September 2019, saw Google make a big announcement touching on how publishers should mark nofollow links. Google also introduced two new link attributes, namely “Sponsored” and “UGC.”

The announcement has raised concerns and many questions among SEO professionals and site owners. What, if anything, does all this mean for SEO ranking? Must you implement the changes, and is there a timeline within which you should do so?

When to Use What

close up of chain links

The attributes are meant to provide some context to the links on your site. Here is a look at what each of these links tags means and pointers on their appropriate use

  • Rel= ‘nofollow’- use this link tag when you don’t want to imply an endorsement for the page or site to which you are linking. This has been the go-to for non-trusted links.
  • Rel= “UGC”- this is the recommended attribute for links within user-generated such as comments and posts in a forum.
  • Rel= “sponsored”- use this tag for links within your site that you created and promoted as a part of compensation agreements such as sponsorships and paid advertisements.

Multiple Link Attribute Supported

You can use the different attributes separately or in combination with each other. Google allows for the use of multiple attributes in a single tag. To avoid penalties, for example, you may want to use “rel=”nofollow” or “rel=”nofollow sponsored.” Both are valid.

Then vs. Today vs. March 2020: A Look At The Changes and Impact On Ranking

Nearly 15 years ago, Google introduced the nofollow link attribute to help combat comment spam and flag sponsored links. Back then, and up until the big announcement, Google did not recognize this link attribute as a signal or hint for use in its search algorithms. Such links had zero SEO ranking value.

After September 10th, 2019, Google will treat each of these three link attributes as hints on which links to include or exclude within search results. These link tags will serve as hints for ranking. They are, however, not used for crawling or indexing.

Come March 1st, 2020, Google will continue to treat the link tags as hints or signals for ranking purposes. Additionally, the link attributes will also serve as hints for crawling and indexing.

Google has, however, been explicit about the fact that the use of these tags as hints for both ranking and indexing and crawling will only apply in some cases. The search engine giant may very well ignore or exclude nofollow, sponsored, and UGC links.

Should You Make These Changes?

cant go either way directional sign Google has stated that there is no need to change the attributes on your existing links. That is to say that you can leave the “nofollow” tag on both the sponsored and UGC links you already have on your site.


There is no real or immediate incentive to rush to change the way you attribute your links. For now, it seems that even with the treatment of the tags as hints, there is no significant impact on the ranking of sites in search engine results. There is also no penalty for not making the changes.

Implementing the New Attributes

With no incentive or penalty for implementing the new attributes, the decision to do so lies with site owners. You may want to consider doing so, sooner rather than later, if you wish to achieve, either, or both of the following goals:

  1. Preventing Google from Indexing and Crawling Your Site

If you have been heavily relying on nofollow to keep Google from indexing your content and crawling your content, then it is definitely time that you got more creative and implement other more robust mechanisms. Google has made it clear that it will use the link attributes as hints for crawling and indexing starting March 2, 2020.

  1. Help Google to Better Understand Your Links

Adopt the recommended changes, and you can help Google to better understand the sites to which you, and contributors on your site are linking. Again, there is no tangible benefit to doing this, but it may be something that some SEOs may be interested in doing.

Take Away

blue art installation Do Google’s Nofollow, UGC, and sponsored link attributes impact SEO ranking? Not really, since they are not direct SEO ranking factors. However, the web is ever-evolving, and it remains to be seen what implementing these link attribute changes will mean for your site in the future.

At this point, like everyone else, you have to wait and see how it all plays out. The new updates do, however, facilitate better link processing for web analysis.

To implement the changes or not is a decision that lies with SEOs and site owners. For 15 years, the nofollow rel value has been the principal link attribute, and now there are two more options. Understand what attributes to apply to specific links as recommended by Google for if and when you do decide to implement the new attributes. Need assistance with your SEO campaign? Whether you are looking to serve results locally or nationally, we are your SEO team.