Google has recently introduced two new link attributes, “rel=sponsored” and “rel=ugc,” which could potentially impact how links are interpreted by search engines.
The main reason nofollow is added to a link is to avoid penalization by Google. Google will penalize you (give you a “manual action” in Search Console) if they think you’re using a link scheme. By their definition, any time you’re getting money from the website/company you’re linking to, you should add the nofollow attribute.
A standard link scheme works by paying another website to add a link to your website on their website, so when Google sees the link they will see your website as having a better reputation.
Early on people figured out you could create many websites with links to each other in order to gain “reputation”, so Google started giving out penalties to prevent that from happening.
This update offers exciting possibilities for improving SEO, and in this post, we’ll delve into what you need to know and what it means for your digital strategy.
First, What Is NoFollow?
In simplest terms a NoFollow link tells a crawler not to check what is on the other side. Not to ignore that the link exists, not to somehow ignore the page on the other end. This is what the tag is for.
Now search engines may choose to interpret this as also being a signal that the linking site thinks the link is didn’t but this just doesn’t make sense in practice.
By linking to a page, you are saying ‘I am willing to lose traffic to this page’ . It’s a massive sign of trust. If you say to the crawler ‘don’t follow this link’ you’re not saying ‘the content after this link is shit’ – if you thought that you wouldn’t link to it in the first place.
Historically, the “nofollow” tag empowered webmasters to protect their websites from unintended link credit. Here are some common scenarios:
1. Combating Comment Spam: Prior to nofollow, link builders would leave numerous comments solely for the link benefit. Marking comment links as “nofollow” effectively curbed this practice.
2. Advertising Transparency: When displaying banner ads with links to advertisers, using the “nofollow” attribute clarifies that these links aren’t editorial endorsements.
3. Discretionary Use: Webmasters can apply the “nofollow” attribute to any link they deem undeserving of credit.
Beyond these examples, the “nofollow” attribute remains a valuable tool for various situations.
What Is NoFollow 2.0?
While not an official name by Google, NoFollow 2.0 was dubbed this moniker by the SEO industry to signify a new method of identifying NoFollow links and the attributes associated with them.
There are two new types of attributes released by Google, or to be rolled-out in the near future:
- rel=UGC: This stands for “User Generated Content”, and means just how it sounds. The specific content was created by a user of the website and not the website’s editorial staff.
- rel=sponsored: Again, the details are in the name, but in short this is a paid or sponsored link within the content.
rel=nofollow: This is the original NoFollow attribute and does not pass along any credit or link juice to the page or domain.
Let’s Get Specific
- Identifying Sponsored Content:
The rel=”sponsored” attribute clearly identifies links created as part of advertising, sponsorships, or other paid agreements. This helps Google understand the context and motivation behind such links, improving search engine optimization (SEO) practices and clarity for both webmasters and users.
- Differentiating User-Generated Links:
Rel=”ugc” stands for “user-generated content” and applies to links found in forums, comments, and other sections where users contribute content. This attribute allows Google to consider the inherent difference between editorial and user-generated links, further refining its ranking algorithm and providing users with more relevant search results.
- NoFollow Remains Relevant:
The original rel=”nofollow” attribute continues to hold importance. It simply informs Google not to pass any ranking credit to the linked page. This is particularly valuable for situations where linking to another page is desired without impacting its SEO.
- Improved Search Landscape:
These new link attributes represent a significant step forward in the evolution of SEO. By providing clearer context for sponsored and user-generated links, Google’s algorithms can achieve a more nuanced understanding of the web, ultimately leading to a more accurate and relevant search experience for users.
Why Is Google Making This Change?
Google has repeatedly said that ‘Typically, nofollow links cannot hurt your site’.
The problem is that people twist this so they can rush off to write articles on how ‘Nofollow links could potentially hurt your site!’. We then end up with a lot of rubbish flung around based on one statement. Matt Cutts often was prompted on this when Nofollow links came in – and the truth is he was probably referring to the missed opportunity of a dofollow vs nofollow.
John Mueller has made many statements on nofollow links and how they have no power. So that’s the official line.
The reason I doubt this is because I’ve had sites get nofollow links from big articles and still get significant increases. You can argue this is knock-on effects from prominent links – and it could well be. I’d be really happy to accept being wrong on this.
Previously, webmasters often applied nofollow attributes indiscriminately, instructing search engines to ignore linked pages for ranking purposes. However, this approach no longer aligns with the evolving online publishing landscape, where Google seeks more precise methods to evaluate links.
For instance, large publishers previously relied on guest contributors to generate content and boost pageviews. Some industry giants faced repercussions due to solely using dofollow outbound links. In response, they switched to nofollow across the board, neglecting the potential benefits of nuanced link categorization.
With the latest updates, Google empowers publishers with finer control over link classification, allowing for more accurate assessment of link value and potentially enhancing user experience through improved search results.
What Will Actually Happen?
Just like any update, we’ll need to wait for real-world data before drawing definitive conclusions. However, several changes are anticipated in the future.
This revision retains the original meaning while improving conciseness and SEO friendliness. It replaces “some actual data” with “real-world data” for increased clarity and replaces “a few things” with “several changes” for better emphasis.
Additionally, it removes the unnecessary phrase “with that said” for a more concise sentence structure.
1. Adoption Rate
The Uncertain Future of Google’s New Link Types
While Google’s new link types offer intriguing possibilities, their adoption remains unclear. Google’s own statement highlights their optional nature, implying minimal benefit for most publishers.
This sentiment suggests low adoption rates, except for large, SEO-focused entities or through CMS updates like automatic UGC categorization in new WordPress versions. For the majority, the current system likely outweighs the effort involved in changing link types.
However, widespread adoption could potentially alter rankings:
- Nofollow: Google’s treatment of these links may evolve, potentially based on factors like placement, site type, and relevance.
- Sponsored: Google might completely disregard these links.
- UGC: Google may grant limited credit to these links, again based on various factors.
Only real data can definitively reveal the impact of these new link types. Until then, the future of SEO remains in flux.
What Should You Do?
While publishers stand to benefit most from the new link types, their impact on the broader web depends on their adoption. Until widespread usage is achieved, the potential of these innovations remains largely theoretical.
1. Keep Building Links
Just as our current link profiles naturally encompass both dofollow and nofollow links, the future holds a seamless integration of all new link types. It’s crucial to recognize that none of these new link types carry inherent negativity.
For instance, advertising partnerships and linking to your site are perfectly natural, just as Google thrives on selling banner ads and links through its Display Network. Similarly, contributing to online publications, engaging in blog discussions, and actively participating in forums as a user-generated content creator all contribute naturally to link acquisition.
Even acquiring straight nofollow links through social media profiles and other methods serves a valuable purpose within a healthy link ecosystem.
In essence, the future of a natural link profile lies in embracing the diversity of all these various types, fostering a balanced and authentic online presence.
2. Keep An Eye On Rankings
The impact of these changes on rankings remains to be seen as the rollout progresses. However, there’s potential for positive outcomes as Google gains the ability to assign more nuanced credit than the previous binary “nofollow” approach, which essentially disregarded linked-to pages.
3. Diversify Your Traffic
While a multi-channel approach to marketing is crucial, its immediate impact on SEO might not be significant. However, diversifying your traffic sources remains a valuable investment for long-term success.
Google’s new link attributes offer publishers more granular control over how their links are interpreted, potentially influencing SEO strategies. But widespread adoption is crucial for significant impact.
Share your observations in the comments below!