Last updated on March 14th, 2020 at 10:07 am


The new rules affect companies & bloggers, clarify link relationships, and make it easier to build trust with your readers.

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A recent change to the way Google reads links could (and should) have everyone changing the way they tag links in their content. Starting this month, Google will be looking for links with new relationship tags and using a brand new set of rules to determine which links are followed by their crawlers and whether to use them as domain authority markers for the sites linked out to.

According to industry leader Moz, the new rules went into effect on March 1, 2020 – we’re just a couple weeks into this new change. Here’s what you need to know.

The Relationship Tags & The New Rules

The new relationship tags relate to the trustworthiness and acquisition of links in your content. Google has updated the rules for existing tags and added new ones.

Tag: dofollow

I mention this tag because it’s referred to by a lot of bloggers, advertisers, and SEO companies – but it doesn’t actually exist and hasn’t for a long time.

The dofollow designation refers to a link which has no relationship tag assigned. In general these links were the most valuable because Google crawlers would follow these links to their destinations passing ‘link juice’ in the process.

When should you use dofollow?

As mentioned earlier, you don’t actually ‘use’ the dofollow tag since it doesn’t exist. It happens when you’re using no relationship tag at all. So when should you use no relationship tag? According to Google, you can leave out a relationship tag for any unsolicited link that connects to a site which you, the publisher, trust.

The new crawling rule: Google crawlers will consider links with no relationship tag for crawling, but may choose not to crawl them depending on the context in which they’re used.

Tag: sponsored

The sponsored relationship tag is pretty self-explanatory. Any time you receive cash or something else of value for the placement, such as a free product or discount, the sponsored relationship tag is the appropriate choice.

When should you use sponsored?

According to Google, you should use the sponsored relationship tag for any paid or sponsored links. We’d also recommend using this tag for any affiliate links as well.

The new crawling rule: Google crawlers will consider crawling sponsored links based on the context in which they appear.

Tag: ugc

The ugc tag stands for “user-generated content” and it’s brand new to the tagging scheme. This is particular importance to bloggers who accept guest authors on their sites.

When should you use ugc?

According to Google, you should use the ugc relationship tag for any links provided by your users. This includes guest posts. So for all you bloggers out there who accept guest posts, all links in these posts should be tagged ‘ugc’.

The crawling rule: Google crawlers will consider crawling ugc links based on the context in which they appear.

Tag: nofollow

The nofollow tag has been around for quite a while. Up until this change, Google crawlers would not crawl the nofollow tag at all under any circumstances. This tag has been used around the web by publishers both as a way to control what gets crawled and to ensure paid link placements weren’t crawled.

In the past, nofollow was used for every link that wasn’t ‘dofollow’ which included sponsored links and user-generated content. But with the use of the sponsored & ugc tags, things are changing.

When should you use nofollow?

You should use the nofollow tag for any outbound links that don’t fall under any other category.

The new rule: Google crawlers will not crawl links with the nofollow relationship tag, but may choose to crawl them depending on the context in which they’re used. This means if you were using nofollow to simply control which links were crawled, this may no longer be a valid method of doing so.

The Takeaway

I get tons of sponsored post requests that specifically request a ‘dofollow’ link – even from reputable companies. Doing so has always been a violation of Google’s guidelines, and questionable even for free guest post submissions. The new tags make things much clearer. You don’t have to go back and change your existing posts, but moving forward following the guidelines will help you avoid being penalized.

If you’re a blogger or company located in the United States, remember that if you receive anything of value for a link placement or post publication, you must disclose it or you’re breaking the law. The easiest way to disclose it is through tagging the links and posts properly.

In our sites, we have sponsored & guest categories that have a notice appended at the beginning to notify our readers of our relationship with the content they’re about to read. This helps us maintain trust, stay within Google’s guidelines, and more importantly, the law.

Sharif Jameel is a business owner, IT professional, runner, & musician. His professional certifications include CASP, Sec+, Net+, MCSA, & ITIL and others. He’s also the guitar player for the Baltimore-based cover band, Liquifaction.

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