How to Use Link Attribution: “rel=sponsored” with Affiliate Links

by Jay Kang | Updated on December 1st, 2023
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Keeping up with the latest advancements is paramount for affiliate marketers. One significant update that has stirred discussions and raised questions within the industry is Google’s introduction of new link attributes, particularly the “rel=sponsored” attribute, and its impact on Affiliate links.

As an expert in the field, I will guide you through the intricacies of this update, provide actionable insights, and address any concerns you may have. By the end of this comprehensive article, you will have a clear understanding of how to optimize link attribution with the “rel=sponsored” attribute, while staying compliant with both Google and affiliate program policies.

In 2019, Google sent shockwaves with the announcement of new link attributes, revolutionizing link attribution practices. Alongside the longstanding “rel=nofollow” attribute, which had been the industry standard for over a decade, two new attributes emerged: “rel=sponsored” and “rel=ugc.”

Table: Link Attributes for Enhanced Link Attribution

rel=nofollowIndicates that the link should not influence SEO
rel=sponsoredIdentifies links created as part of advertisements, sponsorships, or compensation agreements
rel=ugcRecommended for links within user-generated content, such as comments and forum posts

Previously, affiliates relied heavily on the “rel=nofollow” attribute to ensure that Google didn’t consider their affiliate links as ranking signals. This was especially crucial for Amazon Associates, as the platform had strict policies against indexing affiliate links in search results. Consequently, adhering to the “rel=nofollow” practice became a well-established best practice for affiliate marketers.

However, with the introduction of the “rel=sponsored” attribute, Google expanded its understanding of link attribution. Starting from March 2020, all link attributes—sponsored, ugc, and nofollow—are now treated as “hints” rather than absolute directives. This means that Google may choose to crawl and consider these links as ranking signals, leading to potential changes in search rankings.

To shed light on how these changes impact affiliate links, Google published an article titled “A reminder on qualifying links and our link spam update.” In this article, they specifically addressed the usage of affiliate links, stating that links used in product reviews or shopping guides are an accepted monetization method for blogs and publishers. Google recommended that sites participating in affiliate programs qualify these links using the “rel=sponsored” attribute, regardless of whether they were manually or dynamically generated.

It’s important to note that Google explicitly stated that websites will not be penalized for not changing old “nofollow” affiliate links to the new “sponsored” attribute. However, given Google’s recommendation, it’s prudent to consider using the “rel=sponsored” attribute for future affiliate links to align with SEO best practices.

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The Affiliation Challenge

The introduction of the “rel=sponsored” attribute created confusion among affiliate marketers due to potential conflicts with Amazon’s Associate policies. The key concern stemmed from Amazon’s strict guidelines against misrepresenting or embellishing the relationship between affiliates and the platform. According to the Amazon Associates Operating Agreement, affiliates are explicitly prohibited from expressing or implying support, sponsorship, or endorsement by Amazon, except as expressly permitted.

At first glance, the “rel=sponsored” attribute seems to imply a sponsored relationship with Amazon, which could potentially violate Amazon’s policies. However, it’s essential to clarify the distinction. Amazon affiliate links are not sponsored links, as affiliates only earn commissions when successful conversions occur. The term “sponsored” in the attribute’s context refers to a categorical classification rather than implying a factual sponsorship by Amazon.

Expert Insights from Amazon: Ensuring Compliance and Peace of Mind

To alleviate concerns and seek clarity, we reached out to Amazon directly. While we are unable to disclose their response verbatim, we can share the outcome. Using the “rel=sponsored” attribute with Amazon affiliate links is indeed allowed, and it does not pose any compliance risks to your Amazon Associates account.

Amazon recognizes that the term “sponsored” in the attribute’s context is not meant to imply an actual sponsorship or endorsement of the content. By using the “rel=sponsored” attribute, you can safely optimize your Amazon affiliate links without risking violations of Amazon’s policies.

Now that we’ve established the compatibility of the “rel=sponsored” attribute with affiliate links, let’s delve into practical strategies for optimizing your link attribution and ensuring compliance.

1. Transitioning to “rel=sponsored”: Balancing SEO and Compliance

While Google recommends using the “rel=sponsored” attribute, transitioning all your existing “nofollow” affiliate links to “rel=sponsored” is not mandatory. At present, there appears to be no substantial advantage in terms of search ranking by making the switch. Google does not penalize websites that continue to use “nofollow” for affiliate links.

However, to future-proof your affiliate marketing efforts and adhere to evolving best practices, consider implementing the “rel=sponsored” attribute for new affiliate links. This practice aligns with Google’s guidance and demonstrates your commitment to transparency and compliance.

2. Clear Disclosure: Communicating Transparency to Your Audience

In addition to using the appropriate link attribute, transparency is vital when it comes to affiliate marketing. Clearly disclose your affiliate relationships and provide relevant disclaimers to your audience. This not only establishes trust but also ensures compliance with both Google and Amazon policies.

3. Educate Your Audience: Explain the Meaning of “Sponsored”

Given the potential confusion surrounding the term “sponsored” in the “rel=sponsored” attribute, it’s essential to educate your audience about its categorical rather than factual meaning. Help them understand that it signifies the link’s classification as an affiliate link rather than implying a direct sponsorship by Amazon.

By proactively addressing this distinction and clarifying the nature of your affiliate links, you can prevent any misinterpretation and build a more transparent relationship with your audience.


In this comprehensive guide, we’ve navigated the intricate world of link attribution, particularly the impact of the “rel=sponsored” attribute on Amazon Affiliate links. By understanding the changes in link attribution practices, acknowledging Google’s expectations, and adhering to Amazon’s compliance guidelines, you can optimize your affiliate marketing strategy for success.

Remember, optimizing link attribution goes beyond technicalities—it’s about fostering transparency, building trust with your audience, and delivering valuable content. By leveraging the power of the “rel=sponsored” attribute effectively, you can strengthen your website’s visibility, enhance user experience, and maximize your affiliate revenue.

Stay informed, stay compliant, and continue to adapt as the SEO landscape evolves. As an expert in the field, I will continue monitoring these developments, bringing you the latest insights and strategies to empower your affiliate marketing journey.

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Jay Kang

Jay Kang, entrepreneur and SEO expert, is the driving force behind innovative platforms like and His latest creation, ProductReview.Tools, provides affiliate marketers with a powerful WordPress plugin for crafting high-converting reviews. Committed to empowering marketers, Jay continues to make a positive impact in the digital marketing space.