Originally posted on DanielCuttridge.com, and edited for brevity for Dev.to.
In 2019, Google introduced some new rel attributes for helping web developers to assist the search engine with understanding links.
Sponsored is to denote that a post is sponsored, this includes paid guest posts.
UGC is to denote that it is User-generated Content.
They also announced that they would now be using the NoFollow attribute as a hint in the future.
Google wants to convince webmasters and developers to stop using the NoFollow attribute.
Do they have a good reason for doing this?
The SEO (Search Engine Optimization) industry has abused the NoFollow attribute for years to assist in Link Sculpting. This is a technique that evolved out of PageRank sculpting, where you selectively NoFollow links that you do not wish to pass any value to. This is only a half explanation. A now ex-Google employee, Matt Cutts, showed this was ineffective over 5 years ago. So that explanation does not make a lick of sense. I'm not convinced...
A better explanation is that they are hoping to convince websites to adopt this standard to assist in machine-learning. Google's fight against paid links is no secret, and they have also done nothing to hide the fact that they dislike user-generated content.
So is there a good reason for Google to introduce the attributes? For them, yes. For you, not really.
Google's Lighthouse Tool will flag generic anchor text on your website, such as 'Learn more' on buttons, as non-descriptive. The solution to this problem has always been to implement the NoFollow attribute. If developers stopped using NoFollow this would surely create issues for Google when determining relevance through anchor text. So it would seem reasonable to assume that their own team is not in full agreement on this particular set of changes.
It can be easy to forget about other search engines, but these can be important sources of traffic for many websites.
Bing and DuckDuckGo are not required to treat attributes in the same way as Google does. Other crawlers on the web may also choose to honor the NoFollow attribute. This isn't the web as Google wants it. We are not all developing for Google.
With Google using the NoFollow attribute as a 'hint' from now on, you shouldn't feel afraid to use the attribute when you aren't sure if it is necessary.
Should you be using NoFollow? I think we all know the answer to that, so long as it remains in the HTML5 spec.