Links. Not the sexiest of subjects, however for anyone with an interest in SEO and building their search ranking, it's a pretty important one.
Typically there are two types of link on a page. A 'follow' or 'nofollow' link. This attribute simply talks to any search engine bot reading the page and says "please read the contents of this link" or "no, don't touch this, don't go there!".
By default, any links you setup or see on any website will be a follow link. This is the absolute premise of the web today, and an important function of how the likes of Google work in determining search ranking.
Now, to the dark side: 'nofollow' links. No follow links were initially introduced 15 years ago to help prevent comment spam. Ielped solve a big problem at the time and still does. However, the likes of bullish large publications (such as the Financial Times and the Telegraph to name a few) have since used it to ensure no SEO/ranking value is passed to any links they include within articles. Think of it like your best mate hogging the ball in a football match.
In simple terms, if you have earned a link via a good bit of press, you deserve the full value of it. You should get a 'follow'. It'll help boost your SEO and also supports the notion that if a publication deemed your link worthy and it's useful to the readership, don't hold it back.
What's changed? Google have announced two new types of link attributes to advance the definition, and hopefully help webmasters properly define and utilise the right tags.The Google Webmaster Central Blog defined these new attributes this month in the following way:
rel="sponsored" : Use the sponsored attribute to identify links on your site that were created as part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements.
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.
These bring attributes up to speed with digital advertising and UGC on Medium, and this should spark a new wave of use over the next few years. Disappointingly any updates in publication policy are extremely unlikely to effect any legacy links.
Who cares‽ You should! The democracy of the internet and search is built around the fair and proper use of follow v. nofollow links. My hope is that this update will act as a catalyst for webmasters around the world to update their policies, and stop hogging the ball.
James Hannaford is Cognito’s digital director based in London