Google's New Link Attributes: Sponsored, & UGC
Anyone with an interest in SEO already knows that links are still an important part of Google's algorithm.
It is not just the links that matter, but the information links contain in its code.
If you right-click on any link anchor text and select “Inspect” or “Inspect element” (depending on the browser you are using) you can read the link code.
By looking at the page source we can classify links are dofollow and nofollow links.
Here is how a dofollow link looks like
Unless otherwise specified, all links are dofollow by default.
Here is how a nofollow link looks like
<a>href="https://www.example.com/" rel="nofollow">Anchor text</a>
The purpose of using the nofollow link attribute is to inform Google that the link should not parse PageRank and the authority to the destination page it refers to.
Here John Muller explains how nofollow links work.
Nofollow link attribute has been widely used for 15 years and, in my opinion, it has done a great job.
Here Google clarifies how nofollow and dofollow is handled.
Links marked with these rel attributes will generally not be followed. Remember that the linked pages may be found through other means, such as sitemaps or links from other sites, and thus they may still be crawled. These rel attributes are used only in tags (because Google can follow only links pointed to by a tag), except nofollow, which is also available as robots meta tag.
On September 10th, 2019, Google announced the new link attributes.
New link attributes are called “sponsored” and “UGC” (UGC means “user-generated content”).
Before we delve into what they are, let's talk about where the need to use the new link attributes comes from?
Why Google needed the new link attributes?
Google needs more information to make better decisions.
When one site links to another site with a dofollow attribute, some authority passes to the destination site. On the other hand, when the nofollow attribute is used to link, the authority and PageRank are not transferred to the destination site.
By using these two attributes we make everything clear with our links for Google, right?
These two link attributes were sufficient earlier. However, Google's algorithm is much more sophisticated today. Google bot needs more information to be able to feed the algorithm adequately.
Nofollow attribute on its own has limited ability to provide good enough data for Google's algorithm.
Google explains why would you need to qualify your outbound links.
In fact, the two new link attributes are nofollow attributes with more information. They're both telling Google not to parse PageRank to the destination page.
However, they show a much clear intent about the link with the rel values they use.
Sponsored Link Attribute
The sponsored link attribute is to be used for the links in paid content or advertising. The sponsored link is still kind of a sub-category under nofollow link category. However, it clearly highlights it is a paid placement or paid link.
Here how a sponsored link attribute is represented,
<a>href="https://www.example.com/" rel="sponsored">Anchor text</a>
In the near future, if a link is sponsored but not highlighted with rel=” sponsored”, Google may/may not take action against the referring site.
Because Google may consider it as a link scheme and manipulative action against Google's algorithm. You can read Google's explanation of link schemes here.
The UGC (user-generated content) attribute will be used for the links in places like forum posts or user comments. UGC attribute is going to create an additional layer of information for Google about the real intent of the link.
Here how a UGC link attribute is represented,
<a>href="https://www.example.com/" rel="ugc">Anchor text</a>
💡What kind of solution UGC attribute can offer?
There are a lot of high authority websites on the web that allows people to create an account for free.
Most SEO just visits those sites and publish content to get a backlink.
Google obviously doesn't like it. In Google's definition links should be earned but not built with an effort to have them.
Hence Google came up with “user-generated content” attribute to understand if the links are rewarded by the website naturally.
Google doesn't want people to open user accounts on websites that allow creating user-generated content, and building links from there to rank their own websites.
There are many websites that allow users to create nofollow and dollow links without even creating a piece of content.
Comment spam is one of them. SEOs used to spam by using various software to create millions of spammy links.
Google is clearly against comment spam. You can read Google's take on the comment spam here.
Google's algorithm is Google's business, and Google has the best interest to protect its algorithm from the people who want to take advantage of it.
Because if Google algorithm doesn't do a good job, people will leave Google to use Bing and Duckduckgo. If there are no people using Google, no ads revenue is generated.
What message does Google want to communicate with this new link attribute?
Google clearly wants people to stop working for links.
What Google communicates is just create great content and provide a good user experience. If you are doing a great website with valuable content you will rank on Google.
Does what Google says and do congruent when it comes to SERP listing?
Obviously not. Google still evaluates links as the #1 ranking factor.
