How to Use Rel Attributes for Better SEO

Both internal and external links contribute to how Google’s algorithm and human quality assurance team rates your page. HTML tags help web browsers understand how to read, format and display your page content. Rel attribute tags, on the other hand, help web crawlers understand the value of each link within that page.

The correct use of rel attributes such as nofollow tags, sponsored content and UGC attributes means your links are categorised correctly which may help Google to understand your site more easily – a key principle of SEO. To understand how to use them, first you’ll need to know what rel attributes are.

What is a rel attribute?

Rel attributes are little bits of html text that detail the relationship between the page a link is on and the page or document it is pointing to. Rel attributes can be used for links and also other elements of html like site navigation or forms. In all cases, their purpose is to help search bots, crawlers and Google spiders understand what’s going on in your website and how different elements work together.

A rel attribute for a form would likely use the ‘stylesheet’ attribute which lets search bots understand the reason why part of your website is formatted differently. The html rel attribute noopener, tells web browsers to open links in a new tab, whereas a rel attribute in link tags informs search bots about the link’s destination.

When it comes to nofollow, sponsored and UGC rel attributes, they’re helping search engines define the value of hyperlinks in the webpage.

Three types of rel attribute

Nofollow rel attributes let search crawlers know that the website owner is not offering any recommendations to the site or page the link is pointing to. It indicates that ranking credit shouldn’t be passed onto the destination page. Whether or not ranking credit is given is left up to Google. In the past this used to be an instruction that was followed, these days it is merely an indication that Google notes.

Rel=”ugc” is the user-generated content rel attribute. As you might expect, this is identifying content that’s been created by website users; blog comments and forums are a good example of this. This is important as it lets Google know that the website owner doesn’t have complete control over the content identified. In some cases, it could help website owners avoid a Google penalty because it’s been created by users and not the website owner.

There are also sponsored rel attributes that are helpful for hyperlinks that are included for paid ads or partners who are compensating you in some way to include a hyperlink to their website, product or page. This shows Google that the link is not an editorial endorsement but rather a business agreement. It’s important to be explicit about these types of links to avoid them coming across as a black hat SEO tactic.

When to use rel nofollow and other rel attribute tags.

Not every link needs to be defined and rel attributes aren’t always used. In some cases, they’re completely unnecessary. However, in others, it is important to use rel attributes to ensure you get the highest value from the links in your website and/or to avoid unwarranted penalization from Google’s algorithm.

Nofollow attributes are important as they stop some of your ranking credit being shared with a site or page you are only linking to for reference or further information for the website user. By forgetting a ‘nofollow’ rel attribute or a different rel attribute, you are essentially including a ‘rel follow attribute’ by omission. Therefore, no follow attributes should be included in any hyperlinks that aren’t explicitly endorsed by you.

User-generated content attribution, or the rel = “ugc” attribute, should be included with all hyperlinks to content that has been created by website users and not an endorsed author. This includes links to comment sections of blogs, community forums, directories, user-created posts and any other website content generated by users. Identifying these links correctly can result in higher tolerance of crawlers and spiders for spammy content or other text that might contravene Google’s rules.

Rel=”sponsored” attribute tags should always be used for your paid hyperlinks or links to paid adverts. Neglecting to do so could result in search engines assuming you’re up to underhand SEO practices such as selling links. This can result in your website being flagged by Google’s Search Quality Raters or Bings Search Quality Insight teams.

Helping search engines understand your website and its content is at the heart of great SEO. Rel attributes and HTML tags are just part of the process. Using each element correctly helps you improve your site’s SEO overall.