Google’s John Mueller recalls nuances in nofollow attributes

Google’s John Mueller responded to a tweet about the proper use of nofollow for SEO, while agreeing with the tweet but also pointing out a nuance regarding the missing nofollow attribute.

The tweet grew out of an infographic that shared when to use the nofollow attributes and when not to.

Nofollow infographic

A Yale study showed how the human brain acquires consciousness by processing “an avalanche of external stimuli” and emphasized the importance of visual cues in communication.

Infographics are useful ways of conveying information because they combine images with the messages.

Someone posted an infographic on Twitter about the proper use of nofollows and tagged Google’s John Mueller, who stopped by to comment.

The infographic suggested adding a rel=nofollow link attribute to a sponsored link, which is technically correct, but also not as easy as it might seem.

John Mueller tweeted:

“Sponsored is also nofollow (or nofollow, sponsored). And if you’re using those links for SEO, isn’t that also the purpose of letting Google know about it?”

Nofollow is more than just nofollow

The word “nuance” denotes a slight difference in meaning in the context of the language.

John’s tweet was about the extra nuance in the rel link element attribute.

What John’s comment helped was that it is Also the “sponsored” link element attribute in addition to the regular nofollow.

The message is that while it’s okay to use nofollows on sponsored outbound links, publishers have the choice to be more specific about what type 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 link attribute rel=”sponsored” provides Google with additional context for the link.

Word semantics is about meaning in language.

The link attribute rel=”sponsored” provides Google with an additional statement about the context of the outgoing link, which is nofollowed as rel=”sponsored”.

The official Google documentation does not explain how Google uses the additional semantic information.

Google’s official documentation for the different types of nofollow link attributes recommends that it is Google’s preference for publishers to use the appropriate versions of the rel link attribute.

In the case of sponsored links, Mueller’s tweet explicitly reflects Google’s official documentation on sponsored outbound links recommendsrel=”sponsored.”

This is the official Google recommendation:


Mark links that are advertising or paid placements (commonly referred to as 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 designate them despite being sponsored.”

Use nofollow for user-generated content (UGC)?

The infographic also recommends using the nofollow attribute on User Generated Content (UGC).

UGC content is content posted by third-party readers, e.g. B. in the comments section of blogs, in user reviews or in discussion forums.

In the infographic, there is a warning about UGC links (links posted by users) stating:

“You will soon become spam if you don’t follow these links”

This statement is actually not correct.

For SEO, there is nothing wrong with UGC links if the outbound links are properly moderated.

Policies of Google expressly says to mark sponsored links with a nofollow or rel=UGC attribute.

“Tag links that are advertising or paid placements (commonly referred to as paid links) with sponsored value.”

There’s no ambiguity, it’s a “do this” statement, not an optional recommendation.

Contrary to how Google wants to treat the sponsored link, only Google recommends a link attribute rel=”ugc” for user-generated links.

Here’s what Google’s guidelines say about UGC links:

“We recommend tagging links to user-generated content (UGC), such as comments and forum posts, with the ugc value.

…If you want to recognize and reward trusted contributors, you can remove this attribute from links posted by members or users who have consistently made high-quality contributions over time.”

So adding the nofollow link attribute rel=”ugc” is optional.

So, outlinks from UGC are not inherently bad or problematic, not bad for Google, and not problematic for the publisher—as long as the publisher moderates those outlinks.

If UGC links were consistently bad and problematic, Google wouldn’t write that it’s okay to allow UGC links if users are trustworthy.

But there is If in that statement and it’s a big one If.

If you don’t keep track of user-generated links, spammers can add links to spam websites, sometimes in hidden ways.

That is something may be problematic for a publisher.

The technical nuances of SEO

SEO is becoming more and more complicated and technical and there is a lot to consider.

You literally have to have an encyclopedic memory to remember all the components of SEO.

Even for someone like me who has been in the business for over 20 years, there are some things that make you remember the general outlines of certain specifics because there is just so much to know.

Good thing we have someone like John Mueller to remind us of the nuance every now and then.

Featured image by Shutterstock/Kateryna Onyshchuk