No matter how much or how great content you create, chances your website acquire high-quality links naturally is almost zero.
But does Google care about your website or profit?
I don't think it does.
Because no matter how much of comprehensive, well-researched, long-form of content you write, chances of websites with more links that throw a 300-word of content someone churned at a lunch break is higher than yours.
It is the harsh truth of SEO. Hearing the harsh truth is better than hearing the sweet lies.
It is less risky and more profitable for Google to rank a site with more backlinks. However, we still hear sweet lies when the results are obviously different.
🍏Question Of The Day!
If a nofollow attribute doesn't parse PageRank then why would Google need to come up with new link attributes that are still nofollow but with more information?
Google could simply conclude having nofollow links has zero worth for SEO hence let's totally ignore them. But Google doesn't do so.
Nofollow links are very likely to pass a certain amount of authority. Although we don't know how much Google values nofollow links, there is clear evidence nofollow links are an important part of its algorithm.
If my assumption was wrong, Google wouldn't need more information about the nofollow links since they wouldn't affect search engine rankings.
Why Google Needed New Link Attributes?
In my opinion nofollow and dofollow was not sufficient enough to provide information Google about the actual intent behind a backlink.
We know dofollow links pass link juice and authority while nofollow links don't. However, Google algorithm needs to fed with more input to make more precise decisions.
The new link attributes will help Google to understand the anchor texts used, more specifically the relevance of anchor text in relation to destination content.
It will prevent site owners from accidentally supporting other sites that may not be really trusted.
Why Not Using Nofollow Attribute Only?
Although nofollow link attribute worked fine since it was introduced, it was insufficient to tell Google the entire story with the link.
The new “sponsored” and “UGC” link attributes will help Google to understand link architecture and intent better. By using this information Google will be able to detect unnatural linking patterns easier.
How Should Webmasters Utilize The New Link Attributes?
Nofollow attribute is the overall practice to define links that link should not be editorially endorsed. However, the real intent behind a link was always unclear to Google.
Are nofollow links untrusted, are they advertising links or simply the user wanted to refer the website?
Webmasters now have more options to provide a better description of their outbound links to the search engines.
Google doesn't force using the new link attributes however benefiting from the new attributes may positively affect rankings.
Should I revise my existing nofollow links?
No, you don't need to do anything with your existing nofollow links. If everyone would need to revise their links in accordance with Google's new link attribute structure, millions of webmasters would need to spend an unlimited amount of time.
Google clarified that you don't need to do anything with your existing links.
Hence, existing nofollow links will function as it is and will not cause any problems.
What it means Google will simply turn a blind eye to paid links without rel=”sponsored” attribute but with a rel=”nofollow” attribute created before a certain time.
Is it Ok to combine rel values to have dual-purpose links?
Yes, You can combine the link attributes if you need to provide additional information about a link.
If the link is both sponsored and maybe user-generated content you may use a combination of relevant link attributes together.
For instance, rel=”sponsored ugc”
Does nofollow attribute cover both sponsored links and UGC links?
Yes, nofollow link attribute covers all cases of paid/sponsored and UGC.
However, there are benefits to revise your links accordingly if it is not going to bring too much additional work for you.
Google keeps it volunteer to implement new link attributes however they may give the sites certain ranking preference to the sites using them.
Do I need to highlight ads and sponsored links?
Google will demand paid links/sponsored links and types of ads should be clarified with sponsored link attributes. Although using new attributes are declared as to be volunteer activity, in my opinion, Google will take it much more seriously in the future.
Google's Garry Ilyes tweeted,
Focus on the other part: nofollow became a hint. Ugc and sponsored are icing on top of that cake, and it's one of those things where you don't have to do anything if you don't want to. If you want to help us understand the web better, implement them. If you don't want to, don't.— Gary “鯨理／경리” Illyes (@methode) September 11, 2019
Google is very strict about the links that may be purchased from the other website. If you fail to accurately inform Google about the intent of the link you refer to somewhere you may experience link penalties.
I would recommend reading Google's take on Link schemes that are used to manipulate PageRank.
I don't think the new link attributes should fundamentally change your nofollow strategy.
However, if you publish sponsored content or host blog comments on your website you may consider implementing the new attributes whenever it makes sense to do so. If you cannot do it not much of harm it may make to your SEO.