Rel Attributes: How to Use Them 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 three types of rel attributes: nofollow, ugc and sponsored.
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 HTML elements 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 browsers to open links in a new tab, while a rel attribute in link tags informs search bots about the link’s destination.

The rel attributes nofollow, sponsored and UGC help search engines define the value of the hyperlinks on the webpage.

Nofollow rel attributes let search engine crawlers know that the website operator does not offer any recommendations to the website or page the link is pointing to.

The attribute indicates that no ranking credits should be passed on to the target page. Whether or not ranking credit is passed on 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 rel attribute for user-generated content. The attribute identifies content, that has been created by website users. Blog comments and forum posts are a good example of this.

This is important as it lets Google know that the website operator doesn’t have complete control over the content identified. In some cases, it could help website operators avoid a Google penalty because the content was created by users and not by the website operator.

There are also sponsored rel attributes that are helpful for hyperlinks that are included for paid ads or by 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 should you 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 on your website and/or to avoid unwarranted penalisation from Google’s algorithm.

Nofollow attributes are important as they stop some of your ranking credit being shared with a 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” attributes 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 Bing’s Search Quality Insight teams.

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