Link builders have long since found nofollow links to be a thorn in their side – they don’t pass on ranking juice and therefore, for many link builders and SEOs, nofollow has tended to equal no value.

While this has been the accepted status quo for a while, it could all be about to change thanks to a surprising Google announcement. The search engine has said that it will now begin treating nofollow links differently, meaning they might not be so worthless after all.

In its official announcement on the Webmaster Central blog on Tuesday, Danny Sullivan and Gary Illyes revealed that rather than automatically discounting anything with a nofollow tag, Google will now consider it a hint.

The pair explained, “Nearly 15 years ago, the nofollow attribute was introduced as a means to help fight comment spam. It also quickly became one of Google’s recommended methods for flagging advertising-related or sponsored links. The web has evolved since nofollow was introduced in 2005 and it’s time for nofollow to evolve as well.

When nofollow was introduced, Google would not count any link marked this way as a signal to use within our search algorithms. This has now changed. All the link attributes — sponsored, UGC and nofollow — are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search. We’ll use these hints — along with other signals — as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links within our systems.”

This is obviously big news as it’s the first time in a decade and a half that you can’t automatically assume Google will abide by your nofollow attribute. In some cases, you may use nofollow and find that Google still uses that link as a ranking signal.

Google says that as links provide vital information, it makes sense to look at all links it encounters, whether they bear the nofollow attribute or not. Examining details such as link text allows it to identify suspicious or unnatural link patterns.

Along with upgrading nofollow to hint status, Google also rolled out two new link attributes:

rel=”sponsored”:  As the name suggests, this attribute should be used when links have been provided in exchange for payment, sponsorship, product gifting or as part of any other type of compensation agreement between you/ your site and the page being linked to.

rel=”ugc”: If your site has a forum or allows users to leave comments on blog posts, you’ll now need to use this new user generated content attribute when links appear as part of that UGC.